Friday January 28, 2022

PTI govt pandering to vested interests on ‘missing persons’ issue

January 12, 2022
PTI govt pandering to vested interests on ‘missing persons’ issue

The next elections, if held in 2023, will offer another opportunity to Balochistan's ethnic nationalist politicians to sell the myth-making narrative of "missing persons" and get elected to assemblies.

Since Balochistan has been in the media for the missing person issue, the main political contender, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the Chief of BNP, has been spearheading this issue. He has capitalised well in his last election campaign and as a result got remarkable success compared to other nationalist parties.

Still, the issue is more complicated as, at the moment, the narrative articulated on missing persons is the one peddled only by ethnic nationalists and militants. The mainstream media, HR lobbies, the liberal left, NGOs and the federal government have all adopted militants’ version on the missing persons. The issue continues to be smartly leveraged by politicians as a vote-gainer issue.

However, there is another version, i.e missing persons were missing when they were targeted by ethnic terrorist groups from BLA to Dr Allah Nazar group. Fatwas were issued to kill more moderate Baloch nationalist workers and leaders.

Unfortunately, because of poor understanding of Balochistan, the incumbent PTI government has adopted a one-sided version on the missing persons issue. Recently, the Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shareen Mazari got passed a Bill in the National Assembly and then presented it in the Senate. Another ridiculous claim was made that the Bill was "missing" from the Senate Secretariat. Regardless of the claim, the Bill only identified missing persons defined by NGOs pinning the responsibility on the State.

It said: “The term enforced disappearance relates to illegal and without lawful authority arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by an agent of the State or by person or group of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such a person outside the protection of the law.”

As far as the actual numbers are concerned, there is a huge discrepancy. The National Commission for Missing Persons released an annual performance report stating that the commission disposed of 6,117 cases till December 31, 2021.

The report, prepared under the supervision of incumbent NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal added that the Commission for Missing Persons received 8,279 cases till November 2021, out of which 102 new cases were received by the National Commission for Missing Persons during December 2021.

The total number of cases related to enforced disappearance has reached 8,381 while the National Commission has disposed of 6,117 cases of missing persons till December 31, 2021. It also failed to identify the missing persons who joined proxy groups in Afghanistan or ethnic separatists and terrorists who killed moderate political activists in Balochistan. It did not have data on the deaths of missing persons. There are no mechanisms to check if militants have been accounted for in the list.

Balochistan, till recent strategic defeat of separatist movement, was under attack by the terrorists who targeted both soft and hard targets employing suicide bombers, attacked Chinese interests, Karachi Stock Exchange, Quetta Sarena Hotel etc. Later, it was found that the name of some of these terrorists also ended up in the "missing list" as claimed by ethnic nationalist groups and their narrative peddlers.

It does not mean one has to justify unlawful detention of citizens, but it also should not be used as narrative to deprive the State to safeguard its internal sovereignty from terrorists and their facilitators. What has been observed over the last two decades, Pakistan has been as a soft State since it has to pander to many human rights conventions from the EU to indigenous bodies. This really hamstrung Pakistan authorities' space in kinetic domain and it suffered huge casualties, hence going soft on militancy in order to avert criticism on their counter terrorism tactics.

The PTI government instead has been pandering to vested interest, constituencies and letting them masquerade the real dynamics of the issue for political brownies. "Missing persons issue" has become an industry with a supply chain and an international agenda to brow beat the State and its security institutions. It has also become a vote-gainer issue from Waziristan to Makran Belt of Balochistan for ethnic politicians.

Balochistan issues, including of missing persons, need to be dealt with differently by the PTI government. And it needs to bring a closure to the missing persons issue for its own merit. Is it listening?

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) & Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai