August 10, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
LAHORE: It has been 21 days since the families of missing persons in Balochistan have been sitting in protest ouside the Quetta Governor House. But despite these three strenuous weeks, the protest is carrying on without any attention being given to their demands.
Mothers, sons, daughters and sisters sit in quiet despair, holding pictures of their loved ones who have been missing since years, and protesting at the failure of the state institutions from ending enforced disappearances in Balochistan.
“Families, especially the women and young children, are suffering in agony and helplessness over their loved ones having gone missing for so long,” says Mahrang Baloch, a young activist who is also part of the sit-in. The protest is specifically against the killing of Baloch missing persons in fake encounters. On July 15, nine people were killed in the same way in a military operation in Ziarat.
The protesting families claim that at least five of those killed were from the list of Baloch missing persons, and called on the provincial government to impartially investigate the matter by a judicial commission.
The government later appointed Justice Ejaz Ahmad Swati, Judge of Balochistan High Court, as head of a judicial commission for the investigation of Ziarat operation. The commission will present its report within 30 days.
But the families still have their reservations.
“Though the judicial commission has been formed, we believe that it should comprise three members instead of a single member presently to ensure a fair and thorough investigation,” Mahrang Baloch tells Voicepk.
Mahrang says problems faced by people in Balochistan are ignored by the country’s political leadership that has centred its attention on bigger provinces. “Issues of Balochistan are not figured in the mainstream political discourse or the media,” she says. The activist laments that no provincial government representative has even visited them to assure them that their missing relatives would be recovered soon. In her view, elected representatives have no say or control over the deep state.
“No political regime nor judiciary has been able to end enforced disappearances perpetuated by state institutions,” she adds. “Unfortunately, successive chief ministers of Balochistan have often expressed their helplessness and their inability to implement laws or the Constitution especially regarding enforced disappearances,” says Mahrang. Regardless, the families have still chosen to protest outside the offices of their elected representatives including the Chief Minister and the Governor in the hope that they would be moved into taking action to redress their grievances and agony.
“Enforced disappearances will continue until those held responsible are made accountable,” she says. “The families of missing persons are ready to end their protest on the condition that whatever assurances given to them are honoured in letter and spirit.” Mahrang’s own brother and father were also abducted. Her father was picked up in 2009 and his body was discovered in 2011. Afterwards her brother was picked up in 2017 but was released after four months.
The enforced disappearances issue is not limited to Balochistan, even though most missing persons belong to the ravaged province.
Only recently, Amina Masood Janjua, the chairperson of the Defence of Human Rights, held a demonstration to remember her husband, Masood Ahmed Janjua who has been missing since July 2005 while travelling to Peshawer.
Amina says authorities have now resorted to ignore demonstrations against missing persons to wear down protesting families.
“Previously, government and opposition leaders used to visit these demonstrations and make statements in their support but now they simply stay away in the belief that families of missing persons would end their protests in despair,” she tells Voicepk.
The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), has released new reported cases of enforced disappearances showing a decline in the first seven months of this year as compared to previous year. The COIED has reported 393 news cases of missing persons till July 31, down from 1129 new cases reported last year in the same period.
But both Mahrang and Amina Masood Janjua say that the decline only reflects that the families of missing persons have lost their trust in the COIED.
“The Commission is very unsupportive towards family members who approach them for locating their missing loved ones,” Mahrang Baloch says. “The Joint Investigation Team officials often harass and threaten family members saying their missing relatives were terrorists or affiliated with terrorist outfits. Secondly, the COIED rejects the cases of missing persons as of being not of enforced disappearances without informing the complainant families.”
“Families of missing persons are often reluctant to approach the COIED over their unsupportive bahaviour,” says Amina Masood Janjua. She says her organisation has to persuade such families to approach the COIED so that the case could at least go into the database of missing persons maintained by the commission. According to Amina, the COIED does not bother to have production orders for missing persons it issues to state agencies implemented for years.
“Even the Islamabad High Court has reprimanded COIED over inaction against state officials for not implementing production orders for missing persons,” she points out.
In her view, no political government was interested in resolving the issue of enforced disappearance. “The bill on enforced disappearances has gone missing in Senate after its passage in the National Assembly,” Amina says. “The Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition government has constituted a sub-committee in the Senate over enforced disappearances, halting further legislation on the bill on enforced disappearance.”
But while the government had stated that the committee would meet weekly, unfortunately there have been no meetings for the last three weeks, she says.
Three missing persons found dead: COIED
Meanwhile, the COIED has revealed that three missing persons have been found dead while releasing figures on reported cases of enforced disappearance for the month of July.
The COIED has disposed of 471 reported cases of enforced disappearances in the seven-month period. In the month of July, the COIED disposed of 75 cases of missing persons including 30 who were reunited with their families. In July, three missing persons were traced as dead while three others were found imprisoned in jails. Three missing persons were also traced confined in internment centres. The commission rejected 36 reported cases of missing persons after concluding that they did not fall in the purview of enforced disappearances.
The COIED stated that Nazir Ahmed, who was reported missing in 2016, was killed in a police encounter the same year. An official of the Bahawalpur Police Counter Terrroism Department told the commission that Nazir Ahmed was wanted in a terrorism case. The CTD official said Nazir Ahmed’s brother identified the dead body two years later in 2018. The family received custody of the dead body and performed his burial in their native place in 2018.
Faqeer Hussain, a resident of Islamabad reported missing in 2021, was also traced dead. The Islamabad Police CTD said the dead body of Faqeer Hussain had been recovered as investigation continue into his death.
Another missing person Muhammad Iqbal, a resident of Lakki Marwat, was killed in a police encounter in May. He was reported missing since July 2021. The Bannu CTD police told the commission that Iqbal was wanted in a terrorism case and was killed while resisting police during an operation.
According to COIED, there are still 2186 cases of missing persons pending before the commission. The highest number of pending cases are from Khyber Pakktunkhwa where 1343 are still reported missing from there. Cases of missing persons pending from Punjab is 256 while pending cases from Balochistan number about 347. Similarly, 181 cases of missing persons are pending from Sindh; 49 cases from Islamabad; seven cases from Azad Kashmir, and three cases from Gilgit-Baltistan.
The human rights organizations and activists have slammed the COIED for not taking any action against state agencies and personnel involved in cases of enforced disappearances.