MISSING persons continue to remain undocumented and missing — and it appears that the courts and parliament are powerless to do anything about this terrible blot on Pakistan’s human rights record.
On Monday, seemingly helpless representatives of the federal and KP governments appeared in the Supreme Court empty-handed; they had been required by a special bench to present basic data on the country’s 45 declared internment centres.
The information that had been demanded included up-to-date lists of detainees, the offences they have been charged with, whether or not they had faced trial and the length of their incarceration — in sum, the bare minimum information the state should have for any individual in its custody.
But the court simply gave the representatives another fortnight to produce the data.
Meanwhile, following a meeting of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, Senator Farhatullah Babar has called for setting up a new commission on enforced disappearances because the existing one has failed to produce results and to publish a six-year-old report on missing persons.
Taken together, the events suggest a defiance of the law by some elements within the state and an abdication of duty by other parts of the state to ensure that citizens have their rights and institutions act according to the law.
What is particularly dispiriting is that despite the passage of several years and facilitation by the law, the state appears unwilling to take a reasonable position on the issue.
The first military operations in the country are now more than a decade old, while the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulations, 2011, provided a legal framework to bring missing persons within the ambit of the law.
Surely, by now a reasonable solution to what is admittedly a vexing problem ought to have been found.
The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn at this stage, however, is that there are some state elements that reject the notion that accountability and transparency ought to apply to at least some security issues.
The public, the courts, parliament, the governments and, indeed, the families of the suspects, simply have to trust the judgement of nameless and faceless figures wielding great power over the lives of alleged terrorism, militancy and extremism suspects.
Certainly, the long fight against militancy calls for special measures and greater flexibility in dealing with an internal threat that is shadowy and evolving.
But the state’s duty is to progressively bring its actions within the ambit of the law — that is what separates the justness of the fight by the state from the terrorists, militants and extremists who seek to inflict harm on the country and its people.
Today, there is no justification for defiance of the law, just as there is no rationale for the continuing phenomenon of missing persons.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2017