Enforced Disappearances In Pakistan

Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan

“Disappearing into the thin air”.

One usually reads and hears this phrase quite a few times in their lifetime, usually in the novel when a character is kidnapped or is cursed or under fortunate circumstances possess some magical powers and therefore have the ability to disappear as per their own will. The disappearance; for whatsoever reasons creates a havoc in the story line, from the emergence of new drastic changes to character development to the alternate settings. This disappearance certainly becomes the theme of a story capturing the whole focus of the reader.

However, apart from the novels or stories, one could also read about such disappearances in the newspaper, hear about them in news telecasts, or see such videos all around on the internet, thanks to technological advancement.

The story this time however is not fiction. The disappearance is enforced. Names. Faces. Addresses. Families. Despair. All the turn of events are real and interconnected like a chain reaction; one event leading to another one. One never knows if the disappeared one will ever return? Is there a way to reverse time? Whether one should fight for justice or should just survive this turmoil silently, accepting it as a destiny.

Nobody ever told us the amount of grief the air carries. Of course there are percentages of all the essential gases; nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen etc., but what about the grief, the longing, the love? What about those which the air will inevitably carry, like baggage a passenger just can’t drop.

Nobody mentioned how when tears dry up they get absorbed into the air, which could then drift away to distant places and among all these places, maybe to the place where the disappeared person might still be present.

Among all that could happen on the face of earth, this despite all odds could happen that the disappeared one breathes the same air again. That the same air might linger for longer and caress them with all the warmth it could offer.

Does one expect it to bring forth a new wave of action to restore justice, to act in all possible ways for the return of the disappeared ones, or do they expect normalcy regarding this issue? That disappearance of some does not really have to create chaos in the lives of many. Or does it evolve all the possibilities there are likely to be?

Does the disappearance of a person really change the dynamics? Does the family of that specific person stop sharing the same blood? Don’t the ties of love and brotherhood stay intact? Isn’t it likely that their hearts beat in sync? Even if the disappeared one lies beneath the land, wont the same flowers grow on their graves which will grow in the gardens of their home. Won’t the very first thing their mothers will do is to smell those flowers every morning?

As long as one is remembered does one really disappear?

Imagine being robbed of your existence just because you are a minority; a Balochi, Shia, Sindhi, or Pashtun, etc. Imagine that at one time you are driving a car, or watering a plant, or answering a call, and in the next moment you are nowhere to be seen. Your friends, relatives, and family are all worried sick about your whereabouts. There’s no sign of you, as if you never existed. Your children doesn’t know if they should write you a letter or not and if they do on which address are they meant to send it. What’s your address? Your partner does not know whether they really have time to mourn your disappearance or should they just start making efforts for the survival of the family you left behind; providing livelihood, ensuring a shelter on their heads, running errands, and dealing with the discrimination. What would be more graceful and appropriate? Or do they ever have a choice?

Your parents just can’t fathom how to live without you. It’s as if all of their organs have given up already except their hearts which still beats for you and hopes against hope. Your colleagues stare at your empty desk everyday and your friends have stopped going to the places where you people used to meet; what’s the point of going there alone.

Nobody knows what’s larger; the emptiness in their hearts or in their lives. That is the reality of the missing persons. This is what they and their loved ones have to endure. Its not the story of missing person, it’s the story of them and their loved ones; their lives all torn apart. This is the story of about 7000 people who went missing since 2011. This figure is an underestimate though as not all the cases got registered.

Pakistan is no land of magic; these disappearances do not just happen out of nowhere. All of these disappearances are well calculated and executed by the security forces, intelligence agencies, and groups with the authorization of the state. When tracing the origin of this scheme of events; its evident that it got its pace in the aftermath of 9/11 when the government of Pakistan is reported to have handed over the alleged Al-Qaeda affiliates to US government. Since then, this very strategy is used to target various minority groups, such as Balochis and numerous activists, bloggers, and human rights defenders who are critical of the military and armed forces.

Hidayatullah Lohar, a story of April 2017, was a Sindhi activist, school teacher, and blacksmith who went missing from his school where he taught. The men in police uniforms and civilian clothes used a “grey-coloured double cabin” to kidnap him. This case, despite having eye witnesses, was not somehow eligible enough for a First Information Report (FIR) until and unless a petition was made to the Larkana High Court by the family. Since then, his family has been trying vigorously to have justice through the courts and protests on the streets in order to be heard. This very case was also registered in Commission For Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), but it bore no fruit. “We are repeatedly given advice that if we stop protesting, end our activism against enforced disappearances and sit at home, our Baba will come back.” says the daughter of Hidayatullah Lohar.

Hafiz Jameel, a worker, disappeared on December 5th, 2009, leaving behind 3 daughters and a wife. Though he was proclaimed in October 2013 to be at Lakki Marwat internment centre, nothing much was done and his case was put on hold by COIED on the argument that he had been “traced”. Another is the story of Marwat Shah, who was kidnapped from Galiyat Abbottabad on July 19th, 2012 and was let go on May 4th, 2014. However, his physical and mental health had deteriorated to the extent that he could no longer identify his family.

Sajid Mehmood another missing person, another missing jigsaw. He was an IT engineer from Islamabad who was taken away from his home in front of his family. His house was raided and searched. The next day his family tried to register a FIR but were refused after which the case was registered in COIED which led to various hearings however he remains missing to this day. His family still traumatized, stuck and incomplete without him.

These are just a few stories, just a bit of the whole. Stories which are real, painful and not yet completed. Nobody knows the ending. What’s on the last page, or is it the end actually? Nobody knows.

It is estimated that currently COIED has about 2178 whereas the UN working group on enforced disappearance has about 700 cases unresolved and about 16 Balochis went missing in July 2021. The families of enforced disappearances have struggled and protested for justice in the past, and their fresh efforts were seen in the shape of sit-in protests at the front of Parliament House in February 2021, which led to a promise of a law against enforced disappearances by the human rights minister Shireen Mazari. After it, there was also a national convention on constitutional and human rights in the last week of March 2021, which demanded the release of missing persons and sanctions for those involved in enforced disappearances. Apart from that, there was also a sit-in by Shiites for the release of their missing persons in April 2021 in front of the Mausoleum of Quaid e Azam. The missing persons, if ever released are conditioned upon to not share the details with media or people. It’s high time that the government of Pakistan establishes and regulates laws without loopholes for enforced disappearances. Justice should be served. The missing persons are so much more than just flesh and blood; they and their families have the right to be liberated from this torment. Let them reunite and rejoice.