Monday July 22, 2024

The missing persons tragedy

Relatives and loved ones of a missing person however suffer on a daily basis living with torment of waiting between hope and despair

By Saleem Safi
January 22, 2024
Protest for missing persons can be seen in this image.— X/@MahrangBaloch_
Protest for missing persons can be seen in this image.— X/@MahrangBaloch_

Disappearing someone is, in some respects, an even worse crime than murder. If someone is killed, Allah, the Lord of the worlds, heals the wounds of his/her family and loved ones after some time.

Relatives and loved ones of a missing person, however, suffer on a daily basis, living with the torment of waiting, between hope and despair. The mental agony of the missing person’s family is unimaginable. Besides this mental trauma, these families also suffer immense economic and social hardships.

For instance, if someone dies, their spouse can remarry after some time, but those whose partners are ‘missing’, they go through years and decades of an endless wait. There have been some incidents where the wife of a missing person, after waiting for many years, was convinced that her husband was not alive anymore. Due to social compulsions, she was forced to marry another person.

It is a general perception that the issue of missing persons is limited only to Balochistan but the fact is that the numbers of missing persons of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including erstwhile Fata) are higher than that of Balochistan. But since missing persons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a primarily religious background or are affiliated with the TTP, hence no political party or human rights organization raises a voice for them – although all human beings have the same basic rights. Similarly, people affiliated with the MQM are also missing in Karachi.

In short, the problem of missing persons is not limited to Balochistan only but is a country-wide issue which needs to be fixed. As per the recent report submitted by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in the Supreme Court, the highest number of missing persons have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (3,485), followed by Balochistan (2,752), Sindh (1,787), Punjab (1,625), Islamabad (361), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (68).

There is a clear contrast between the position of the state and the organizations that are raising a voice for missing persons. Both these positions have some weight and both are also in some ways victim to some exaggeration.

For instance, the state completely denies the existence of missing persons. It is argued that there are many people who have either gone to Afghanistan or have died in various battles, but these people have also been included in the list of the missing persons. For example, the boy who carried out a suicide attack on Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq in Balochistan on May 19, 2023, was listed among missing persons.

The second argument is that terrorists get away free of punishment when presented in courts due to flaws in the judicial system, lack of proper prosecution or fear and intimidation. Hence, different law-enforcement bodies have to deal with such terrorists.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies do not have any legal authority to arrest such offenders unlike secret agencies in many countries of the world, including the United States. So they cannot bring these accused people to the courts of law. If they present a missing person in a court of law, it will cause them legal repercussions. But being on the ground, they believe that the missing person is a known criminal, guilty of serious offences and lethally dangerous, so they cannot let them go.

It is also important to note that complete denial of the existence of a missing person by the state is an outright lie, but at the same time the compulsion of the state, being the protector of law and order and integrity of the country, has some weight.

The organizations and individuals raising their voices for missing persons are doing a great service. It is a fact that hundreds of people are missing across the country. Their position is absolutely correct that if someone has committed a crime, s/he should be brought to court of law, but unfortunately, the slogans adopted by these organizations compel the state to start considering them as rivals instead of victims.

Similarly, these organizations only talk about missing persons but they do not condemn Baloch militants, which leads the state to believe that their campaign is also a continuation of the militants’ mission.

In this context, I would like to give some suggestions for a permanent resolution to this issue of missing persons. I strongly believe that, if implemented in letter and spirit, these suggestions would be very helpful in resolving the problem to a great extent. First, I believe that the problem of missing persons can never be solved at the central level because people sitting in Islamabad have no knowledge of the ground realities of Waziristan or Turbat.

So, with a ‘local approach for local problems’ attitude, it is essential to constitute district level commissions in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi under the chairmanship of their respective deputy commissioners with representation from intelligence agencies as well as missing persons organizations. This commission should convene weekly meetings in which the family members of the missing persons should be invited to share with them information about the missing persons. If someone is alive and in the custody of security personnel, they should be produced in a court of law. If, God forbid, someone has died or is no longer in the country, then those should be shared with his/her relatives.

Second, the caretaker government should pass an ordinance and give a one-time amnesty to the country’s agencies so that they can present anyone who is in their custody without fear or any legal repercussions. If necessary, these agencies should be empowered through legislation, like the police, to make arrests – but with the condition that, like the police, they should be bound to present the arrested person in court within 24 hours.

Third, in response to these actions of the government, the organizations and people raising their voices for missing persons should condemn extremist and separatist organizations and cooperate with the state to solve this issue.

Fourth, a highly controversial individual, Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, currently heads the federal-level Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. He should be removed and replaced by a person who has the trust of the families of the missing persons.

Fifth, instead of investigating the cases itself, the commission should monitor committees set up at the district level and submit its report on a monthly basis.

The writer works for Geo TV. He can be reached at: