Monday, January 9, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 9, 2017

Incremental spread of disappearances Rashed Rahman Enforced disappearances first made their appearance in Pakistan in the context of Balochistan. For long years now, almost since the current nationalist insurgency began in 2002, dissidents and activists have been disappearing all over the province, with almost 1,000 counted just last year. Many of those ‘disappeared’ ended up as bullet-riddled bodies dumped all over Balochistan. In more recent years, the phenomenon began to be noticed in Sindh too, with some Sindhi nationalists being subjected to the same treatment. Commentators and human rights defenders have been crying themselves hoarse against this brutal, patently illegal, unconstitutional, extrajudicial killing spree. Punjab had largely been spared this affliction, with the notable exception of journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was ‘disappeared’ in Islamabad, only for his tortured body to be recovered days later. Despite the hue and cry and the Commission on Enforced Disappearances set up under the aegis of the Supreme Court, the heinous practice appears to be still in existence and spreading its malign tentacles. Readers and the public had hardly digested the news of the disappearance of human rights activist, writer, actor, lecturer in gender studies at the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University Salman Haider from Islamabad on January 6 when it transpired that in fact three other dissidents had ‘disappeared’ in the last few days. Salman Haider disappeared on his way home from Bani Gala. The first inkling that something had happened to him came when his wife received a message from his cell phone that his car should be recovered from near Koral Chowk. His wife’s attempts to call Salman Haider on his cellphone yielded no joy. The car was indeed recovered from Koral Chowk, but without any trace of the whereabouts of Salman Haider. According to his family, Salman had no enmity with anyone. What then, explains his disappearance? Focus has centred on his internet and social media activism, in which he raised voice against enforced disappearances in Balochistan and against religious extremism and all forms of bigotry. In 2014, he posted a poem entitled ‘Kafir’ when sectarian killings were rife in the country. He was also involved with a quarterly online journal on politics and culture called Tanqeed. Although an FIR under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code (related to kidnapping) has been registered at Loi Bher Police Station, as is usual in such cases, the police do not have a clue so far regarding the circumstances surrounding Salman Haider’s disappearance. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has made the ritual noises about finding Salman post haste, but the track record in such cases does not inspire confidence. Similar ‘offenders’ (secular, leftist) on the internet and social media Waqas Goraya, an anthropologist originally resident in Jauhar Town Lahore and settled for some time in The Netherlands, and his cousin Asim Saeed who lives in Singapore, disappeared from Wapda Town Lahore on January 4. They were said to be scouting for a house to buy for Waqas in Wapda Town when they disappeared. A kidnap case has been registered in the Sattukatla Police Station. On January 7, Ahmed Raza Naseer, a polio victim, was picked up from his family’s shop in Sheikhupura. Only the incorrigibly gullible would swallow the ritual indirect denial by an intelligence agencies’ source that the deep state knows nothing about these four disappearances. Sabeen Mehmood’s assassination in Karachi immediately after leaving a T2F discussion on missing persons in Balochistan, later pasted onto the case of the Safoora Goth bus massacre, complete with ‘confessions’ by the accused that were later challenged on appeal in court, is one more indicator that the deep state is desperate to dominate the national narrative. Whereas Saleem Shahzad and Sabeen Mehmood suffered undeserved fates, Wahid Baloch was luckier, having been able to rejoin his family safe and sound weeks after being abducted off a bus on its way to Karachi. Two years ago, a roundtable discussion on missing persons in Balochistan at LUMS University, Lahore, had to be cancelled on the ISI’s insistence. The university buckled under, with teachers and students protesting the denial of academic freedom being subjected to various ‘punishments’ and threats. Sabeen had resisted similar pressure from the same source and paid the price of defiance. Having subjugated the mainstream media, both electronic and print, through a mixture of blandishments and ever present threats, as pointed out by Raza Rumi who survived an attack in Lahore in which his driver was killed, the deep state is now turning its unwanted attention to liberal, secular, progressive voices on the internet and social media. The government’s Cyber Crimes Act, the civilians’ contribution to the same objective, is so poorly drafted and broad in its sweep that it can either be used to prosecute/persecute anyone or no one. The deep state obviously has little confidence in this endeavour by the ‘bloody civilians’, and has therefore decided to have recourse to more ‘direct’ methods. Needless to say, such methods erode the credibility and moral standing of the state, embitter the families, friends and colleagues of victims, and ensure an incremental confrontation between the state and its liberal and progressive citizens. The problem is that there is no forum to turn to for redress of such abuses. The judiciary has been found wanting in the face of the deep state’s intransigence and blank denials, the civilians are too scared, and the liberal and progressive community too scattered, divided and ineffectual to make a difference. Our real rulers should pay heed to the lessons of history. Such a dispensation can only lead to the rebellion of the oppressed, not a system that people can have faith in.

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