A Daunting Challenge
The courage with which the Supreme Court (SC) is questioning the culture of impunity surrounding the intelligence agencies is commendable. In the latest hearing of the missing persons’ case, the SC upheld the rights of the citizens enshrined in the constitution: “No functionary or authority is competent to detain, arrest or pick up any citizen unless there is sufficient material or circumstantial evidence against that person. This court shall take due notice of it.” Justice Javed Iqbal, who heads the three-member bench hearing this case, had said in the last hearing that 2011 would be the year of recovery of missing persons. Also, last week the judicial commission on missing persons submitted its report before the court, whose contents have not yet been made public. At the same time, in expressing dissatisfaction with the attorney general’s report, the court directed him to meet top officials of the ISI and convey the court’s reservations to them, which, in the court’s opinion, would resolve 50 percent cases. With due respect, the ground realities may not so easily lend themselves to the kind of solution the court desires. If that had been the case, this particular issue that has been before the SC since 2007 would by now have yielded a far greater number than the 174 recovered out of the officially acknowledged 235 missing persons.
Human rights activists put the figure of missing persons at about 7,000 in Balochistan alone. Some quarters in the government dispute this claim, calling it an exaggeration. If a citizen, a set of citizens or a family or community claims that their loved one has disappeared and is able to provide some evidence for that disappearance, how can the government refute that claim out of hand? Instead, it must act responsibly by investigating any such claim to determine whether it is correct or not.
Asma Jahangir submitted before the court that four more persons had disappeared on December 4, 2010, three from Balochistan and one from Sindh. On Monday, three more bullet-riddled bodies of missing persons have been discovered in Balochistan, bringing the number of such bodies to 85 in the past two and a half months. Is the response of the intelligence agencies to the pressure that they are being subjected to by the SC to produce tortured and bullet-riddled bodies of the missing persons? The court must take serious notice of this.
The missing persons case is symptomatic of the dilemma of Pakistan, which inherited a weak political and civil society and an overdeveloped state structure from the British at the time of independence. Over the years, the military asserted itself in national decision-making and the scope and role of intelligence agencies widened, especially after the first Afghan war. This ‘deep state’ is neither transparent nor answerable to anyone. Is it not time to reverse this trend, whose ill effects on society can be seen in this case? Although the SC has expressed its determination to continue hearings till the last person is recovered, the SC’s hearings may not be enough to reverse this trend. The SC’s remark that it is a case of public interest and parliament should take it up makes eminent sense. It is the job of the political forces and parliament to control the deep state. The judiciary, political society and civil society will have to come together to reverse this malign phenomenon.