A new commission, to be established by the Balochistan government on the orders of the provincial high court to locate missing persons, would be the third such government body tasked with this responsibility. The Supreme Court has already established the commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, and the Islamabad High Court has also established such a commission, members of which were recently in Balochistan to speak with relatives of the disappeared. While the state’s interest in tracing the missing is admirable, it should be remembered that, rather than forming a slew of commissions and committees, enforcing steps to hold those state elements responsible for this heinous practise accountable would go a long way toward putting an end to enforced disappearances.
If the state, including its civilian and military wings, is serious about bringing the missing home and stopping illegal detentions by the government and state operatives, the multiplicity of commissions must be revisited; instead, locating the missing can be assigned to a single empowered body. Moreover, the recently constituted Balochistan panel will only help trace those individuals ‘not participating in anti-state or terrorist operations.’ The problem here is that the word ‘anti-state’ is a wide, ambiguous one that can be abused by the government or the establishment to punish even those who criticise state institutions within the bounds of free speech.
The fact is that, whether in Balochistan or elsewhere in the country, civilian law enforcement authorities and courts should be arresting and trying anyone suspected of breaching the law. Individuals who engage in criminal acts or attempt to wage war against the state must be convicted and punished. However, there must be transparency and access to a fair trial. People just cannot be hauled up in the middle of the night, ‘disappeared,’ and then ‘returned’ years later, ‘repentant,’ or worse, ‘returned in a casket.’ Forcible disappearances are an affront to democratic government and only serve to increase alienation from the state and the system.
Those who believe that illegally snatching up people will increase security in the country are mistaken; this heinous practise simply serves to radicalise marginalised groups. As has been mentioned numerous times, if the state or security forces believe a person is engaging in subversive activities, bring them to court so they can defend themselves.
The new army chief, as well as the political leadership, can help put an end to this heinous practice. There must be an institutional determination to end enforced disappearances and bring back all people who have gone missing, while also prosecuting those against whom the state may have valid evidence. Pakistan can only be made safer if the law is followed rather than broken.