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The Baloch: A people without a state
Balochistan CM Sardar Raisani said. "999 persons hailing from Balochistan are missing to date, while only four have been recovered,"
ISLAMABAD: The missing persons issue is the biggest hurdle for peace and harmony in the province, Balochistan Chief Minister Sardar Aslam Raisani said on Wednesday. "999 persons hailing from Balochistan are missing to date, while only four have been recovered," he said while talking to the media at the Parliament House. To a question regarding the mounting tension between the PPP and the PML-N, Raisani said he would meet the president to discuss reconciliation between the two parties. When asked about the statements of some exiled Baloch leaders, the CM said the government should engage in dialogue with the "aggrieved Baloch leaders". staff report
Of missing persons
By I.A. Rehman
Thursday, 14 Jan, 2010 | 03:48 AM PST |
In view of the growing realisation that the matter of involuntary disappearances constitutes a threat to the state's vital interests a look back at what has been happening over the past five years should be in order.
Except for stray cases of persons who abandoned their kith and kin for one reason or another, including some who were recruited by ‘holy warriors', state functionaries' involvement with involuntary disappearances was unknown in Pakistan till about a decade ago.
Two factors changed the situation - the hunt for Al Qaeda's supporters and a round-up of militants suspected of involvement in attempts on Gen Musharraf's life. Cases started coming to public notice in which people arrested by police officials disappeared after being handed over to special investigation teams.
By the end of 2004 the spurt in the number of persons picked up across the country and detained without the observation of legal formalities could not be ignored by human rights bodies. An increase in the number of habeas corpus petitions in high courts was also reported.
One after the other these habeas corpus petitions failed because the authorities named by petitioners denied detaining the persons reported missing and court bailiffs did not find the detainees at the places they were supposed to be held. In a couple of cases, however, the petitions did not fail altogether.
The petition for the recovery of a person from Mardan bore fruit as on the eve of the date of hearing he returned home and confirmed that he had been illegally detained by the law-enforcement personnel. More sensational was the story of a man found in a Rawalpindi lockup. He had been held without charge for two years. The Lahore High Court bailiff's bid to take the detainee to Lahore was frustrated by the police.
These revelations created doubts about official statements that the people reported as missing had voluntarily disappeared in order to join jihad or in pursuit of some other designs. Subsequently the courts gradually started taking more than routine interest in the cases of missing persons. They took the view that even if a missing person could not be traced with the help of the information provided in the habeas corpus petition the government had a duty to find out what had happened to him. In a sense the scope of habeas corpus law was enlarged. Notices were issued to the federal ministries of interior and defence and the positions taken by them amounted to self-indictment.
In 2006 the Sindh High Court was told that these ministries had no control over the operations of the intelligence agencies; they could not help the court beyond communicating its wishes to these agencies and bringing back their responses. This confirmed the people's worst fears about excesses by some agencies.
Thus, at the beginning of 2007 the matter came up before the Supreme Court. At each hearing the administration claimed to have traced a few of the missing persons. Hearings continued even after Musharraf's assault on the judiciary but after the coup of Nov 3, 2007 the case was completely shelved. Hearings have now been resumed but the rate of recovery/tracing of the missing persons is lower than the trickle in 2007.
Unfortunately, the present government has been slow in responding to the plight of the missing persons' families. Only some of the hardy souls among the latter, including old and infirm parents of some of the missing persons, have been demonstrating for month after month in Islamabad.
A much larger number of the aggrieved families are withering away in their hovels far away from the eyes of the state authorities and the media. Their demands are quite modest. They can demand justice, release of their dear ones and reparations, but they will be greatly relieved if they could only be assured that the missing persons are alive and in lawful custody. The matter is grave enough to cause loss of sleep to anyone in authority who claims to have a conscience.
So much for the legal aspect of the matter. Its political aspect is decidedly more alarming.
When the number of missing persons started rising it was noticed that a majority of them belonged to Balochistan. Moreover they belonged to areas where no movement of terrorists had been noticed and among the first reported cases several leaders of the Balochistan Students' Organisation (BSO) were prominent. The number of such disappearances rose sharply during 2005-2007 and the victims included many political dissidents. Suspicions that the missing persons had been targeted for their views and political actions were confirmed when some of them were picked up in Karachi and Quetta as they left the offices of a human rights organisation or a lawyer and the identity of those pouncing on them could not be concealed.
Above all, these involuntary disappearances were taking place at a time when a strong wave in favour of autonomy and against encroachments on land and other natural resources was sweeping across the province. The conclusion was obvious.
The involuntary disappearances in Balochistan are materially distinguishable from such cases reported from other parts of the country. Not only is the cover of an anti-terrorist drive not available in their case, they fall in the category of crimes against the Baloch people. Much bitterness has also been caused by reports/allegations that the victims include a sizeable number of women and that some of them have been forced to prostitute themselves.
Instead of offering the embittered Baloch redress and satisfaction the authorities have chosen to quibble over the number of missing persons or alleged exaggeration about women among them. In this barren debate what matters most is not always fact but the people's perception and the stark reality that the Balochistan people's renewal of allegiance to the state will begin with a resolution of the issue of involuntary disappearances. That this is not merely a legal matter and is essentially a political issue is perhaps manifest.
There is some weight in the argument that whatever the federal government may do the Baloch dissidents won't be satisfied. Surely half-baked measures, such as the reference to missing persons in the Balochistan package, will do more harm than good. The answer perhaps lies in conceding Balochistan its aspiration for autonomy and allowing it a decisive say in all initiatives related to the tracking and recovery of the missing persons. The Baloch are likely to believe in only what they themselves are allowed to unravel.