Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Agony of missing persons’ families far from over

October 08, 2012


A grief-stricken mother of a missing student, reacts, as she joins others demanding to know the whereabouts of their missing family members near the Presidential palace in Islamabad, May 19, 2008. — Photo by AP/File

Ikramullah Khattak came out of the Courtroom No I in the Peshawar High Court. He was visibly dejected and told media person that he was going to commit self-immolation. He said he could no longer face the minor children of his cousin, Jamal Abdul Tahir, who had been missing for over 15 months without any noteworthy progress in his case.

Some well-wishers told him that he should not lose patience as there were several of the missing persons who were allegedly picked up by the intelligence agencies many years ago and their relatives had still not lost hope. Several others had returned after remaining in captivity for many years.

Mr Khattak said that he had filed a habeas corpus petition against illegal detention of Jamal over a year ago. Due to his frequent visits he is now a familiar face at the high court. Apart from him, two minor sons of Jamal and his wife also visit the court regularly. During the last hearing on Oct 4 he was alone. He said that he was now tired of giving hope to Jamal’s children.

The case of Jamal is different from others of “enforced disappearances” as he belongs to an educated and well-off family. In most of the cases before the high court the alleged detainees belong to poor social background and there was a presumption about their alleged links with any of the radicalised groups. However, Mr Khattak claimed that Jamal was not of that type. He was allegedly picked up by persons wearing uniform of Elite Force from Defence Colony, an upscale neighborhood in the Peshawar Cantonment.

Not only Mr Khattak, high court Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan was also disturbed with the slow pace of developments in these cases. The chief justice made several observations while expressing his displeasure over this state of affairs and even hinted that he might constitute a larger bench for hearing these cases and passing a stringent order.

Presently, there are over 350 habeas corpus petitions pending before the court. Dozens of other petitions are pending before the Darul Qaza (circuit bench) in Swat.

During last hearings in these cases on Sept 25 and Oct 4, the chief justice showed anguish over the delaying tactics used by the intelligence agencies. As usual, the representatives of the ministries of defence and interior continued to express ignorance on behalf of the intelligence agencies regarding the whereabouts of the detainees.

A few months ago after continuous pressure from the court to shift detainees to notified internment centres, the federal and provincial governments had held meeting over the issue and provided some vital information regarding internment centres. On June 26 the court was provided a list of around 1,035 detainees who were set free after reformation and another list of around 895 persons detained in interment centres in Malakand region including Swat. Again on July 11 the court was informed that 194 suspects had been detained at an internment centre in the southern Lakki Marwat district.

However, during last two months the intelligence agencies have now again been dragging their feet on the issue. The high court on Sept 25 ordered the provincial chief and home secretaries to hold meeting with the concerned sector commanders of armed forces and intelligence agencies so as to set free innocent detained persons and to shift to the notified internment centres those detainees against whom solid evidence was available.

Furthermore, on Oct 4 the court directed the ministries of defence and interior to provide lists of all the detention facilities operated by the intelligence agencies including the Military Intelligence (MI) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) on Nov 6.

Legal experts dealing with cases of missing persons believe that there was likelihood that the order about the detention centres would not be implemented as these centres were mostly operated in an illegal manner and the persons detained there were in illegal detention. They asked why the intelligence agencies would share the list of their “safe houses” with the court, as it would be a proof of their illegal operations.

Moreover, following the promulgation of two controversial regulations — Action (in aid of civil power) regulation for Fata and Pata — on June 23, 2011, an impression was given by the government that it would help in resolving the issue of missing persons. Wide ranging powers have now been assigned to the security forces under these regulations. These regulations provide for setting up internment centres where detainees could be kept for unspecified period.

According to a notification issued on July 20, 2011, by the provincial home secretary there are nine notified internment centres in the province. Similarly, another notification was issued by the additional chief secretary, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), on Aug 12, 2011, under which around 34 internment centres were notified.

Looking at the pace of missing person cases it is evident that the said two regulations fail to achieve the desired results. Relatives of these people were hoping that these persons would be shifted to internment centres and at least the relatives would become aware regarding their whereabouts.

However, their miseries continue to persist and they have still been in a state of uncertainty whether their missing relatives are dead or alive. One thing is clear that the agony through which these families have been passing are far from over.