International pressure is building on Pakistan on the missing persons’ front. Amnesty International (AI) has said this week that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has more than 700 pending cases from this country; with hundreds more being received by Pakistan’s State Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. This comes in the wake of last November’s UNHRC Universal Periodic Review on human rights here. Back then, AI had highlighted cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly in Karachi and throughout Balochistan.
All of which represent violations of Pakistan’s international commitments on human rights. And as AI notes: no one has ever been held accountable for those who have disappeared. From, more recently, activists such as Raza Khan to journalist Saleem Shahzad who had reported on Al Qaeda infiltrating the Navy back in 2011 before he disappeared. His dead body was found four days later, bearing marks of torture. This is to say nothing of the thousands and thousands of nameless Pashtuns who have gone missing over the decades; being little more than footnotes in someone else’s history. Presently, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has compiled a list of 1,200 missing persons after speaking to victims’ families.
By failing to act, the Pakistani state is effectively shooting itself in the foot. For enforced disappearances fall into the dangerous ambit of crimes against humanity, if committed on a widespread scale. And the worst part is that the government is not in the dark about things. After all, Ahsan Iqbal, the man at the Interior briefed the National Assembly last month on the fact that 1,640 persons remain unaccounted for in Pakistan as of February 2018.
If the Centre is unwilling or unable to act, short of admitting it time to pack up shop on the grounds of failing to establish its writ, it should at the very least relay the following message to those who can: unless this issue is at least partially resolved — which must mean bringing to book all those involved, regardless of whether they represent certain state organs or not — Pakistan’s diplomatic and trade relations remain at risk. This point was underscored by Anne Marchal, EU minister and Deputy Head of Mission, Delegation of the European Union to Pakistan earlier this week when she noted that the bloc does not tolerate human rights violations.
Thus if the Pakistani state continues to peddle notions of some lives being worth more than others — it is hoped that the threat of having its largest trading partner take action against it may give way to the required impetus to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; something that AI recommends. Then there is the matter of reviewing counter-terrorism laws that allow arrest without judicial remand and prolonged pre-trial detention; which are routinely used to allow human rights abuses in areas like FATA and Balochistan.
To not act is to admit that the democracy project is fast failing.