“Who will speak for those who have been killed by some of the so called missing persons? And how many terrorists arrested have been convicted by the courts?” Raja Mujtaba

missing persons protestBy S. M. Hali 

“Missing persons’ is the term used in Pakistan to refer to the allegedly thousands of people who have been “forcefully disappeared” after having been accused of assisting terrorist organizations. Very little information is available regarding the whereabouts of these people. There are rumours that some have reportedly been handed over to the CIA and/or flown to Bagram Jail in Afghanistan and later shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. Other reports talk of abductions by terrorist organizations, held for ransom, whose families did not cooperate with law enforcing agencies regarding their disappearance for fear of the safety of their lives. In some instances, the abductors assassinated the abductees since their family members failed to pay the ransom; thus they remain missing. In many instances, the so called missing persons were recruited by the terrorist organizations and they have been brainwashed, either through subliminal programming or the induction of drugs or indoctrinated through heavy doses of religion to join their heinous agenda and commit acts of terror. There have even been instances of abductees falling prey to the Stockholm Syndrome and joining their abductors and their cause and refusing to return to their families.

Reports of forced abductions by the Pakistani state first began arising in 2001, in the aftermath of the United States led international forces’ invasion of Afghanistan and the commencement of the US-led War on Terror. A number of the missing persons are activists associated with the secular Baloch Nationalist and Sindhi Nationalist movements.

The case of missing persons has been blown out of proportion by the media although it is a painful element for the near and dear ones of those who have disappeared without a trace. Unfortunately, the media projection has prompted the judiciary to take suo moto action and coming down hard on the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) to produce the “missing persons”.

The judicial action and its extensive projection by media is not only encouraging the terrorists to conduct their criminal acts of violence against Security Forces/ISI and other innocent civilians, but also creating impediments for LEAs to fight the menace audaciously. Media is projecting the case of missing persons with total disregard to the ongoing war on terror (WoT) and so is the case with the Judiciary, which is taking cognizance of the issue from a humanitarian point of view and is being considerate towards the families of the missing persons, who have been protesting publicly. The stance taken by the judiciary is commendable but the WoT is an extraordinary one, which requires extraordinary measures. Currently, the LEAs, which are the last line of defence for the people to protect them from the heinous attacks of the terror mongers, are in a state of disarray, resultantly frightening thoughts and confusion has permeated into their rank and file, thereby, negatively impacting their performance.

It needs to be understood that the WoT is the main cause of mayhem and chaos in Pakistan, having taken a huge toll of over 40,000 precious lives out of which nearly 6,000 are members of the LEAs. Unfortunately, proper legislation on the subject is missing. The current government, which is only a few weeks old, has picked up the gauntlet to devise a formal counter terrorism strategy and a National Security Policy. Its task is impeded by various factors. Firstly, evolving a National Security Policy which is both practical and executable, would require the consensus of all the political parties. Secondly, although the entire nation is a victim of WoT, yet the nation stands divided on its legitimacy. Through tools of opinion building like the media, the government must educate the masses about the spreading menace and courts must give bold and fair decisions to punish the terrorists and their accomplices.

Investigations by LEAs/ISI are hampered by media by projecting the case of missing persons in a biased manner, which is tantamount to embarrassing the LEAs/ISI and creates an impression that media is not supporting the national cause to fight the terrorists.

Terrorists have changed their tactics and have made nexus with criminal elements, who frequently indulge in criminal activities like kidnapping for ransom, looting, land grabbing, larceny/robbery, exploitation through rebukes and collecting illegal taxes (Bhatta). Terrorists exploit the feelings and emotions of innocent Muslims presenting themselves as Jihadis. They collect funds in the name of Jihad, prepare IEDs, indulge in criminal activities and brutal practices, conduct anti state propaganda, recruit fresh soldiers to conduct suicide bombing and indulge in other heinous activities. Their aim is to create chaos and anarchy in the country to accomplish their politically motivated agenda. Terrorist outfits pay huge amounts to their recruits to sustain their families, so that they do not reveal the whereabouts of their family members who join terrorist camps. At times the LEAs try to extract information from the families, but they are disbarred by the judiciary. The need of the hour is to properly investigate the real missing persons, who number in thousands.  

The WoT has to be fought collectively by the entire nation. LEAs/ISI/Security Forces alone cannot fight and win WoT and require the support of the government, judiciary, media, and civil society, which will have to develop consensus to put up a collective response against terrorism. In this war, which may become even more intense after the drawdown of the international forces from Afghanistan, evidence of which we have seen in the past few weeks, the security of Pakistan as a sovereign state is at stake. Under such trying circumstances, it is imperative that blame game against ISI/LEAs by media and ruthless chasing by courts will simply weaken Pakistan’s cause and embolden the terrorists to wreak more havoc on a hapless society, already teetering under the duress of extended power outages, a weakening economy, unemployment, poor law and order situation and numerous other problems.

Since the government is trying to formulate legislation to combat terrorism, it must seriously consider empowering the LEAs/ISI and Security Forces to fight the menace of terrorism boldly and effectively and provide respite to the people.