Friday, December 9, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 7, 2016

No longer missing Wahid Baloch’s case is typical of the rash of people going ‘missing’, mostly in Balochistan, but now increasingly in Sindh too, but with one important difference. Wahid is back safe and sound with his family after four anxiety-ridden months from the moment he was whisked away by security officials off a bus on the outskirts of Karachi on July 26. When he ‘disappeared’, the police initially refused to register an FIR, government agencies proved unable or unwilling to help trace him, and human rights groups took up his case. All this is a sickeningly familiar routine. The social activist, writer and publisher was widely believed to have been targeted by the security agencies because of his advocacy of the Baloch cause. Despite the long period of his secret incarceration, no charges were brought against him, he was never presented in a court of law, and there was no official acknowledgement that he was in custody. Happily though, his nightmare ended well. He is one of the lucky ones. While Wahid Baloch is free, many are still missing, untraced and untraceable. But at least their families can still hope that one day their loved ones will return to them, unlike those ‘disappeared’ whose bullet-riddled bodies continue to turn up all over Balochistan and of late even in Sindh. Even the intervention of the Supreme Court and the setting up of a judicial commission has failed to resolve the conundrum. One does not know if Wahid Baloch owes his good fortune to the recent change of military command or it is purely coincidental or circumstantial. But it is high time the powers that be revisit the growing practice of handling suspected militants by extrajudicial means. The arguments against the practice carry a great deal of weight. Not only is ‘disappearing’ people against the law and constitution, the lack of any checks on such clandestine measures means they are open to great abuse and injustice. In effect they deprive the state of any moral high ground, feeding into resentment and grievances and thereby hardening attitudes in the community targeted, leading to an exacerbation of the very security problems they are intended to deal with. There exists a controversy on the number of missing persons related to Balochistan. Activists claim the figure runs into thousands, human rights groups say they are not so many but still considerable, the state (including the Supreme Court set up judicial commission) unofficially concedes only a small number. This controversy is meaningless on the touchstone of the law, constitution and citizens’ rights. One missing person is one too many. Whatever the actual number, the problem has by now acquired intractability, fuelled existing Baloch grievances and arguably sustained the insurgency with hardened attitudes amongst the targeted community. For insurgencies such as the politically motivated Baloch one, there is no purely military solution. Unfortunately the establishment only views the problem through security lenses. About Balochistan in particular, its proximity to Afghanistan and Iran and its extended sea coast lends the province a geostrategic importance and sensitivity all its own. The India factor too impinges on the present approach to the problem. If for the sake of argument, the security establishment’s view that the insurgency is supported by India is accepted, the counter logic suggests that if we put our house in order, that would cut the ground from under any foreign interference, including India’s. The only way that is possible is a negotiated political solution to the Baloch insurgency, an endeavour that would be immeasurably helped by adherence to the tenets of the law and constitution, due process, and if found not guilty of any crime, reuniting all missing persons with their long suffering families.

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