January 11, 2017Print : Editorial
If we are living in a democratic country with a constitution that guarantees full rights to its citizens, then our society must not come to resemble Chile in the Pinochet era when activists went missing as a matter of routine. This country should not have become one of those places where people can be picked up, hidden away and suffer torture. The disappearance of four social media activists can hardly be a coincidence. Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza Naseer have all gone missing in the past week and none of them is yet to be located. The government has commented on Haider, who is also an academic and poet, with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar saying that he is in contact with intelligence agencies and that Haider’s recovery is the government’s priority. Little, however, has been said about the others on the list. It should be obvious that the near-simultaneous disappearances are linked since all four of the activists shared the same approach, were critical of government and establishment policies and were prominent online and on social media. Who abducted the activists? Their forthright condemnation of the regressive mindset certainly could have attracted the attention of any of a number of militant groups but those elements cannot coordinate so many kidnappings, especially when the government claims to have them on the run. The other very real – and very frightening – possibility is that they are the first people of the new year to go ‘missing’. This possibility is being widely believed. It is the state and its organs – again – that have come under question. The country’s civil society has squarely put on the responsibility on the government to release them as well as all other ‘missing people’. There have been protests against these latest disappearances and rights group have called on the government to immediately locate the activists.
The matter is not just about one individual. First, the state needs to produce all of those who have gone ‘missing’ recently and then account for every person who has been ‘abducted’. For persons to disappear into nothingness after they have been branded or understood as enemies of the state can never be justified. There is some evidence to suggest that the number of ‘missing’ people is increasing. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances says a total of 728 people were added to the commission’s list last year – the highest in any year since its inception. Most of them were taken away from Balochistan. In 2015 there were 649 cases. These numbers may actually be lower than the real number since many families are reluctant to appear before a government-appointed commission, especially since it is suspected that intelligence officials are also present at the hearings. Many incidents may not be brought to light or placed before any forum. Over the last two years, an alarming feature of these incidents is the almost total silence assumed by the mainstream media. Events in the province of Balochistan are now barely mentioned at all. There are of course reasons for this silence, and every reporter, every activist in Balochistan and other places knows of the risks involved in highlighting disappearances of mostly young men. The silence needs to end. We must ask what has become of our collective conscience as citizens and as people. The suffering of families who do not know the fate of their loved ones is immense. The commission, as well as the judiciary, should take immediate notice and take action against whoever was/is responsible. A free and secure society is one which tolerates, and even encourages, dissent. The government and its agencies need to accept responsibility and uncover the secrets behind the vanishings.