Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan: Do constitutional and human rights matter any more?
On 25th February 2018, OPP organised an event at the Vrije Universiteit, on the topic of Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan. There was quite a sizeable (how many exactly) number of people who attended, including young and old.Most significant was the participation of people representing the ethnic minorities of Pakistan. There were three featured panelists, Taj Baloch, Ahmed Waqas Goraya and Atif Tauqeer. Dr Ayesha Siddiqa and Mr Khalid Siddique also joined the panelists in the second half of the program.
The program started with an introduction to OPP, its mission and vision. This was followed by presentation of a tribute video to Asma Jahangir who passed away earlier this month.
The program formally started with a presentation by Taj Baloch. He’s a human rights activist hailing from Turbat, Balochistan and is now based in Sweden. He’s involved with documenting cases of enforced disappearances in the province of Balochistan. Mr Baloch gave a detailed presentation of the number of cases his organisation has documented so far, of a phenomenon that has existed in Balochistan since the 1970s. Most recent wave of disappearances started in 2005. He talked about the military raids on villages where men are rounded up, valuables looted and houses burned down. He also talked about atleast the perceived nexus between the military and religious extremist groups, including but not limited to ISIS, because of a confluence of interests in Balochistan.
Mr Atif Tauqeer spoke next, via skype connection. He talked about his journey into activism, and especially vlogging. He questioned why it was only those who demanded their rights as enshrined in the constitution apprehended, while those actively curbing them allowed to roam freely, by a state which should be guaranteeing protection of life for all its citizens. He mentioned some common misperceptions the general society uses to explain the abductions of activists, namely that military must have a reason for abducting people and that courts release people anyways and therefore the establishment needs a faster way of handing down “justice”, as opposed to the need for the due process of law to take its course, and for the investigation agencies to do their job more effectively. Summing up, he lamented the way in which the military establishment was hindering the diversification of public sphere which is otherwise a great source of enrichment of public discourse.
Mr Goraya spoke next, detailing his journey from being the moderator of a facebook page sharing and generating content critical of human rights violations in Pakistan, and the role of the military in politics, to being incarcerated and tortured by the establishment. He mentioned how his parents still live under an environment of threat and intimidation, in Pakistan. As for him and the activists who disappeared alongwith him last year, their apprehension was sold to the general public by alleging that they were putting blasphemous content on social media. This being such a sensitive issue in Pakistan, it has added another dimension of harassment to their ordeal. He pointed out that exposing a wrong does not harm a country’s reputation, committing the wrong act does. Also that the ordinary soldier defending Pakistan’s frontiers is not included in the military establishment whose excesses are criticised.
Dr Ayesha Siddiqa gave an academic perspective to the discussion surrounding forced disappearances and the establishement’s role. She said that the “establishment” includes a number of individuals both from the military and civilian leadership, who are focused on protecting their interests, amidst this breakdown of governance institutions and a state that is incapable of delivering justice. She insisted that, in pursuance of its interests, the establishment has no ideological preferences. Also that there has been this gradual silencing of voices where an increasingly confident authoritative state wants to silence any dissenting voices.
These panel presentations were followed by a round of questions. The role of political parties and civil society was discussed. Ms Siddiqa opined that political parties should be filling the communication gap, but the unfortunate reality is that only those movements that are “politically uncorrupted” can be successful, or a source of “igniting public consciousness” in present day Pakistan. Mr Khalid Siddique thought that since the execution of an elected prime minister in 1979, political parties had become very cautious and needed their time to regain that lost confidence. Ms Ayesha Siddiqa also lamented the absence of leftist movements in particular and “alternative” movements in general, from the political space in Pakistan. A question was also raised about the disparate nature of the protests being carried out by ethnic, and religious minorities in Pakistan to which the panelists agreed and stressed how important it was for these efforts to collaborate with other dispossessed people in the country.