Monday, September 10, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 11, 2012

WGEID mission A UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) mission arrived in Pakistan on Monday. The 10-day visit will allow the mission to meet federal and provincial government representatives, the military leadership, intelligence agencies, civil society and family members of the missing persons to collect information about enforced disappearances in Pakistan, with special emphasis on Balochistan, and report back to the UN Human Rights Council next year. At the end of its information collection/collation exercise, the mission will review the measures taken by the government for recovering victims of enforced disappearances. WGEID’s annual report stated that enforced disappearances in Pakistan had reached unprecedented levels, while voicing concern over abductions of civilians in Balochistan and other parts of the country. This led to a request to host a mission, which the government accepted and extended an invitation. According to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, an organisation of the families of victims agitating for information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones and their safe return, 13,000 people have been abducted from Balochistan alone since 2005, when enhanced fighting broke out as a result of the confrontation between the subsequently slain Bugti chief and Musharraf’s government. The authorities do not admit to more than 32 missing persons, a gulf that reflects the lack of governmental seriousness about the issue. Even the intervention of the Supreme Court (SC) and its repeatedly admonishing the authorities has failed to recover even one missing person. As a matter of fact, every time the SC holds hearings on the missing persons case at its Quetta registry, tortured dead bodies of missing persons start appearing all over the province. Dissenters in the province, especially Baloch nationalists, are at extreme risk to life and limb. The WGEID was set up under UN auspices in 1980. It receives an annual renewal of its mandate from the UN Economic and Social Council. Given the situation of missing persons in Pakistan, it will have its work cut out for it to discover the facts and the truth of what has arguably become one of the blackest blots on Pakistan’s image. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) held the second of its seminars on the Balochistan situation in Quetta the other day after the earlier one held in Islamabad. Speeches at the seminar by Asma Jahangir among others stressed the need for a political solution to the impasse in the province, bringing the stakeholders to the negotiating table, and the formation of a high powered commission with the fullest mandate of reaching out to all stakeholders and implementing their suggestions. It must be stated though, that the level of alienation amongst the people of Balochistan has reached such a peak because of the oppressive policies of the military, intelligence agencies and their implementing arm, the Frontier Corps, that such suggestions no longer cut much ice in the province. Scepticism about the WGEID mission’s ability to peel away the layers of official obfuscation and arrive at the true picture is also being expressed. In any case, if the mission reports next year, and nothing changes in the meantime on the ground, how many more people will have disappeared by then and how many more tortured dead bodies will turn up? No doubt the fact that the highest echelons of the UN are now getting involved in the situation is a welcome development. Their report will no doubt put pressure on the government to address the grave situation. But here it must be stated that even if the government, federal or provincial, could by some miracle find the political will to stop the abductions, torture and killings of dissidents, they would run up against the stone wall of the military establishment that for all intents and purposes calls the shots in Balochistan. Ms Jahangir feels the high powered commission suggested in the SCBA seminar should have the authority to take decisions and tell the army chief, “Mr Kayani this is what we the civilians want and you will do it.” But with due respect, if wishes were horses… The grave situation wrought by the military and its arms in Balochistan has stoked separatist sentiment to an extent never before witnessed in our history. The Baloch nationalists’ lobbying efforts internationally have put the Balochistan issue squarely on the map of the US Congress as well as the UN. It is not in Pakistan’s interest to be put in the dock on this issue in attempting to obfuscate or defend the indefensible. The military and the government need to revisit their approach to Balochistan and its genuine grievances and find a political way out of the cul de sac into which the province is being driven.

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