WASHINGTON, March 12: Politically-motivated disappearances are a major problem in Pakistan where as many as 1,600 people are listed as missing, says the US State Department.

The department’s annual report on human rights contrasts sharply with the perception that the United States opposes the restoration of sacked judges in Pakistan because they had released some of these missing persons.

The report notes that during 2007 Pakistan Supreme Court ordered the government to release or regularise the detention status of prisoners held incommunicado by security agencies.

It recalls that in 2007, then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry heard more than 40 petitions filed on behalf of 198 persons and in August ordered the government to find and release all the missing persons.

In response, the Deputy Attorney General advised the court in October that the government had located half of the 425 reportedly missing persons. They were picked up on suspicion of involvement in terrorism and released shortly thereafter. The rest were kept in different places in the country.

Reporting its own findings, the State Department concluded: “Politically motivated disappearances occurred during the year. Police and security forces held prisoners incommunicado and refused to provide information on their whereabouts.” The official US document acknowledged that while some disappearances were associated with terrorism and national security cases, “many missing individuals were Sindhi and Baloch nationalists.”

The report also names some of these missing persons, including Rafiq Khoso, Abdul Rauf Sasoli, Saeed Brohi, Bilal Bugti, Agha Shahid Bugti and Murtaza Bugti of the Jamhoori Watan Party, two student activists, Shabbir Jan Rind and Bashir Rind, Waheed Kambarani, Sherdil Khan, Safdar Sarki, a US citizen with dual nationality, Abid Raza Zaidi, and Ghulam Mohammed.

The report notes that so far there have been no developments in the 2005 disappearance of 18 members of the Pakistan Petroleum Workers’ Union from Balochistan who had gone to Karachi for negotiations with their management, or the 2005 disappearance of Dr Haneef Shareef, a writer, medical doctor, and member of the Balochistan Student Organisation.

On August 21, the Supreme Court ordered the release of Hafiz Abdul Basit and Aleem Naseer, ruling that the government had held the men too long without charge. After his release, Basit testified in court that he was malnourished and forcibly deprived of sleep.

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