THE family members of ‘missing’ persons from Balochistan are staging a sit-in in the capital to protest the enforced disappearances of their loved ones — a sight that has tragically become all too familiar in the country. These men, women and children have been in Islamabad for a week, holding placards and posters emblazoned with the faces of their relatives in the hope that the authorities will provide the answers as to their whereabouts. Their stories are harrowing.

According to a report in this newspaper, one participant said her father had been missing for 12 years. Others have similar accounts; in fact, each member of the beleaguered community has a hair-raising story of the suffering they endure as they search for their son, brother, father or fiancé. The chairperson of the Defence of Human Rights Amna Janjua — whose husband has been missing for years — noted that while it was encouraging that representatives of political parties made appearances to show solidarity with these families, the lack of political will persists.

The words of Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid that the government was “taking the issue seriously” and would “adopt all possible measures for their recovery” would perhaps have inspired more hope in a newcomer; for the families that have faced the apathy of the authorities for over a decade, they ring hollow. Even the statement of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, who urged the military and intelligence chiefs to help in giving these families closure, is diluted by the reality of how her party failed to provide relief when in power.

There was hope after the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, but that too seems to have dissipated for powerless families facing a mighty state apparatus. Some are driven to the point where they just want the truth for the sake of closure, whereas others want answers and accountability. Their distress is heartbreaking, and these protests are only the visible manifestations of their grief.

Even those fortunate few whose missing relatives have returned, are not given the facts. Verbal assurances from the interior minister mean little; previously, the government resisted a bill on enforced disappearances in parliament even if the prime minister reportedly has now had a change of heart. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of these citizens and give them answers about their missing family members.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021

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