Politicising missing persons’ issue

NEWS & VIEWS

Mohammad Jamil

ONE would accept the fact that those accused picked up by police or intelligence agencies should be produced in the court within a specified time. It has to be mentioned that a person can be detained under section 16 of Maintenance of Public Order (MPO). For the detention order to be issued, a district magistrate or any government authority can send a reference, supported by material which is accepted or rejected by the government. The home department then issues the detention orders that need to be served to the actual person. But after 90 days, a board has to re-examine the material. The detained person can then be released on bond and the surety of good behaviour. But there are some human rights activists who blow the issue out of proportion, and accuse the law enforcing agencies of abducting the innocent people.
Some of the champions of human rights have criticized Chairman of the Missing Persons Commission, retired Justice Javed Iqbal on his remarks during the briefing to the Senate committee on Human Rights said: “The issue of missing persons has always been politicised and that the situation is not as bad as it is made to sound. Mama Qadeer claimed that 40,000 people were missing, and yet to this day, we do not have any details regarding those cases. In Balochistan, there are merely 131 cases regarding missing persons being heard, and in a number of instances the commission had found that people were picked up by rival tribes due to personal enmity…When Bramdagh Bughti, Herbyar Marri and Khair Bakhsh Marri had left the country, they took hundreds of men with them. To date we haven’t even been able to find out how many of our people are jailed in neighbouring countries.”
In September 2011, Judicial Commission was formed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for recovery of the missing persons, and Justice Javed Iqbal (retd) was appointed as head of the commission. In a press briefing in July 2012, he had stated that foreign intelligence agencies were responsible for the deteriorating situation of Balochistan, and there was concrete evidence against them. On January 08, 2014 a section of media, quoting Balochistan home department, reported that the Judicial Commission formed regarding Baloch missing persons had brought forth 209 missing cases in the province. Sixty one missing people were reportedly recovered, the dead bodies of 24 of them were found, and names of 44 people were excluded, as their particulars were not complete. Law enforcing and intelligence agencies said that most of the purported missing persons had links with different terrorist organizations, and due to fear of being arrested they went underground in far-flung areas of KP and Balochistan.
Some of them might have shifted to Afghanistan and other countries, just like Fazlullah and his thugs were ensconced in Kunar (Afghanistan). Many of them are not in contact with their families, who perceive them as missing persons. Of course, some of the terrorists while conducting ambushes against LEAs could have been killed during action. In many cases dead bodies were taken away by their accomplices, who probably buried them at unknown places. The families were not informed about their deaths, who considered them under custody of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Suicide bombers and unidentified persons who died during suicide attacks could not be recognized or accounted for. Contrary to the claims by the human rights organizations, on February 28, 2012 United Nations’ findings about cases of forced disappearances revealed that only ninety-eight persons were missing in Pakistan.
At that time, law enforcing agencies justified detaining the militants under section 16 of the MPO on the grounds that despite sufficient evidence against militants for killing many important personalities and military personnel were acquitted from ATC Rawalpindi. There is a perception that police, witnesses and judges of anti-terrorist courts were scared of the terrorists. That point besides, the issue of missing persons has been blown out of proportion by the NGOs. They exaggerate figures of missing persons, but fail to provide details about them. Some media men continue propaganda blitz against the intelligence agencies and paint them in bad light. However, quite a few media men and some retired military men-turned analysts and panelists resort to scathing criticism of military, perhaps to prove that media is independent. Detractors of Pakistan also propagate that the government is either complicit or powerless to stop abduction by Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs).
Most of the purported missing persons have reportedly links with different terrorist organizations and due to fear of being arrested moved to far-flung areas of KP/Balochistan. In addition, some have shifted to Afghanistan and other countries to permanently settle there. Most of them are not in contact with their families, who perceive them as missing persons. Apart from that, some of the terrorists while conducting ambushes against LEAs were killed during action. In many cases dead bodies are taken away by their accomplices, who probably burry them at unknown places. The families are not informed about their deaths, who consider them under custody of intelligence agencies. Suicide bombers and unidentified persons who die during suicide attacks cannot be recognized or accounted for. Anyhow, the case of missing persons is being exploited by domestic and foreign media drawing inspiration from International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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