Possibly each month in recent years, is linked to an act of repression and impunity in Pakistan, and March is no different. Last year in March, Prime Minister Khan met with families of the Baloch disappeared, who are still waiting for him to stay true to his words about their loved ones. March also happens to be the month when Pakistan’s utterly toothless Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was constituted in 2011. In March 2016, the brother of forcibly disappeared journalist Zeenat Shahzadi’s brother committed suicide as he could not deal with the pain of her disappearance. And in the same month, a software engineer and businessman Sajid Mehmood was put outside the protection of the law, when he was forcibly taken from his house in Islamabad with his cell phone, laptop, and other documents. The vehicles of those who picked him up included “double-cabins”, the vehicle affiliated with enforced disappearances in Pakistan. The Joint Investigation Team of the case, which had officers of intelligence agencies, and of the three agencies, two agreed with the conclusion Mehmood’s was indeed a case of “enforced disappearance,” as per the landmark ruling by the now Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah.
March 14, 2022 marks the sixth year since Sajid Mehmood’s enforce disappearance, his family is still waiting for the state authorities to produce him before the court. This very progressive judgement, clearly states that in case a disappeared person is not traced by the security agencies and law enforcement, then they will be held to account for their failure.
The current PTI government filed an intra court appeal in its attempts to get the IHC judgement suspended. Since 2016, over 60 hearings of habeas corpus writ filed by Mehmood’s spouse Mahera Sajid through her counsel, and intra-court appeal by PTI government, have gone by in the Islamabad High court. It is not common for an enforced disappearance case to remain in judicial focus, to be pursued in the apex court, as families or even communities do not have the resources and capacity to pursue them, or even a stellar judgement to be given. And yet, no progress is made in tracing as to where exactly Mehmood is detained illegally or his recovery. Through the pending I.C.A, the current government, on its part has also ensured that the advances made for Sajid Mehmood’s reappearance, never materialize into tangible change.
The PTI government sent the draft bill to criminalize disappearances through an amendment in PPC to the lower house in 2021. But out of nowhere the interior ministry’s committee in NA included a draconian and vague section 514 in the bill, without any discussion on the floor of the house, which would punish families or individuals reporting cases of disappearances if their complaints turn out to be false. But as far as those who hold the most power in the land of the pure are concerned, citizens cannot even freely exercise their right to justice against a crime widely accepted as heinous by international human rights standards, without fearing reprisals. We must not forget that enforced disappearances are already severely underreported here. In October 2021 and then through a press statement in December, UN experts wrote to the Pakistan government to not “discourage victims from lodging complaints”, and “reporting alleged cases.”. Nothing came of the civil society’s protests, the UN communications and rights monitors press statements, however, according to the Human Rights minister, this bill which was sent to the Senate, went “missing”.
By the third month of 2022, a number of Baloch youth have already been forcibly disappeared in Pakistan, including Hafeez Baloch, an MPhil candidate from Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University. On March 2, Baloch students attempted to protest the disappearance, and the Islamabad police charging their batons on the unarmed civilians was visually documented. The same day, a Baloch teacher forcibly picked up in March 2021, disappeared again. On March 3, Amina Janjua, one of Asia’s key campaigners against enforced disappearance, led yet another protest with families of the disappeared in Islamabad. By the evening, an FIR on fabricated charges was registered against the Baloch youth, journalist Asad Ali Toor, Imaan H. Mazari, advocate and human rights defender. —But small mercies, the IHC barred ICT police from arresting anyone nominated in the FIR by March 4.
While this bizarre and repressive chain of events continues in the country, the delay in cases, investigations by the law enforcement authorities and security agencies for recovery of the missing people, also continue. But the families keep suffering, in the absence of pending justice. For the past six years, one of Sajid Mehmood’s three daughters, has written a diary about her father’s forced disappearance and “the most horrific day” of her life. She recalled the appearance of plain clothed men who ransacked the family’s home during their search. Sajid and Mahera’s three daughters were 3, 13 and 14 in 2016. Turning homes of victims of this crime is a well-established and known practice.
All of the above might sound repetitive and dense facts to some, but never to Pakistanis whose loved ones are lost to the terrorizing uncertainty and the crushing limbo of this crime, and to the rest doing their best to stand with the families and beleaguered communities during their struggle. From Wazristian to Khuzdar, Karachi to Lahore and now increasingly Islamabad, the families and friends of the forcibly disappeared are waiting for impunity to end, and the “missing” to return.