State of fear

Enterprise - - Letters -

If we are liv­ing in a demo­cratic coun­try with a con­sti­tu­tion that guar­an­tees full rights to its cit­i­zens, then our so­ci­ety must not come to re­sem­ble Chile in the Pinochet era when ac­tivists went miss­ing as a mat­ter of rou­tine. This coun­try should not have be­come one of those places where peo­ple can be picked up, hidden away and suf­fer tor­ture. The dis­ap­pear­ance of four so­cial me­dia ac­tivists can hardly be a co­in­ci­dence. Sal­man Haider, Waqas Go­raya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza Naseer have all gone miss­ing and none of them is yet to be lo­cated.

The gov­ern­ment has com­mented on Haider, who is also an aca­demic and poet, with In­te­rior Min­is­ter Chaudhry Nisar say­ing that he is in con­tact with in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and that Haider’s re­cov­ery is the gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­ity. Lit­tle, how­ever, has been said about the oth­ers on the list. It should be ob­vi­ous that the near-si­mul­ta­ne­ous dis­ap­pear­ances are linked since all four of the ac­tivists shared the same ap­proach, were crit­i­cal of gov­ern­ment and es­tab­lish­ment poli­cies and were prom­i­nent on so­cial me­dia. Who ab­ducted the ac­tivists? Their forth­right con­dem­na­tion of the re­gres­sive mind­set cer­tainly could have at­tracted the at­ten­tion of any of a num­ber of mil­i­tant groups but those el­e­ments can­not co­or­di­nate so many kid­nap­pings, es­pe­cially when the gov­ern­ment claims to have them on the run. The other very real – and very fright­en­ing – pos­si­bil­ity is that they are the first peo­ple of the new year to go ‘miss­ing.’ This pos­si­bil­ity is be­ing widely be­lieved. It is the state and its or­gans – again – that have come un­der ques­tion. The coun­try’s civil so­ci­ety has squarely put on the re­spon­si­bil­ity on the gov­ern­ment to re­lease them, as well as all other ‘miss­ing peo­ple.’ There have been protests against these lat­est dis­ap­pear­ances and rights group have called on the gov­ern­ment to im­me­di­ately lo­cate the ac­tivists.

The mat­ter is not just about one in­di­vid­ual. First, the state needs to pro­duce all of those who have gone ‘miss­ing’ re­cently and then ac­count for ev­ery per­son who has been ‘ab­ducted’. For per­sons to dis­ap­pear into noth­ing­ness af­ter they have been branded or un­der­stood as en­e­mies of the state can never be jus­ti­fied. There is some ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the num­ber of ‘miss­ing’ peo­ple is in­creas­ing. The Com­mis­sion of In­quiry on En­forced Dis­ap­pear­ances says a to­tal of 728 peo­ple were added to the com­mis­sion’s list last year – the high­est in any year since its in­cep­tion. Most of them were taken away from Balochis­tan. In 201R there were 649 cases. These num­bers may ac­tu­ally be lower than the real num­ber since many fam­i­lies are reluc­tant to ap­pear be­fore a gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed com­mis­sion, es­pe­cially since it is sus­pected that in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials are also present at the hear­ings. Many in­ci­dents may not be brought to light or placed be­fore any fo­rum. Over the last two years, an alarm­ing fea­ture of these in­ci­dents is the al­most to­tal si­lence as­sumed by the main­stream me­dia. Events in the prov­ince of Balochis­tan are now barely men­tioned at all. There are of course rea­sons for this si­lence, and ev­ery re­porter, ev­ery ac­tivist in Balochis­tan and other places knows of the risks in­volved in high­light­ing dis­ap­pear­ances of mostly young men. The si­lence needs to end.

An­jum Pirzada,


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