OUTSIDE the Quaid’s mausoleum, under the blazing Karachi sun, a sorry sight awaits passers-by: since last Friday, families of Shia missing persons, including toddlers and the elderly, have set up a protest camp to demand that the state provide them with details about their loved ones and return them without delay. However, at the time of writing, their demands remained unfulfilled. Some men have been ‘missing’ for up to a decade, as families struggle to find answers. Unfortunately, this latest protest proves that the scourge of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is very much alive. As these and other protesters have demanded of the state, if their loved ones are accused of breaking any of the country’s laws, they should be produced in court so that they can properly defend themselves. Sadly this logic has failed to convince the quarters concerned about the ‘missing’ who include Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, members of the Shia community as well as those believed to be harbouring sympathies for religious outfits, armed and otherwise.
The courts have stepped in to remind the state of its duties, and citizens’ constitutional rights. For example, while hearing a case last month, a Sindh High Court bench censured the federal government, saying the centre was taking little interest in the cases of missing persons, and added that no legislation had been passed against enforced disappearances. The Islamabad High Court had also slapped a Rs10m fine on the authorities for failing to trace the whereabouts of a missing man. However, even the protestations of the courts seem to have had little effect where ending the disgraceful practice of enforced disappearances is concerned. As mentioned above, if the authorities believe someone is guilty of a crime, they should be booked and tried in a transparent manner. Whisking people away and keeping them incarcerated without charge is not only a flagrant violation of human rights, it also does not serve the ends of justice. Instead of strengthening national security, ‘disappearing’ people actually alienates the public from the state and its institutions. The prime minister must take notice of all cases of enforced disappearances and provide answers to the family members of missing persons. Moreover, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances must play a more proactive role in tracing the disappeared, and hold to account those who have unlawfully detained citizens. If Pakistan is to become a true welfare state, there can be no room for such illegal abductions.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2021