By Hamza Ameer
Islamabad, Sep 1 (IANS) Pakistans record in enforced disappearances aka missing persons remains among the worst in the world as thousands of political and human rights activists have been taken into secret custody or have gone missing with no signs of information of their whereabouts.
This was reminded by a protest demonstration in Islamabad’s National Press Club (NPC) by Defence of Human Rights (DHR), an organization fighting for the recovery of thousands of missing persons, marking International Day of the Disappeared on August 30.
Families of the missing persons carried banners and pictures of their loved ones, demanding their immediate return.
Criticising the ruling government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Federal Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari, opposition party leader from Pakistan People Party (PPP) said that enforced disappearances in Pakistan have been institutionalised.
“It was during the Pervez Musharraf era when hundreds of people were picked up and sent to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Since then, the enforced disappearance has been institutionalised and neither the Parliament, nor the judiciary or any civilian government was able to do anything about it,” said PPP leader Farhatullah Babar.
Mazari was also reminded of her promise, made two years ago to make legislation to criminalise such disappearances by another PPP leader Sherry Rehman.
“I do not blame Shireen Mazari for this failure. Perhaps any Minister would have failed. I say this to emphasize that the perpetrators of enforced disappearances were more powerful than all state institutions,” she said.
Pointing direct fingers towards the powerful military and intelligence agencies of the country, Babar said “it was frightening that not a single perpetrator has been held to account”.
“More than 2,000 missing persons had been traced by the Commission on enforced disappearances whose Chairman admitted before the Senate Committee on Human Rights in August 2018 that 153 state functionaries had been identified as involved in the crime,” he said.
While the issue of missing persons continues to hamper Pakistan’s credibility; family members of the missing persons are spending days and nights with little hopes of seeing their loved ones ever return.
Haseeba Qambrani, a resident of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan province, spends every day grieving, protesting and praying that the fate of her two missing brothers, whom she says were taken by the security forces in February, do not end up with the same way as her two elder brothers Salman and Gazain Qambrani, whose mutilated bodies were found in August 2016 after an year long disappearance.
“We are alive but have stopped living because we are living in a big void. All our waking hours are spent in the hope that my brothers will return,” she said.
“We answer every knock on the door and every phone call in the hope that it might bring some news about our brother and cousin,” she added.
Her brothers Hassan and Hizbullah Qambrani have been missing for last seven months after being taken into custody by what she claims were the security forces.
“That day, we kept on delaying dinner as we waited for them to return because my father wouldn’t eat without him. I tried to call him and I left a message, but he never replied,” said Haseeba Qambrani, detailing that day her brother went missing.
“Later that night, an elderly women in our neighbourhood told us she had seen Hassan being taken away in a police van,” she added.
For the relatives of the missing persons, life is a constant agony. Haseeba Qambrani spends every day offering special prayers for his return, standing on one leg for nearly an hour, reciting specific verses of the Quran in the hope that a miracle will bring her brothers back alive.
Pakistani officials maintain that the number of claims of disappearances, specifically from the Balochistan province is “exaggerated”, adding that number of steps have been taken to find the thousands of disappeared, who have gone missing across the country.