The inaction by the commission and the Islamabad government now has forced women to take to the streets to seek justice. The protesting Baloch women have received support from embassies of the European Union and Norway in Islamabad, Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai and climate activist Greta Thunberg, besides global NGOs … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
Women in Pakistan now have taken the lead in the fight against the increasing cases of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings. Hundreds of women from Balochistan walked close to 2,000 km through the harsh winter to protest in the capital city of Islamabad. Women from other parts of Pakistan too have been holding protests as the Islamabad government has continued to turn a blind eye to the crime against humanity.
The number of persons secretly abducted, imprisoned or killed by the state actors in Pakistan has reached 10,078 and most of these cases are reported from the distressed provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As per the latest official disclosure, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recorded the most missing persons with 3,485 cases. Balochistan stands second with 2,752 cases. The cases of enforced disappearance in Balochistan alone are over 8,000, claimed the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP).
The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappeared (CIOED), which was constituted to investigate the cases of forced disappearances, has failed in its duty of finding the perpetrator and in providing relief to the victims. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) came down heavily on the commission for failing to hold “even a single perpetrator” responsible so far. Islamabad High Court said the CIOED became a “liability”. Chief Justice Athar Minallah (now retired) said “It has become obvious by now that it has not been able to effectively achieve its object. The commission is a burden on the exchequer and it ought to justify its continued existence.”
The inaction by the commission and the Islamabad government now has forced women to take to the streets to seek justice. The protesting Baloch women have received support from embassies of the European Union and Norway in Islamabad, Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai and climate activist Greta Thunberg, besides global NGOs. The Norwegian Embassy said “Norway is worried over the reported handling of demonstration in Islamabad by protesters expressing their concerns over alleged HR violations in Balochistan. Important to respect freedom of expression and right to peaceful protest,”.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has instructed the CIOED to identify individuals or organisations responsible for the enforced disappearance as the state agencies are perceived to be behind it. “When something has been established by video recording, an abduction taking place and presumably state agencies involved in the abduction, look the other way. No consequence. Then why govern?” slammed Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
Islamabad government did not take any action, and it does not intend to do anything even women are holding protests. “Unfortunately, the Pakistani government’s response to the problem has been characterized by neglect, apathy, and even contempt,” said public policy researcher Samand Muhammad Shahi. Instead, the protesters are subjected to police beating, arrests, and deportation. Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar even refused to acknowledge the problem of enforced disappearances.
Amnesty International said the Pakistan government used disinformation against the Baloch protesters as well as intimidated, and arrested them. Carolyn Horn, Programme Director at Amnesty International, said Pakistan government should be “ashamed” of the harassment tactics. “The authorities have been heartlessly indifferent to the plight and demands of the peaceful protestors camped out in the severe cold for the past month,” she said.
The protesting Baloch women are receiving support from people living in different parts of Pakistan thanks to the government’s inaction and social media. “The protest movement is reaching new heights of popularity, which represents the pulse of society,” said Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior political analyst. Baloch women are holding agitations knowing that the Islamabad government will hardly take any action. One such protester named Mahrang Baloch, who is a medical practitioner by profession, said “We have seen so much in the past years that we do not trust the state at all. Yet, here we are, to raise our voices, to register our protest and we want the authorities to return our missing.”