Where is Idris Khattak?

In November 2019, Idris Khattak, a Pakistani human rights activist and independent researcher, was kidnapped on the Swabi Motorway Interchange. He has not been seen since. Khattak’s family and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) believe he has been “forcibly disappeared” by Pakistan’s deep state.

Amnesty International, human rights watchdog posted an appeal on its website: “No one has seen him since the evening of 13 November when he was taken by men in plain clothes on a motorway between Islamabad and Peshawar. His whereabouts and fate remain unknown to his family. Amnesty International fears that Khattak could be at risk of torture, ill-treatment or worse – as suffered by other victims of enforced disappearance in Pakistan. Khattak is also a patient of diabetes and needs daily medication.”

On May 14, 2020, Khattak’s daughter Talia wrote an oped titled “You may have abducted my father but you can’t take away his bravery.” Talia stated, “My father, Idris Khattak, a devoted human rights defender and the most selfless man I know, was forcibly disappeared on 13 November 2019. I have not heard from him. No one has any idea where he could be. We don’t even know who took him. In Pakistan, enforced disappearances have been used as a tool to muzzle dissent and criticism of the state. People are abducted by the very institutions that are supposed to protect them and placed outside the law. There is no arrest warrant, no record, no investigation – as if the person never existed.”

Wake up Pakistan!

I think it is fair to say that the goal of the Pakistani Taliban is to destroy the very notion of “citizen” in Pakistan. Take into account the recent events of this year alone: they have been responsible for a total of fourteen attacks, including the PNS Mehran Naval Base attack in May, the twin-suicide bombs at the Sufi shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan in April, various car bombs, the execution of the former ISI officer, Colonel Imam, in February, and the most recent execution of 16 policemen in July. Every attack has either been a direct attack on the civilian guard or on the civilian body. This depletion of every type of citizen in Pakistan has allowed for a vacuum to be created. And in its place, the arrival of Pakistan’s “non-citizens” poses the greatest threat.

To be short, the “citizen” as we know it just doesn’t exist in Pakistan. Citizens don’t decide major changes in their country’s foreign policy by coordinating bomb blasts on their neighbor. Citizens don’t decide political elections by coordinating assassinations; and citizens don’t use car bombs as a frequent reminder to their own country that they’re still there. Citizens don’t; but the Taliban do.

Indeed in 2010 General Petraeus said that the Pakistani Taliban pose the most pressing threat to Pakistan’s “writ of governance”. While Pakistan continues to identify India as the “major state-based threat”, the reality is that the Pakistani Taliban undermines Pakistan’s ability to govern more than any neighboring threat. I would even argue that the Pakistani Taliban is Pakistan’s first major state-based threat. The Pakistani army’s attempts to carry out operations against the Pakistani Taliban have “inevitably…banged into some of these other organizations” such as al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and TNSM [Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi], making Pakistan more vulnerable on all fronts.

These ungovernable characters are not only breaking the law –they are redefining the norm and in doing so, they are redefining what it means to be a citizen. With each attack, a new precedent is set. What then is the best form of “deterrence” to such an internal threat? For example, Pakistan argues that it maintains its nuclear capabilities as deterrence to India as well as a way to avoid an existentialist crisis. If Pakistan has the means to deter a country the size of India, how does Pakistan not have the means to deter a terrorist organization the size of the Tehrik-i-Taliban?

Many would argue that Pakistan’s constant obsession with India has allowed for groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to exploit Pakistan’s blind spots. In 2010, Petraeus noted that Pakistan “just completed an exercise, some 50,000 Pakistani military forces, similar to the old NATO exercises that we used to run in the days of the Cold War”. The difference here is that Pakistan and India are not engaged in anything close to the Cold War. Even with nuclear powers, each country, at least Pakistan, has little incentive to use such force given its poor economic, civil defense, and developmental standing. Using such force would be done at the expense of an economically and academically weak citizen body. The fact that Pakistan continues to perpetuate such a Cold War mentality, however, increases wasted resources and focus on part of the Pakistani government.

Additionally in this strain, the defense spending by Pakistan has increased 12%, bringing it up to Rs495.2 billion for the year 2011-12. The same defense budget would allocate over Rs73 billion for pensions of military personnel that would be paid from the civilian budget. This increase in defense spending has had poor reception, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) citing it as a “recipe for disaster”. Instead, the PML-N and many others are adamant that more must be invested in education.

The result is a disparate citizen body: while some citizens of Pakistan prepare to engage in potential wars with India, other “citizens” of Pakistan seek to dismantle Pakistani authority. In other words, while one citizen defines itself as anti-India, the other citizen defines itself as anti-Pakistan. The question then that has to be asked is simple: where are the citizens of and for Pakistan?

The answer to this question is what the Pakistani Taliban hope to redefine. And with 2.8% of Pakistan’s GDP going towards defense, they are making waves. An increase in defense is reactionary, not pragmatic. It takes away from Pakistan’s education budget which takes away from Pakistan’s building of a cohesive citizen body.

Pakistan, wake up: you are creating your own non-citizens by not creating your own citizens in the first place. And by not focusing more on this internal threat, you are, in many ways, allowing the Pakistani Taliban and other ungovernable influences to create their own “writ of governance.”

The author is a student at Rice University.