ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Monday approached the Supreme Court to seek overturning of the Islamabad High Court’s Feb 19 directives of constituting a joint committee of directors general of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inter-Service Intelli­gence (ISI), and Military Intelli­gence (MI) for tracing the whereabouts of students from Balochistan who are allegedly missing.

Moved by the interior ministry through Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan, the petition also highlighted that a single judge of the IHC persistently required the attendance of the prime minister, ministers for defence and interior, as well as respective secretaries before the court, and on two different dates of hearings, the minister for human rights, law minister, and secretary interior entered appearance.

By constituting the joint committee, the government argued that the high court had exceeded its jurisdiction by stepping into the domain of the executive, especially when the government-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was functioning in line with the directions of the Supreme Court to trace the whereabouts of persons allegedly disappeared by force.

The progress report of the commission is being submitted regularly before a special bench of the apex court, besides the top court has already taken the issue of missing persons in a separate petition along with other connected matters on the same subject, the government reminded.

Seeks apex court’s intervention to overturn high court’s directives on joint body formation

In the given facts, the high court ought to have shown restraint in deference to such like proceeding pending before the Supreme Court, but the high court decided to proceed by constituting the joint committee, the government regretted. Proprietary demands that the high court’s order be set aside, especially when the similar issue is pending before this august court, the government highlighted.

The issue at hand revolves around the staging of a sit-in near the National Press Club Islamabad by students of the Quaid-i-Azam University, mostly belonging to the province of Balochistan. The protest was arranged to raise a voice against the alleged enforced disappearance of Baloch students.

On March 1, 2022, the local administration registered an FIR with Police Station Kohsar, Islam­abad, against the participants of the sit-in. Subsequently, Advocate Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir filed a writ petition against the lodging of FIR, sealing and non-provision of a copy of FIR, and causing harassment to the participants of the sit-in before the high court.

During the pendency, the high court, through its April 28, 2022 order, appointed an 11-member commission under the convenorship of Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani to inquire and investigate the grievance of students belonging to Balochistan regarding racial profiling, enforced disappearance, and lack of response by the state functionaries.

On the recusal of Mr Sanjrani, the convenor of the commission was substituted with Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Member National Assembly through an Oct 3, 2022 order by the high court.

The reconstituted commission held its meetings and finally submitted its report before the high court, stating that 69 Baloch students were missing, and except eight students, all other Baloch students mentioned in the commission’s report have been traced.

But apart from summoning the prime minister and federal ministers along with secretaries, the high court included a list of 26 Baloch students allegedly “picked up by the law enforcement agencies from Balochistan” just on the oral claim of petitioner Ms Imaan Mazari, especially when neither any FIR has been lodged nor any complaint whatsoever has been filed by the guardian or relative of such allegedly missing persons before CEED or any other legal forum.

The appeal pleaded that the high court has erred in law by observing that “respondent institutions, establishment, and departments were guilty of misconduct, being an accomplice to the crime committed by their subordinates, and they were not interested to resolve the delicate issue of enforced disappearance, and as such earned bad name for the State of Pakistan in the international community”.

Such a bold statement/observation without any substantiating material is totally uncalled for, the appeal regretted, adding that the high court order was not legally sustainable and thus liable to be interfered by the Supreme Court.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2024

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