South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

I. A. Rehman

THE Pakistani establishment’s love of the grotesque is apparently incurable. Instead of talking to the people of Balochistan about their raw wounds it is raising the matter with the Indian security people. Meanwhile, the dirge from the luckless province is getting more and more bitter.

Take, for instance, this SMS received a few days ago.

‘Zulm ki inteha. Do din qabl Quetta say agencies k hathon aghwa honay walay BSO Azad k sabiq rehnuma Hameed Shaheen ko kal shaheed kar dia gaya aur us k kidney, dil aur seenay per drill k nishan. Kis Islam nay asay zulm ki ijazat di hay? Shaid asay zulm Kashmir aur Palestine may be na hoon. Wah Islami mamlikat.’

(It’s the limit of tyranny. The former BSO Azad leader, Hameed Shaheen, who had been abducted by the agencies from Quetta two days ago, was martyred yesterday. His kidney, heart and chest bore marks of drilling. Which Islam has sanctioned such barbarity? Such deeds are perhaps unheard of (even) in Kashmir or Palestine. Bravo Islamic state!)

The effect of the message on the people, particularly those belonging to Balochistan, can easily be imagined. The author of this message might have been carried away by his feelings of shock and anger, but instead of taking exception to his language or with the reproduction of his protest in these columns, it will be better to comprehend the intensity of the pain caused to him.

The facts mentioned by him cannot be disputed. Hameed Shaheen was indeed a Pakistan national, holding a genuine CNIC, and had formerly held the office of chairman of the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad). On March 20 last, he boarded a bus for Karachi where he was going for a medical check-up. The bus was stopped and he was abducted by persons allegedly belonging to government agencies. His bullet-riddled body was found two days later.

This story should not surprise anyone who has been watching the appearance of bodies of tortured men in Balochistan and the recent spurt in such incidents. Since this trend has developed after months of limelight on cases of involuntary disappearances in Balochistan and in many cases the victims had earlier been declared as missing, the people cannot be blamed for concluding that extra-legal killing is being adopted as a means to avoid accounting for illegally detained persons.

The most distressing part of the matter is the fact that all this is happening about 10 weeks after the judicial commission on disappearances submitted its report to the government and the Supreme Court. The commission closed the possibility of speculation on the key aspects of the matter and made concrete proposals to deal with incidents of disappearance and compensate the victims. The salient features of the commission’s report were:

i) The incidence of involuntary disappearance continued during the eight months (in 2010) the commission carried out its mission; about 25 new cases were reported every month. These fresh incidents exceeded the number of cases the commission had been asked to probe.

ii) The intelligence agencies were censured for their role in the disappearance and illegal detention of quite a few missing persons and also for their lack of interest in and appreciation of the commission’s work.

iii) The government was asked to pay compensation to more than 100 victims and a fair scale of payments was presented.

A few sentences from the commission’s report as published in the press especially deserve consideration:

“In order to put an end to the issue of enforced disappearances/missing persons, the intelligence agencies should be restrained from arbitrarily arresting and detaining anyone without due process of law. Generally, it would be appropriate if the government evolves a mechanism for intelligence agencies to share information and leave it to the police to make arrest and proceed under relevant law…..

“Appropriate legislation needs to be made to provide specific powers of arrest & detention to the army and law-enforcement agencies for a limited period under special circumstances in order to curb anti-state activities. Only such legal provisions can put an end to new cases of enforced disappearance.

“In order to continue the pace of recovery/tracing of missing persons and to implement the recommendations of this commission, a person not less than the rank of a sitting/retired high court judge may be appointed as Commissioner for Missing Persons”.

It is not necessary to elaborate on the extent of the accommodation the commission offered the security establishment.

The persistently battered people of Balochistan have every right to ask as to what steps have been taken in the light of this commission’s report. A report on Jan 17 last said the federal government had set up a committee, headed by the attorney general, to draft the legislation required to assuage the Balochistan people’s outrage. Has anything been done in this regard?

From now on the intelligence agencies alone will not be charged with abduction, arbitrary detention and wanton killing; the state as a whole will be in the dock and the entire nation will bear the consequences.

It is time all organs of the state realised that nothing will be gained by the government agencies’ persistence in the state of denial. The possibility that some of the cases of abduction/disappearance/killing could be the work of non-state actors cannot be denied but this can no longer be said about all incidents. Even in cases in which the state employees cannot be blamed the government’s duty to track down the culprits and bring them to justice cannot be disregarded.

Although involuntary disappearances is only one of the many symptoms of the malaise that is consuming the people of Balochistan, a sincere and meaningful effort to get this problem out of the way will contribute to the creation of a climate conducive to discussion on other issues, such as denial of the people’s right to be masters of their resources and their destiny.

Source: Dawn – 31.03.2011