Missing Persons Continue to Haunt Pakistan’s Military & Secret Service

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‘Enforced disappearance’ and ‘missing persons’ are words that are often synonymous with the Pakistani deep state. Just recently a case of enforced disappearance demonstrated the impunity granted to certain forces in the country, which consider themselves above the law in an increasingly repressive dispensation. Ahmad Farhad Shah, a Kashmiri journalist and poet, was reportedly picked up from his home in Islamabad a couple of weeks ago and has been missing since then.

As author and columnist Zahid Hussain noted, Farhad “is the latest addition to a long list of missing persons, which highlights the state’s worsening human rights record and increasingly repressive nature. Over the years, the country has seen intelligence agencies orchestrate the abductions of dissidents. There has been a marked uptick in such cases over the past few years, with the hybrid administration becoming increasingly coercive.” Farhad was “taken away after the recent violent protests in Azad Kashmir that caused fatalities. He had reportedly been facing harassment from the intelligence agencies for his political views.”

Ahmad Farhad Shah’s case has brought the issue of enforced disappearances in the country to the fore once again. “Scores of cases of missing persons have been pending before the courts. Many of the abducted have been missing for years. The number of missing persons in the country runs into the thousands. Little is known about their whereabouts. Notwithstanding the government’s claim that it is committed to finding a solution to the problem, unlawful detentions have not stopped. Fifty-one cases of enforced disappearances were reported last year alone.”

As Hussain notes, “what is happening these days is not an isolated phenomenon; it is a symptom of shrinking democratic space in the country, with the ‘legitimacy’ of hybrid rule being increasingly questioned. The rule of law seems to have completely collapsed as intelligence agencies appear to have been given a free hand.”

Pakistan’s political parties when in the opposition claim to be championing democratic rights and the rule of law. Yet, the Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024, passed recently, is one of the blackest laws in the country’s recent history, and reminiscent of the era of authoritarian rule. “Despite strong protest by civil society and media organisations, the Punjab provincial government pushed through the bill on the pretext that it was aimed at curbing fake news and criticism of state institutions.” The law “gives sweeping authority to tribunals set up by the government to prosecute anyone it deems to be against the security forces and other state institutions without giving them legal recourse. Such a draconian law has not been enforced even under the worst military rule. In fact, it provides protection to illegal and unconstitutional actions by the establishment and government. Curiously, Punjab is the only province to have passed a defamation bill.”

If Pakistan’s political parties seek civil supremacy, then they need to ensure that they strengthen the rule of law and the constitution, not give the establishment even more extra-constitutional powers.

 

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Author: Syed Bokhari