Misplaced priorities

Published February 28, 2024

THE federal government’s filing of a petition with the Supreme Court on Monday, seeking to overturn an Islamabad High Court order that security agencies trace missing Baloch students, highlights the state’s misplaced priorities. Instead of proactively working to address the core problem — claims that the state ‘disappears’ its own citizens — the government is more concerned about pushing back against any legal efforts that may end this deplorable practice. The attorney general also asked why an IHC judge was constantly summoning high officials — including the prime minister — for their views on the matter. He added that by constituting the joint committee of security bodies and tasking them with finding missing persons, the IHC had “exceeded its jurisdiction” when an SC-mandated committee on enforced disappearances was already functioning.

Suffice it to say, if the aforementioned committee had been doing its job, enforced disappearances would have ended long ago. Meanwhile, the AG’s objection to the court summoning top state functionaries was underscored by the interim PM’s failure to show up for the Feb 19 hearing. This is the second time he skipped a hearing of the case. Perhaps if the PM had made an appearance, it would have sent a strong message that the state intends to resolve the issue. But as the petition filed with the SC against the IHC order indicates, the government has no real interest in addressing the matter. Whether it is missing persons from Balochistan or other parts of the country, the government is clearly in a state of denial. State functionaries, as well as those propagating the official line, suggest that many of the missing persons have, in fact, joined separatist outfits, or gone abroad in search of greener pastures. Others have made far-fetched comparisons, saying that thousands of people also go missing in the US and UK. Raising the issue of missing persons should not be conflated with defending separatism. All that is being asked of the state is to produce those accused of taking part in militancy before the courts, so that their guilt or innocence can be ascertained within constitutional parameters. Is that too much to ask? It is hoped that the incoming administration will end the blight of enforced disappearances, and that LEAs will only work within the confines of the law when dealing with those accused of wrongdoing.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2024

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