OVER the last two decades — and counting — Pakistan has seen many of its citizens go ‘missing’, a euphemism for enforced disappearances believed to have been carried out by the state.
Individuals have been targeted across the country, hauled away with no recourse to due process. In many cases, there is no news of their whereabouts for months, even years.
Even though the highest court of the land has criticised this despicable practice, elements within the state have refused to abandon it. Those suspected of having separatist sympathies in Balochistan and Sindh, or seen as religiously inspired militants as well as political cadres and activists, have all been ‘disappeared’.
The latest to be added to this list are leaders and supporters of the PTI, who have faced the state’s wrath in the aftermath of the May 9 violence.
Many of these individuals, after being off the radar for weeks or months, have resurfaced to address press conferences or make TV appearances to denounce their erstwhile party in what can only be described as a tragicomic spectacle.
In this regard, lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan has filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking the latter to direct provincial governments to provide lists of missing persons, and identify those behind their disappearance.
It is hoped this effort succeeds where several past endeavours have failed, including the SC-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.
It is crucial for the state to investigate such cases, especially as ‘short-term disappearances’ have picked up pace over the recent past. But it is also essential that aggrieved parties, for example the PTI, provide lists of missing supporters so that these can be tallied with official numbers and be probed.
Moreover, the missing persons of Balochistan, KP and other peripheral areas should not be forgotten. The interim prime minister recently told a foreign media outlet that there were only 50 missing people in Balochistan according to UN figures.
This is a classic example of denialism that nearly all ruling set-ups have indulged in, for, according to the missing persons’ commission’s own figures, the number of the missing from Balochistan is over 450. It is these attitudes that must change for enforced disappearances to end.
As the petition has highlighted, some key questions need to be answered by the state: where have the missing been held? Under which law were they detained? Why were they not produced before the courts?
It is hoped that the SC can instruct the authorities to provide satisfactory answers to these queries. Moreover, there is also merit in the petition’s observation that the current commission on missing persons “does not adequately comply with legal and international standards”.
An empowered commission is required that can locate the missing, and identify those involved in their illegal detention.
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023