Human beings and animals
A ray of hope became visible to the families of missing persons in Balochistan as a result of the Chief Justice’s (CJ’s) hearings at the Quetta Registry of the Supreme Court these days. On Saturday, the CJ felt constrained to remark during the proceedings that there was no difference between human beings and animals in Balochistan where mutilated bodies were found on a daily basis. The CJ thought he should stay in Quetta for a month to address the situation. On the three-member bench’s insistence, four out of seven persons ordered to be produced before the court were miraculously ‘recovered’ out of thin air. As is the pattern in the province, the seven had been missing since being picked up in a raid in Quetta. The police had been lying through their teeth before the court that they had no information about the missing persons. The CJ ordered the suspension of the concerned SHO and his arrest for trying to mislead the court. Since the police seemed to have responded to the court’s threat to act against even the highest police officers, there is reasonable optimism that the other three missing persons too will be produced on Monday in accordance with the court’s strict instructions. While the SC deserves praise for its unflinching determination to do justice in a clear case of the authorities dissembling, lying and covering up their excesses against citizens, the court too seems to have realised what an uphill task it is confronted with when it comes to accounting for the thousands still missing, a mission harder than extracting blood from a stone.
If the police, civil administration and other authorities have been sufficiently cowed down by the SC’s assertion to follow the court’s orders, none of this appears to have had any effect on the Frontier Corps’s (FC’s) IG, Major General Ubaidullah Khan. He once again, as he has been doing from time to time, denied any involvement of his force in the rash of abductions, kidnappings and dumping of mutilated and bullet-riddled bodies throughout the province. Even though a PPP MPA, Sadiq Umrani had stated on the floor of the provincial assembly that he and two provincial ministers were witness to two persons being held blindfolded and subjected to torture near Kalat and Mastung, and the dead bodies of these two persons were later found dumped, the FC IG dug his heels in and denied any wrongdoing, hiding behind the lame excuse that the FC had refuted the report immediately after it surfaced. This did not satisfy the court, and the FC IG was reminded that a false statement from the floor of the house could get ministers and MPAs suspended. The bench ordered the recalcitrant IG FC to appear at the next hearing with a complete report. As though to underline the continuing problem, on the very day this hearing was being conducted, two more bullet-riddled bodies of persons missing for some days were found dumped in Mastung. A spurious organisation called the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Amn (most likely an FC/ISI sponsored front for conducting such ‘black’ operations to try and maintain deniability) claimed responsibility. A JUI-F cleric was also shot dead in a targeted killing in Quetta on the very same day. Another shutter down strike was called for today, but the efficacy of these strikes in response to such incidents too is declining. The CJ was also displeased with the lack of progress in the Domki family murder case in Karachi, especially when it was revealed in court that the investigating officer of the Sindh police had gone off on some training course abroad.
The SC is of course right to come down hard on the police, administration and authorities for their obvious dereliction of duty, falsehood and providing succour to the perpetrators of these crimes. But with due respect, the court must be aware of the identity of these perpetrators. If the FC, with the military and its intelligence agencies behind it, is too powerful to be touched, it will bring only partial relief if the court continues to tilt against the civilian authorities only. The real culprits thereby may be left untouched. The SC must be aware that if it tilts in the wrong direction, it may succeed in getting the odd missing person recovered, but this is still a very long way away from addressing the cases of the thousands of missing persons in Balochistan. That is a task only possible to accomplish if the smokescreen erected by the forces that really are responsible for the policy of ‘kill and dump’ is cleared and they are brought to book under the laws of the land.