‘Los desaparecidos’

Published: November 2, 2012


How fares democracy in the fair state of Pakistan? Well, looking around, one is constrained to say that it is not exactly blooming, flourishing or even highly evident. The façade is there, flimsy and shallow. It is a proclaimed democracy, generally considered to be a cover-up, accepted by the country’s benefactors as it is in their own interests to do so.

But then, rather than lament as did Madame Roland in 18th century France about the crimes committed in the name of liberty, we may ask ‘O democracy! O democracy! What crimes are committed in your name?”

Well, as far as the vaunted land of the pure is concerned, the list is fairly weighty — always remembering that it is not alone. In today’s world, some amidst the community of established democracies are guilty of crimes against democracy. That laws exist on this country’s statute books that are an affront to democracy — which denotes tolerance, non-discrimination and a host of other desirable attributes — is well known; those which promote violence, sectarian and gender-based, being at the forefront.

One highly undemocratic practice, which arises sporadically, is the case of the missing persons — the ‘disappeared’ of Pakistan. This is nothing new. It first arose in the Supreme Court in 2006, after enforced disappearances had multiplied in the wake of 9/11. A mother and wife, unrelated, joined forces and filed a petition in the Court against the ‘disappearances’ of their son and husband, and other missing relatives and friends. (Whether the son was recovered is not known but the husband remains missing.) A list of 41 persons was submitted. That year, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that a total of 242 persons were on their list of the ‘disappeared’ — probably highly understated.

Since then, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has taken up and put down cases related to enforced disappearances, which under the façade of a democratic government, continues to rise. In 2010, the government was ordered to form a commission to look into the cases of enforced disappearances, which by that time had reportedly risen to 1,600, most picked up by those shadowy bodies known as the ‘agencies’ and the majority in the unfortunate, unhappy province of Balochistan.

But it is difficult to figure out exactly what is what, as figures released by the various commissions and authorities tend to confuse. Last month, again reportedly, the government-formed commission came up with a figure of 80 disappearances brought to their notice during the past three months, bringing the total number then before it to 852. What has happened to the remainder of the 1,600 since 2010 is not clear. However, a total of 80 over a three-month period is certainly a healthy tally. The ‘agencies’ are obviously hard at it, and as with all matters involving the military — the ‘real’ power in the land — there seems to be little that either Court or government can do about it other than grin and bear it.

Then, of course, there is the matter of will — can’t help helplessness. When the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Pakistan in September, Chief Justice Chaudhry declined to meet its members. The government ‘acknowledged’ the fact that instances of enforced disappearances have happened frequently and continue to happen, but, as stated by the Working Group after their rather unfruitful visit, “there are controversies both on the figures and on the nature of the practice of enforced disappearances.”

The issue of the disappeared involves serious breaches of the ‘hallowed’ Constitution of Pakistan and of international law. It involves not only the fate of hundreds of citizens entitled to the due process of law, but also the devastating effect on their families. Article 4 of the Constitution provides that “to enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law is the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be… ”.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Jahangir Mari
    Nov 3, 2012 - 1:42AM

    The urged need has arisen for a systemic over-haul. The death sirens are in the air for our beloved Pakistan. Dr. Ata-ur-Rehman has come up with a good workable idea in a related article on this journal of repute. I would like to see the chief in Rawalpindi to pause for some moments and to pay heed to what few wise & sincere persons in this land are saying. This is his last service year. These few wise & sincere persons would no more be available if the tilt towards statues-quo persists. Pakistan, already stunted & plundered, would no longer be Pakistan.


  • observer
    Nov 3, 2012 - 9:38AM

    If the ‘Democratic’ setup is responsible for the disappearances in Balochistan, I am sure the SC will proceed to dismiss another PM for this.

    The question is- What does the SC propose to do about the NON-APPEARANCE of DG FC before the court on the same issue?

    Or is the ‘Democratic’ setup responsible for DIS as well as NON appearances?

    PS-Has the US Supreme Court started an investigation in the role of the Pakistani ‘Democratic’ setup in the Sandy affair?


  • Lala Gee
    Nov 4, 2012 - 1:46AM


    “How fares democracy in the fair state of Pakistan? Well, looking around, one is constrained to say that it is not exactly blooming, flourishing or even highly evident. The façade is there, flimsy and shallow. It is a proclaimed democracy, generally considered to be a cover-up, accepted by the country’s benefactors as it is in their own interests to do so.”

    I can understand the pain of a sincere patriotic person watching the ugly drama being played in the name of democracy. No one here is saint in the power echelons – civilian and servicemen both alike. All are interested only in their own personal good and competing in a race of plundering the public exchequer and national resources. To gauge the performance of the present democratic setup, glance at any of the indices measuring progress and you will see a stall.

    Regarding missing persons issue: again it was the responsibility of the present federal government to enact suitable legislation to handle the suspects of terrorism, as done by most other countries including USA, UK, Europe, India, and elsewhere. How much resources, financial or otherwise, were required just for making the laws? But look at the indifferent “couldn’t care less” attitude of PPP government in handling the most grievous of the challenges country is facing. I can only think of the following few reasons for purposefully not doing so.

    1- To absolve the civil government from the responsibility of dealing with the terrorists due to the absence of suitable laws enabling police and judiciary to deal with the situation.

    2- Eventually Army will have to deal with the problem, and they will resort to means they did to handle the terror suspects due to non-existent legal framework.

    3- This way, Army will be kept busy elsewhere and under constant pressure – remember who invited the UN Mission – so that the rule of corruption and plunder goes on unabated without any fear of interference.

    Perhaps a common man would have been doing much better under British rule than doing now under these criminal elites ruling the country under the garb of democracy.


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