Reconstituted missing persons committee to have parliamentary presence

Law minister cautions against 'hasty solutions' driven by 'court directives or someone speaking on social media'

Our Correspondent April 23, 2024


The federal government on Tuesday said that it had decided to reconstitute the cabinet committee on missing persons which would also have a parliamentary representation.

Addressing a news conference alongside Information Minister Attaullah Tarar in Islamabad, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said that resolving the issue of missing persons required time, stressing that it "could not be solved overnight" and the government was committed to achieving a consensus among all stakeholders.

The law minister emphasised the need for a comprehensive approach, cautioning against hasty solutions driven by social media pressures or court directives.

He said it could “not be solved overnight in haste or due to someone’s anxiety or someone speaking on social media platforms or even court directives”.

Highlighting the historical context, Tarar noted that Pakistan's role as a frontline state in a conflict-ridden region over the past four decades had compounded internal challenges. He underscored the sacrifices made by the Pakistani people and armed forces in combating terrorism, urging recognition of these sacrifices in addressing the issue of missing persons.

He emphasised that Pakistan's citizens and military have made significant sacrifices in combating terrorism, describing their contributions as an "unbelievable price." He urged that these sacrifices should be duly acknowledged in addressing the missing persons issue.

Tarar traced the government's efforts back to 2011 under the PPP government when the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was established. Subsequently, the Supreme Court intervened, forming a commission to address the matter.

Updating on progress, Tarar mentioned that out of 10,200 cases referred to the commission, 7,900 had been resolved, leaving 23 per cent pending. He also cited initiatives undertaken during the previous PML-N-led government, particularly the formation of a committee under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Under the current government, Tarar stated that directives had been issued to revive the inquiry into enforced disappearances, with plans to reconstitute the committee, now with parliamentary representation.

He acknowledged that dismissing the alleged involvement of government institutions outright might not be appropriate. However, he emphasised, "What needs to be seen is whether, till today, any solid or concrete evidence has come. From what I saw in the report, till I was on the committee, the answer is in the negative."

Furthermore, the law minister raised doubts about the credibility of inquiry reports, citing the example of missing persons in Sindh who were found to be serving jail time instead.

Highlighting the complexity of the issue, the law minister expressed his intention to address it through legal and political channels, aiming for consensus among all stakeholders. This sentiment was echoed by the information minister, who reaffirmed the government's commitment to resolving the matter.
In late February, days before leaving his office, former caretaker PM Anwaarul Haq Kakar had appeared before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) — after being summoned for a third time — in a case pertaining to missing Baloch students.

In a January hearing on the same case, IHC’s Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had remarked that a day would come when intelligence officials would also be held accountable and face prosecution for cases. In a subsequent hearing, he had observed, “The punishment of enforced disappearances should be the death penalty.”

The IHC had also issued directives for constituting a joint committee of directors general of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), and Military Intelligence (MI) for tracing the whereabouts of students from Balochistan who were allegedly missing.

However, the federal government had approached the IHC seeking to overturn the order.

Attaullah during the press conference, also praised the ruling party for the measures it has taken. Citing reports from international financial institutions and rating agencies, the minister claimed validation of the present government's economic policies aimed at achieving stability.

Read SC seeks lasting fix for missing persons’ issue

He highlighted achievements such as a surplus current account, increased foreign direct investment, and a rise in information technology (IT) exports, crediting it to PM Shehbaz's 'prudent' economic measures.

In a report released by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Defence of Human Rights (DHR) in December of the previous year, Pakistan witnessed an increase of 51 cases of enforced disappearances in 2023.

“The total number of cases stands at 3,120, with 51 cases registered in 2023 alone. Notably, 595 individuals have been released and reunited with their families, 246 people have been traced, and 88 cases have sadly resulted in extrajudicial killings,” DHR said.


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