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The file photo shows photographs of missing persons. - File Photo
The file photo shows photographs of missing persons. - File Photo

KARACHI: Their ethnic identities were different and so were their ideologies. Hailing from business families as well as those with academically rich backgrounds, hardly any similarity was found among families gathered outside the Karachi Press Club on Thursday evening to observe a candlelit vigil. But their pain was common. Their loved ones have been missing for as long as five years. They insisted that the victims were picked up by intelligence agencies.

Certainly unaware of the misery her family is going through, three-and-a-half-year-old patient of thalassaemia major Khadija was also there with her mother and elderly grandparents to attend the vigil hoping for safe return of her father and 69 other people missing from Karachi and different areas of Balochistan.

“My husband was a simple religious man,” said Dr Fahima Asim, mother of Khadija and wife of 30-year-old engineer Asim Amin, who went missing in December 2011 in the residential area of Dhorajee Colony. “He went to offer Isha prayers and never returned home. People may testify to his honesty and integrity. We went from police station to high court and from political leaders to protest demonstrations, but found no news of him.”

Faculty member of the Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology and the only son of his parents, Asim Amin’s disappearance came as a rude shock to his family, but it did not surprise Muhammad Hussain Baloch, who has been looking for his maternal cousin Ahsan Arjumandi Baloch for more than three years.

“He is a Norwegian citizen,” he said. “He actually was quite active in organising protest demonstrations against Gen Musharraf’s policies on Balochistan in European countries and also kept visiting Pakistan for that purpose. In August 2009 he was driving to Karachi from Balochistan with his younger brother. They were intercepted near Uthal by armed men, who left his brother and their car abandoned and took Ahsan along.”

He was ‘hopeful’ that his 43-year-old cousin was alive and only a sustained struggle from all quarters of society would compel ‘those forces’ to release him and other missing persons.

Mr Baloch has a reason to keep his hopes alive.

“My other cousin, Abdul Karim Mehmood, was picked up by the agencies in 2003 on Tariq Road. We kept raising our voice, approached courts, lodged protests and finally four months ago he was released,” said Mr Baloch, who is also active as the Karachi coordinator of the Defence of Human Rights –– a common platform of families of more than 800 missing persons.

Founded by Amina Masood Janjua after her husband Masood Janjua went missing in July 2005, the organisation has emerged as a key body raising its voice against enforced disappearances of people who face no charge or accusation on record. Besides recognition of its efforts, the number of its members is increasing.

“Despite all assurances by the government and actions of the judiciary, the enforced disappearances go on,” said Mr Baloch of the Defence of Human Rights. “Only two months ago a young man, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Baloch, went missing in the Malir 15 area. His family has recently joined us as there is no other way to fight the scourge of enforced disappearances.”

Amid hope and despair, the families of missing persons are firmly standing united despite having differences of ethnic backgrounds and ideological beliefs to raise their voice against the ‘injustice’ and ‘extra-constitutional moves’. They also count success on their part, which has saved several countrymen from going missing.

“We welcome the recommendations forwarded by the parliamentary committee for national security for safe return of the missing persons,” said Ms Janjua in a statement handed out to media persons after the vigil.

“It’s a success of our consistent struggle. The recommendations carry several flaws, but we still find it a move in the right direction. It still needs to take our input as well.”

Once pinning all hopes on the Supreme Court, the Defence of Human Rights now seems realising constraints that prevent the apex court orders from being translated into action. But the five-year performance of the elected coalition government has disappointed them the most.

“As the government has only two more months to go, the key question is when would it move on these recommendations? Most importantly, would the new assemblies recognise these recommendations?” asked Ms Janjua. “The future of hundreds of children who don’t know if they are orphans or if their fathers are still their guardians is in the hands of those who claim to be their elected representatives.”