Unfortunately, Pakistan is a country where innumerable innocent citizens, political activists, dissenters or opponents of the Powers That Be just disappear into thin air and no trace can be found of them. The issue of disappearing persons has now become not only a national issue but also an internationally acclaimed criminal offense. All governments present and past have remained oblivious to this grave crime and the issue has been kept alive due to the brave efforts of the near and dear ones of the victims. Not long ago, the families of the victims once did a long march of over 2,000 kilometers on foot to protest against this grievous injustice and demanded to know the whereabouts of their near and dear ones. Many protests have been held all over the country, including in the federal capital Islamabad. As a result of public pressure and the hue and cry of the media, it was in 2011 that the Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances was constituted and given the mandate to trace the whereabouts of the missing persons and to fix responsibility on individuals or organisations responsible.
Since its inception in 2011, the commission has received about 8,279 complaints and according to reports 6,047 have been “disposed of” – this just means that the victim is either dead, returned home, found in an interment centre or in jail. But a vast majority of them are still missing without trace and no organisation is willing to accept responsibility or to provide some logical reasons for these victims of forced disappearance. The latest case is of Hafeez Baloch, a student of Quaid-i-Azam University, who was mysteriously abducted by some unidentified men in civilian clothes from his home in Khuzdar. Two other young Baloch students, Faseeh and Sohail of Balochistan University, just vanished last year. So far, not a single perpetrator of this heinous crime has been identified or any national organisation held responsible for detaining citizens without recourse to any legal procedures. The International Commission of Jurists and now even the UN have expressed their concerns regarding the phenomenon of missing persons.
The country has been engulfed in political infighting since the ouster of the Imran Khan regime and every day has been one of many incidents of disorderly demonstrations in and out of parliament. And in all this civil strife, the entire nation was shocked by the very recent suicide blast in Karachi University. The suicide bomber was a female student of Karachi University, who was highly educated and was enrolled in an MPhil degree program. Her husband is a dental surgeon and professor at the Makran Medical College. Her father is a retired civil servant who worked as registrar at the University of Turbat, while her brothers include a doctor and a deputy director in government service. This attack was not carried out by someone who is normally perceived as a ‘brainwashed illiterate religious fanatic,’ but by a highly educated woman who believed in the ideology of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). The attack by a highly educated woman surprised many, and now some new questions are being asked about the insurgency in Balochistan.
What is happening in our largest province and why isn’t the question of forced disappearances answered by any government? This attack again reveals the lack of information about Balochistan amongst the intellectuals and the media. Most people are still unaware of the circumstances of the death of Akbar Bugti, the role of Baloch sardars in the violent insurgency or the strength and influence of the BLA.
The regular and oft-repeated news about the enforced disappearance of Baloch students from city areas and from remote villages of Balochistan is now definitely a cause for great alarm and worry for all right-thinking patriotic Pakistanis.
We now have a mushroom growth of websites managed by Baloch nationalists and these websites are now a potent tool for propaganda and spreading anti-national sentiments. These websites are now being constantly blocked by the authorities in an effort to stop the spread of information about Balochistan, but still we see the emergence of new militant organisation leaders and this is definitely food for thought for our national defense and intelligence agencies. This suicide attack by an educated woman on Chinese nationals in Karachi is definitely a new and very dangerous trend. All the political parties and national institutions should take this attack as a wakeup call and do everything in their power to resolve the issue of missing persons as soon as possible, and end the sense of deprivation and frustration among the patriotic people of Balochistan, particularly the educated youth of that province.
Everyone should understand that the solution to the many problems of the province is in political dialogue and not military operations. During his recent visit to Balochistan, the newly elected Prime Minister was heard saying that he will take up the issue of missing persons with “powerful quarters.” This statement is downright ridiculous because the PM himself is admitting that there are some forces over and above the government, who are powerful enough to pursue their own independent agenda and the government is powerless to do anything about it.
PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain said that the way forward, according to him, was to “stop treating Balochistan as a political plaything, frequently picking, choosing and changing favorites, end the shameful crime of missing persons, ensure benefits of development for local communities and end border harassment and corruption.” Many steps can be taken to rectify the factors that he mentions. Enforced disappearances should be codified as an autonomous offense in our penal code. The commission formed on forced disappearances should be given greater powers and forced to complete the task they have been entrusted with. The veil of secrecy that surrounds our security must be punctured, and it must be ensured that every national institution works under a basic statutory framework in accordance with the constitution. And finally, we will have to face the fact that all sacred cows cannot be protected under the guise of national security – especially when they engage in activities which are not permitted to them by the law of the land.