In a game of hide and seek that the Balochistan police and the Supreme Court have been playing for many months, four missing people were finally produced in the Supreme Court’s registry in Quetta. Three more people whose presence had been demanded by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chauhdry are yet to be presented in the court. It has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the country that the police and intelligence agencies have been illegally picking up people in the province and detaining them without charge. The Court’s insistence on seeing these cases through may be the last and best chance the families of these missing people, estimated to be in the thousands, have of seeing their loved ones again.
Equally laudatory was the fact that the Supreme Court forced the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps in Balochistan, (who is a two-star general) to appear in the court. The military has been the driving force behind the operations in the province and has been accused of involvement in the disappearances, but has never before been ordered to account for its actions. By setting the precedent that a relatively senior member of a paramilitary force cannot escape accountability before the judiciary, the Supreme Court is not only making it clear that it intends to take the Balochistan problem seriously, it is also showing that there will be no holy cows in this matter. The next step for the Supreme Court, should the officer not prove cooperative, is to move up the chain of command and ensure justice is served.
Right now, the Supreme Court may be the best hope we have in reducing tensions in Balochistan. It is the only institution in the country with the moral authority to act as an arbiter in the increasingly bloody fight between the military and the separatists. By producing and releasing missing persons, the Court can prove its good intentions and then proceed to punish those who have made kidnapping citizens unofficial policy. Integrating Balochistan into the rest of the country is a long process that will require years of trust-building. Decades of broken promises and unjust repression cannot be undone in an instant. But the Supreme Court has started by taking the right steps. It now needs to show the fortitude to see this through.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2012.