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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The culture of forced disappearances in Pakistan

Victims of enforced disappearance are people who have literally disappeared; from their loved ones and their community. They go missing when state officials (or someone acting with state consent) grab them from the street or from their homes and then deny it, or refuse to say where they are.

Pakistan is a grown-up independent state but its political scenario and security measures have always remained under question. Due to the recent political clash in the country, the houses of multiple political activists’ were raided in the middle of the night in the attempt of their arrest which was highly condemned not only by the general public but also by the authorities, and immediate actions were taken by the court. This situation might have been unpredictable for some, but was it something new? Not at all. Sadly, in our country, we have quite a history of forced disappearances in past by law enforcement agencies against people belonging to different ethical and religious backgrounds.

Can one imagine the pain of a 60 years old man whose house was raided on a deep night when he and his family were peacefully sleeping? How would he have felt when they arrested his 25 years only son, without any warrant, and the son then never returned? How would have that woman felt who just got married and her husband went missing? What is she supposed to do?

Read more: UN calls for probe into forced disappearances, mass graves in occupied Kashmir

A problem that needs instant solutions

The Shia community is one of the prominent religious minority groups in Pakistan that has been reported to be suffering from such condition for many decades now and despite their repeated plea in court and multiple peaceful protests, marches, and sets consisting of several days no definite measures have been yet taken in this regards.

People of the Shia community feel victimized by the forced disappearance of its members. After many protests, pleas, and requests made to the authorities, dead silence is all that they had received as an answer in return. According to the data gathered by one of the Shia community organizations ISO (Imamia students organization), this forced disappearance could be dated back to 2005 when it all started. By then there were individual cases of disappearance being reported in different areas of the country but ever since then it never stopped and it was by 2015 when this disappearance evolved on a mass level and has been reported by officials to be at its peak by 2019.

As per the data compiled by ISO approximately 160 people were reported missing under Shia missing persons in 2018. In 2019, after protest and sittings made in different areas of Pakistan some recoveries were made yet the cases of the missing people ranges up to 140. Recently, 8 new cases were also reported missing in only the last 2 weeks.

A repeated pattern

All the forced arrests have the same pattern of disappearance i.e. at night. Families of missing persons claim that their beloved ones were arrested by police and law enforcement agencies but neither were they taken to any jail nor were they ever presented before the court. Among these cases are some who have been missing for many years now that their parents have died waiting but they never returned and those who did return never talked about what had happened to them or where they were taken. People feel rage and anger towards institutions as those responsible for the protection of the citizens of the country are responsible for their misery and deprive them of their constitutional rights.

Leaders of the Shia organizations took a stand along with the families of missing persons and filed a plea in court yet after years of repeated hearings the court could take no satisfactory steps It seems that the court itself has had its hand-bound in this regard. Or maybe authorities don’t feel these cases as of equal importance as the arrest of Shireen Mazari, a member of the national assembly, upon whose daylight arrest the court opened its gates even at night.

Read more: The growing concern of enforced disappearances across the globe

This situation has developed a feeling of mistrust between the community and governmental institutions and doesn’t seem to get any better any soon. No matter which political party is in power the issue of missing persons remains unchanged. During the tenure of the PTI government, their human rights Minister Shireen Mazari claimed to pass the bill in the national assembly in this regard and ensure the community gets them justice but no practical measures were ever taken into account.

Authorities claim doubt of involvement of these missing persons with religious groups in Syria, Lebanon, or Iran who made recruitments to safeguard sacred places from Daesh but among these missing cases, many are those who don’t have any travel history at all. Also, no evidence of their involvement in any illegal activity or affiliation with any extremist group was ever found.

The people of the community demand restoration of law and seek justice from the court

All they want is the recovery of their beloved. It is of such pain for a mother whose grown-up son is abducted in front of her eyes. What is the fault of the children who were raised without a father only because their father was forcibly disappeared? Would these children be ever able to trust the law?

Read more: Analyzing the outcomes of revocation of Article 370 and 35A on IOK

It has been demanded repeatedly to present the missing persons in court and bring them to sight even if they had committed any crime as it is their constitutional right to plea before the judge. The institutions should change their strategy of investigation. Instead of getting people missing they should be taken into custody by legal manners and presented before the court along with the evidence of the actions they are being accused of. Victims’ families should have the right to meet their beloved and constitutional rights should not be taken off.


The writer is an MPhil Sociology student at Quaid I Azam University, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.