ISLAMABAD: Descri­bing the issue as ‘serious’, Chief Jus­tice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa dropped hints on Tue­sday to resolve the chro­nic malaise of enforced disappearances “once and for all”, but insisted that the matter could be settled only if all accept responsibility.

“This country belongs to all of us. Even those who may have other viewpoints,” he observed while presiding over a case brought forward by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan that highlighted how the unlawful practice of enf­orced disappearances continued unabated, haunting generations upon generations.

“Let’s make Pakistan str­ong from within,” Justice Isa said, adding that no outside forces could harm it if the country was strong from within.

The court, before adjourning until Wednesday (today), requested Mr Ahsan’s counsel, Shoaib Shaheen, to present concise points on potential legal actions regarding enforced disappearances.

Justice Isa emphasised that the present case held great public importance and that the court intended to resolve the matter for good.

The CJP, who was heading a three-judge bench, also including Justice Muham­mad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali, observed that many of the individuals cited in the petition were influential figures capable of directly approaching the court, yet none had done so. He also noted that many of the mentioned individuals had reappeared without identifying those responsible for their disappearances.

The Supreme Court cautioned against using the judiciary as a platform for political gains, referencing the precedent set in the Faizabad Dharna case, which upheld the right to peaceful protest.

The counsel, however, insisted on the court’s recognition of enforced disappearances as violations of several constitutional articles.

He also highlighted the inadequacy of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in meeting legal and international standards.

The petition mentioned the names of political activists, namely Usman Dar, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, Azam Khan, Mohammad Khan Bhatti, etc., all belonging or allied with the PTI. They were allegedly abducted and coerced into changing political loyalties.

Addressing the case of Mr Ahmed, the CJP said that he was not an underprivileged person, and if a person like him could not come to the Supreme Court, then no one else could.

Justice Isa also wondered whether the petitioner’s real grievance was that those disappeared had switched sides. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” he mused.

The discussion also turned to a bill on missing persons presented by former human rights minister Shereen Mazari before the Senate, which later went missing. The chief justice expressed surprise over the disappearance of the bill from the Senate, particularly as it occurred during PTI’s time in power.

“It is strange that a minister is saying her bill disappeared,” Justice Isa wondered, adding that the “missing persons case” had now become a “missing bill case”.

Besides, the counsel had pointed fingers against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani without making him party in the case, Justice Isa said.

When the counsel cited the name of anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan — who had resurfaced after four months of disappearance — the CJP wondered why the petitioner did not mention journalists like Matiullah Jan and Asad Toor, who still stood with what they claimed about their disappearances. “We will ask questions once you pick and choose,” Justice Isa observed.

Mr Shaheen then highlighted the case of Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch, who had been missing from Balochistan for 14 years. He said Baloch students had been subjected to short-term disappearances, being picked up, kept in secret detention facilities and released several days later.

Justice Isa expressed his surprise that the petitioner failed to mention a sit-in in Islamabad over missing persons, but the counsel said the petition was filed much before the protest started. “You could have filed another petition. This way, the facts could have come before us,” Justice Isa said.

He observed that a detailed list of missing persons should have been provided, including their names and dates when they went missing.

The CJP also wondered whether the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry had ever been changed after it was first formed. The counsel informed him the chairman had not been changed since 2011.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2024

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