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One hopes nothing will be done to thwart the UN mission. Any cancellation or postponement of the plan will further tarnish Pakistan's image abroad.
The report that a team of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will visit Pakistan in September must have raised hopes in many a heart in Balochistan. Will this initiative give the efforts to resolve the issue of disappearances a decisive boost?
One hopes nothing will be done to thwart the UN mission. Any cancellation or postponement of the plan will further tarnish Pakistan's image abroad. The working group had requested Islamabad to invite its mission on Sept 29, 2010. It was not wise to delay acceptance of this request for 20 months.
Even otherwise, Pakistan's record with this working group has not been good. In its latest report the group stated it had transmitted 143 cases of involuntary disappearance to the government since its inception and 107 of them were pending as of March 2012. Between November 2010 and November 2011, the cases referred to Islamabad under an urgent-action procedure were those of Muzaffar Bhutto (allegedly abducted on Feb 25, 2011) and Al Sharkawy Abdullah Mohammed Abdelrahim (May 25, 2011). The three cases referred under standard procedure concerned Mir Sohrab Khan Marri (Nov 8, 2009), Ali Asghar Bangulzai (Oct 18, 2001) and Khan Mohammad Marri (Nov 7, 2010). We know the fate of the persons mentioned here.
The group also reported receiving complaints about the judicial commission formed in 2010 and allegations attributing the disappearances "to the security forces of the government of Pakistan, in particular to the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies." It is essential for Islamabad to rebut these allegations effectively and ensure that exchanges with the UN team are based on truth, openness and a desire to solve matters instead of taking shelter under an umbrella of denial and obfuscation.
Any reluctance to deal fairly with the UN team will also further alienate the people of Balochistan, especially the Baloch population. In the wake of long-festering Baloch grievances, the shock of disappearances has been the last straw on the camel's back. Whatever was accomplished by the judicial commission formed in 2010 or has been done by the commission working at present, the Baloch have received little satisfaction.
Hopes aroused by the Supreme Court's decision to prioritise the issue of missing persons are unlikely to endure forever. After all, the august court has been seized of the matter since the beginning of 2007 and over the last few weeks it has gone as far as it can in its efforts to break through the arrogance and obduracy of Baloch-baiters. The result does not match the effort. The long-suffering people of Balochistan may not be able to bear the shock of a failure of the UN initiative.
While the failure to recover a good number of people believed to have been picked up by security personnel and the discovery of missing persons' dead bodies continue to inflame Baloch emotions, another serious cause for concern is the grim realisation that disappearances continue almost unabated.
According to an official report released by the Ministry of Human Rights, 150 people were reported to have disappeared in 2011 and 108 or 109 of them were from Balochistan. The commission led by Justice Javed Iqbal inquiring into involuntary disappearances says it had 138 cases before it in January 2011 and 634 new cases were added to the list over the past 18 months. This is incontrovertible evidence that the sinister game of eliminating Baloch dissidents continues and the powers-that-be have become immune to both sane advice and the dictates of the law.
On top of everything the government of Pakistan seems to have become as helpless as the mother of a missing person begging to be reunited with her first born. The Senate's Functional Committee on Human Rights recently adopted a resolution moved by Senator Farhatullah Babar calling upon the government to sign and ratify the UN's International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance. The government must, of course, do so as soon as possible, preferably before the arrival of the working-group team.
What needs to be noted is the fact that Senator Babar, well-known for his special status as the president's spokesperson, has to move a resolution in a Senate committee for the ratification of a UN instrument. The implication is clear: the government needs outside support to overcome the opposition to ratification of this convention. This is a measure of the power of the state that has grown within the state. Will parliament, political parties and civil society accept the challenge?
The task before all those who believe in justice and the rights of the people of Balochistan is much harder than getting a UN convention ratified or some more missing persons traced, dead or alive. They have to persuade the establishment to understand the Baloch mind.
For reasons that need not be repeated, the Baloch have been nearly completely alienated from the state. In such situations - and students of history and politics are quite familiar with them - the people, especially the youth, have nothing positive left to say about the state's institutions and services. One suspects that our law-enforcement agencies are trying to outdo the intelligence agencies of the colonial period by pouncing on anyone who is guilty of nothing more than open discourse. One of the punishments for such young persons in the colonial period was that they were denied entry into the civil service even if they had established their merit (the practice continues in Pakistan).
A problem arose after independence when many, if not most, Bengali candidates who had passed the civil-service entry test were rejected on the ground of adverse intelligence reports. East Pakistan fought and won the right to service of candidates with such records. Their argument was that in their part of Pakistan intelligence agencies did not like any bright young person.
Something similar may help in Balochistan. There is not much point in talking only to ‘angry Baloch leaders' because they matter little today. Young people matter much more. Instead of trying to win over the Baloch by pampering the favourites of ministers, legislators, warlords and generals, the state will do well to embrace the angry youth of Balochistan, respect their convictions, put balm on their wounds and give due weight to their views on the future of their people.