ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Monday announced it was setting up a seven-member committee to make policy on the issue of “enforced disappearances,” a day after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) said Pakistani rulers, past and present, needed to explain their alleged “tacit approval” of a policy of missing people.
Pakistan, where militants have waged war against the state for decades, has long been plagued by enforced disappearances. Families say people are picked up by security forces, disappear often for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. The Pakistan military has long denied it is involved in enforced disappearances.
In a rare statement on the matter issued in 2019, the army said it sympathized with families of missing Balochs, while saying that some may have joined militant groups and “not every person missing is attributable to the state.”
On Sunday, the IHC gave a 15-page order saying military ruler General Pervez Musharraf as well as successive prime ministers, including the incumbent PM, needed to submit “affidavits explaining why the court may not order proceedings against them for alleged subversion of the Constitution in the context of undeclared tacit approval of the policy regarding enforced disappearances.”
In response, the interior minister announced on Twitter:
“Formation of committee on missing persons issue, notification issued by Interior Ministry.”
The committee will be chaired by law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar.
Though a common phenomenon in Pakistan since it joined the United States war on terror in 2001, enforced disappearances are once more in the spotlight as the Islamabad High Court hears the case of journalist Mudassar Mahmood Naru, who went missing in 2018 during a family vacation in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“Pervez Musharraf has candidly conceded in his autobiography In the Line of Fire that ‘enforced disappearances’ was an undeclared policy of the state,” Sunday’s IHC order said. “The onus is on each chief executive to rebut the presumption and to explain why they may not be tried for the offense of high treason.”
In 2011, on the orders of the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Interior set up the Commission of
Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), with a mandate to trace the location of a ‘disappeared’ person, find out who was responsible (whether state, individual or institution), ensure an FIR was registered and recommend standard operating procedures to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
According to the COIED’s monthly report for September 2021, it had received 8,122 cases since its inception, of which 2,274 remained unresolved. In September 2021, the Commission disposed of 27 cases, where 24 people had been traced, 13 returned home, six were found in internment centers, five were in jail and three were deemed to not be cases of enforced disappearances.