Pakistan is passing through a phase when, acceptance-wise, fiction tends to replace facts. A judicial decision is a good one and on merit as long as it favours the individual or the lobby; and when it does not, it is condemned as biased and, that too, with impunity. A recent example is the unfortunate remarks made by a leading lawyer of the country on the outcome of the Memo Commission. Similarly, themes about linkages of all Taliban outfits with Al-Qaeda are another fiction being promoted relentlessly, despite the fact that the Taliban factions, including the groups of Maulvi Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Haqqanis, have recently clarified that they do not commit the kidnapping for ransom and killing of innocent people, they are avowedly against suicide attacks in Pakistan and violent operations against its security forces. This indicates that Al-Qaeda claims are baseless that all jihadi groups are getting ready to inflict damage to Pakistan’s security forces.
Also, the issue of missing persons is getting similar misrepresentation. Disappearance of persons is certainly a sensitive matter, involving fundamental human rights; coupled with this are the recurring gory episodes of mutilated corpses. Even a single missing person or surfacing of a single mutilated dead body is a scar on the face of the state and the government, inclusive of all its institutions. Unfortunately, the issue is not being handled in a professional way. Passing the buck is the name of the game. Had the matter been pursued in a skilled manner, there would not be so much of gap between the numbers being put forward by various entities.
Due to this attitude of complacency and pathological indifference, the void is being filled by rumours and anti-Pakistan narratives. By now, there are many strong interest groups thriving on the sensationalisation of such issues. In the absence of authentic and credible figures, acceptance of fiction is replacing the acceptance of facts. Nobody is talking about the private prisons of feudal and tribal chieftains in the interior of Sindh and Balochistan that, probably, is the vital missing narrative in the case of missing persons. There have all along been known and secret private jails, especially in the interior of these two provinces, which may account for a bulk of the number that remains untraced. Even there are allegations against the sitting ministers of Balochistan about their involvement in abductions. It is likely that all missing persons languishing in these private jails, and those who become victims of the tribal and other feuds, are being conveniently reported as missing persons and attributed to the highhandedness of the law enforcement agencies (LAEs). While apportioning the blame, our LAEs and intelligence agency are to be squarely blamed for letting the things come to such a pass and not providing the requisite security to the common man on the street. Moreover, their failure to radiate a public friendly image is a colossal leadership failure. No wonder, people only believe what all is negative about them and a lot of good work that they perform does not stick in the public opinion.
Recent revelations by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, the head of the Judicial Commission for missing persons, during his recent press conference at the Civil Secretariat Quetta, were quite startling.
It is Sindh and not Balochistan that tops the tragedy with 174 missing persons. As per his count, 460 is the nationwide number of these unfortunate ‘missing’ persons. Further breakdown reveals that: 18 missing persons are from Islamabad; 117 from Punjab; 174 from Sindh, 170 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 57 from Balochistan; and 12 each from Fata and AJK. So far, bodies of 42 missing persons have surfaced in Balochistan. Interestingly, the commission’s report is quite contrary to the common perception. Ironically, its figures about Balochistan are rather close to the FC standpoint, statistics and narrative.
Although the issue of missing persons in Balochistan is becoming increasingly alarming, in all probability, it is being blown out of proportion and getting larger than life and distorted projection.
The commission is of the view that foreign intelligence outfits are brewing tensions and trouble in Balochistan, Its report said: “Foreign intelligence agencies want to worsen the Balochistan situation in order to destabilise Pakistan…….There is concrete evidence of their involvement…….There is a baseless propaganda about the number of missing persons.”
It further observed that none of the state institutions has precise statistics about the missing persons. “As many as 44 people were recovered over the past three months through the commission’s efforts,” Justice Javed said. Just during the week prior to his press brief, 12 missing persons were recovered from Balochistan.
Justice Javed revealed that some of the persons presumed to be ‘missing’ were in Afghanistan. The list of missing persons compiled by the commission also contains the names of those living abroad and those who are involved in terrorism-related cases. Though he did not show dissatisfaction with the help received from the Balochistan government, he pointed out that the Chief Minister had sent to the panel a list of 945 missing persons without their particulars. “We sent the list back to the (Home) Ministry for correction, but it never came back,” he maintained.
The case of missing persons in the country has attained greater prominence due to media hype, which tends to overplay the ordeal of victim families, while using emotional metaphors and blaming the LEAs for having arrested, tortured and killed the innocent people. The trend is getting popular among the internal audience; whereas, the facts remain obscured.
Moreover, some of the terrorists while conducting raids/ambushes are killed during the action. In many cases, their dead bodies are taken away by their comrades, who probably bury them quietly at unknown places. The families are not informed about their deaths, who assume that they are in the custody of LEAs or intelligence agencies. Likewise, suicide bombers are labelled as missing persons. Furthermore, proclaimed offenders, who go underground, are clubbed into this category.
Regarding the future course of action, Justice Iqbal said: “We have been doing our job in Islamabad. We will soon visit interior Balochistan, including Gwadar, Turbat and Khuzdar. No person will be declared missing until or unless his/her relatives turn up and show their identity cards or driving licenses.” This is a welcome step, indeed; it would bring sanity to the process and would discourage misuse of the term ‘missing person’.
The commission is, indeed, following a logical approach; and that is why those thriving on sensationalism doubt its sincerity. Reportedly, the ‘Voice for Baloch Missing Persons’ (VFBMP), an organisation striving for the safe recovery of missing persons in Balochistan, has stated that the commission is not sincere in recovering the abducted people in the province.
It is about time that we start believing in facts, rather than fiction. The leadership has a role to play in it. They may promote fiction and still survive for some time, but once it’s time for answer to history, they would certainly fail!
n The writer is a retired air commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.