The charade that’s the Missing Persons Commission

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Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement chief Manzoor Pashteen on Saturday visited families of Baloch missing persons in Islamabad.

Families of some abducted Baloch activists recently complained about the behaviour of members of a commission formed by the government for the recovery of missing persons. A few said they were even told not to appear before the commission if they were not satisfied with its workings. They were ridiculed and asked the same basic questions they had answered several times since the commission was formed a decade ago. This begs the question, what is the purpose of this charade that’s called the Missing Persons Commission?

Most in Pakistan know that these people listed as ‘missing’ are not missing in the true sense of the word. It’s not that we don’t know where they are — we know exactly where they are, they are in the illegal custody of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. They have been languishing in torture cells for years, in some cases over a decade. Such commissions and pledges from ministers of ‘investigating’ the matter is equal to rubbing salt to the wounds of the suffering families. It’s like telling a daughter that she is lying when she says intelligence officials and Pakistan’s security forces abducted her father despite the forces abducting her father before her eyes.

When, in rare cases, such commissions enquire the intelligence officials about the ‘missing persons’, they do so not in the sense that the officials are responsible for abducting them and should release them. They do so in the sense of asking whether the agencies, having the means and the capacity, could help to find them, if they know where the abducted men might be, or if they have seen them going to, say, Antarctica or witnessed the earth swallowing them up. Such a state of affairs is in fact very good for the intelligence agencies in whose custody these ‘missing persons’ are. This implies that they too haven’t got a clue and are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Moreover, the fact that the commission does virtually nothing in helping to bring the ‘missing’ back is not because of a lack of evidence since there has been plenty. Activists have also been picked up in broad daylight in big cities such as Karachi and Islamabad in front of witnesses and, in many instances, CCTV footage has shown the families are telling the truth. But this does not matter as Pakistan’s army enjoys the privilege of simply claiming all of this is made up and untrue.

Let’s be honest here. The fate of these abducted people is in the hands of the army and the army alone. No commission or minister or judge can ask a general or even a Second Lieutenant to release them. Even when one of these missing persons was released and he later said he had been in the illegal custody of the army, the army simply denied that and the case was closed. No official was held to account.

In such a scenario, it’s probably for the best if the commission for the missing persons itself goes missing so that the families would not have to at least travel hundreds of miles to appear in the hearings only to be humiliated. They have already suffered enough.