Pakistan’s chief justice Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary emerged as an icon of justice when the country’s former dictator General Pervez Musharraf removed him on the charges of corruption and nepotism. One issue that remarkably contributed to the deposed, and now reinstated, chief justice’s popularity was the issue of the missing persons. His supporters said Chaudhary had been removed from his office due to his proactive role in recovering the ‘missing persons’ from the custody of the country’s intelligence agencies.
Chaudhary was reinstated as the chief justice following a historic two-year long movement backed by lawyers, media and the members of the civil society (and the political parties in the later stages).
The issue of missing persons still continues to plague Pakistan, mainly the province of Balochistan. I saw Ali Ahmed Kurd, one of the greatest players of the judicial movement that led to the restoration of the deposed chief justice, speak angrily in a talk-show on Express News (TV) with popular anchor-person, Fahad Hussain, that another long march awaited Pakistan if justice was not provided to the missing persons and their families.
In 2005 when I started to work on the enforced disappearances in Balochistan, it was really very difficult to locate families as there were only some families in the province which complained about their beloved ones having been whisked away by the intelligence agencies. It is no longer the case. There are so many people in Balochistan right now contacting the media and human rights organizations seeking whatever help possible for their missing ones. The number of missing persons has incredibly increased even after the exit of Musharraf’s repressive regime.
Voice of the Missing Persons (VMP) is a newly formed organization in Balochistan. It comprises of the family members of the disappeared people’s families. No one takes an interest in their issues anymore, they complain. Everyone is scared to speak in their support. The Balochistan Assembly is quite on the issue. Therefore, they have now decided to form a platform where they could at least sit together and share their grief and protest in front of a press club or the Balochistan High Court for a collective cause.
It is not the first organization to be formed in Balochistan to raise the voice of the missing persons. Baloch Womens’ Panel, headed by Shakar Bibi Advocate, was the first organization that formally raised the issue of the disappeared people in a very organized and democratic manner –by holding protest rallies, press conferences, seminars, walks, hunger strike camps and sit-ins. This organization can justifiably take credit for galvanizing a generation of Baloch women. Soon, several girls hailing from middle class families and studying at professional colleges and universities started to participate in the events organized by the Baloch Women’s Panel.
Balochistan is a society where women hardly get out of their homes. The ‘honor’ factor is so raucously associated to woman that many people even do not send their children out of homes for seeking education. They believe they would be dishonored if their female children go outside home to study or do a job. It was the painful episode of the missing persons that forced many Baloch women to leave their homes and languish outside the press clubs, strave in hunger strike camps in front of press clubs and threaten to commit suicide in front of the offices of various human rights organizations. At the beginning, the issue of the missing persons attracted some human rights organizations and the media. Gradually, they too lost interest in the matter. Now, neither people get shocked after hearing a new case of disappearance nor do they offer any kind of cooperation to the families of the missing persons.
Life goes on. More disappear. More disassociate themselves.
Many people, including myself, were deeply astonished to see a team of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), for instance, not taking the matter very seriously during a recent visit to Quetta. The HRCP was often seen ridiculing the claims of the families about the disappearances. The families of the missing persons complained about not having easy access to the representatives of the country’s foremost human rights body because their big guns stayed in hotels located in the cantonment arae. Without letting the families know what the country’s superior judiciary had done for the Balochs, the HRCP representatives continued to entice the Baloch families to have faith in the Supreme Court and stop supporting the idea of independent Balochisan. I found Sadiq Raisani, the president of Baloch Bar Association, as one brave man who stood up and told Asma Jhangir, the chairperson of the HRCP, not to teach the Baloch what political demands to make and what to surrender. He reminded her that it was good as long as she kept her political advice to herself instead of dictating the Baloch movement.
” Hey guys have you noticed something? Asked a journalist colleague.
“What?” I interrupted.
“Don’t you feel Asma Jhangir is getting irritated over very minor things? She is not the same lady who visited Balochistan a few years ago,” he observed.
This discussion was taking place with many of us sitting together. Thus, we had divergent speculations to make. One of us opined that age could be one factor for Asma’s growing anger. Another friend added that many Punjabi friends of Balochistan were dismayed over the target killings in Balochistan of the Punjabi settlers by the Baloch armed groups.
As many people, so many speculations.
At one stage, the HRCP chairperson was so irked that she said, “fine, if you don’t want us (in Balochistan), we will go back,” as if she was doing a favor/service to the Baloch people by coming and listening to them.
With HRCP present in Quetta,Balochs continued to suffer.
With HRCP absent in Quetta, Balochst continue to suffer.
So what happend next, you may inqure.
Meetings. Consultations. More meetings. More consulations.
MPAs’ Hostel. Sarena Hotel. Lourds Hotel
Outcome? What is that?
Getting back to the newly formed body,the VMP, the most important thing about it is that it has coordinators in every district of Balochistan which indicates the fact that no longer have the people from Dera Bugti and Kohlu disappeared only. There are cases of missing persons now in most Baloch district of Balochistan.
The other day, we carried the interview of the brother of one of the missing persons in Daily Times. The fellow was very disappointed with the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s role in recovering the missing persons of Balochistan. In his views, the chief justice was a different man before restoration and now as a silent man he is showing a totally different face.
Where is the chief justice of Pakistan?
Geo TV reported that he had gone to Riwand today to attend the international gathering of the Tableegi Jammiat. Previously, I thought only idle people opted for this preaching job. Now, I am compelled to review my opinion. Even with tens of thousands of cases pending at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Mr. Chaudhary has nothing to do but to attend the Riwand Tableegi Ijthima!