SINCE last August, an escalation of abductions in Sindh has yet to net any actionable information on the deplorable practice of enforced disappearances. Last week, civil society activists across the province and in Islamabad staged protests — many of them going on a 72-hour hunger strike in the scorching heat — to make their desperate pleas regarding their missing loved ones known. Footage shows several instances of intimidation and harassment by law-enforcement agencies, even as the provincial government claimed to have ‘taken notice’ of protesters’ grievances. At the same time, the Sindh High Court expressed deep ire that despite the constitution of a joint investigation force and provincial task force, neither of these bodies nor the police had managed to notify the court of any substantive progress on establishing the whereabouts of over 100 people in the province who remain unaccounted for.

Relatives of missing persons have every reason to be fearful. According to human rights groups, several campaigners on this very issue have also been ‘disappeared’ in Sindh. Meanwhile, the silence of those who have returned speaks volumes. The murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud earlier this year threw into sharp relief the practice of extrajudicial killing among officers of the very force responsible for upholding the law and protecting the public. While the incidence rate of certain crimes has reduced significantly in Karachi (the site of many disappearances) since the Rangers-led operation began in 2013, true law and order will remain elusive so long as enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are tacitly endorsed by the state’s apathy. One way or another, the truth will out. Law-enforcement agencies must decide whether to play an obstructionist or restorative role in the writing of this chapter of our history. If they are committed to the latter, then they must ensure that survivors of illegal detentions and custodial violence are able to testify, and their families able to advocate for them, without meeting further harm.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2018

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