Martin Luther King said, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear”. In Pakistan, those journalists, activists and students who have chosen to act with great courage to criticize the unlawful conduct of the military, vis-à-vis illegal abductions, torture, murder, oppression and corruption, find themselves and their families in the midst of horrifying and dangerous circumstances. In the last few months alone, almost every major newspaper has covered stories from Pakistan of journalists, bloggers and students either being abducted and tortured or beaten in broad daylight by “unknown” assailants. This is not the first time Pakistan has been confronted with the phenomenon of enforced disappearances. After all, under military dictator Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan agreed to abduct, torture and effectively sell its citizens to the United States under the policy of extraordinary renditions. * Investigative journalist Taha Siddiqui was the most recent target of an attempted abduction in the Federal Capital. En route to the airport to catch a flight to London, Siddiqui was dragged out of a cab, beaten to a pulp and threatened by around a dozen armed men. His passport, phone, laptop and other personal belongings were confiscated by the armed men but miraculously, Siddiqui, through his determination to live, managed to escape. What was the crime for which he was meted out such unlawful treatment? One need only scroll through his social media posts and articles in local and international papers to see he was one of the most vocal critics of the Pakistani military establishment.Just a few weeks earlier, a social media activist, Raza Khan, was abducted in Lahore following a meeting organized by him to discuss the right-wing takeover of the capital by Islamic fundamentalists. Last year, at least four human rights activists/bloggers (namely, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Salman Haider and Ahmed Raza Naseer) were abducted, detained and tortured by the security agencies. What all these people have in common is the choice of institution they criticized: the military establishment. Will everyone who speaks up against the misuse of authority by the military establishment be subjected to enforced disappearances and torture?In all these cases of abductions, Pakistan saw the same rhetoric we have been hearing over the last many decades to justify unlawful conduct by state agencies. Paid social media accounts and suspect journalists with ties to the establishment have done everything in their power to launch dangerous and slanderous campaigns against all these individuals. The four activists abducted in 2017 were accused of blasphemy – a charge for which no trial is ever needed: there is an automatic death sentence by the masses (as we saw in the case of Mashal Khan, a university student falsely accused of blasphemy who was murdered on his campus). No action is ever taken against those who level such false allegations, nor are the mobs who engage in such violence ever punished by the State.With regard to Siddiqui, while he has thus far been able to avoid the fate of those who are accused of blasphemy, he has been accused of staging his own abduction allegedly to seek asylum in the West. The persons who launch such vicious attacks would have you believe that every single critic of the military is either foreign-funded or has some ulterior motive. Some have even gone so far as to argue that the State has a right to illegally abduct those who criticize it. Those who dissent in Pakistan are not only punished for dissenting at the hand of state agencies: they are also ridiculed, mocked, ostracized and threatened by society either for surviving the ordeal inflicted upon them or for speaking up against such tactics. The cost of speaking up against the military in Pakistan, it now seems, is too high a cost for many to bear. Threats to the lives of dissenters and their families are not only common but those who so threaten do so with complete impunity. There are no consequences. In fact, these attacks occur on such a regular basis now that it has become crystal clear that the State’s security agencies fear no accountability for these violations of the Constitution and international law.The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has deemed Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for journalists. One would just like to highlight that the practice of enforced disappearances doesn’t only affect journalists but includes as a potential target literally any individual who dares to criticize the Pakistani military establishment. We live in strangely ironic times: on one hand, the military establishment leeches off the budget and claims it is one of the most superior intelligence agencies in the world, while, on the other hand, such abductions and murders are rampant. Either the State is complicit, which is perhaps the most likely scenario, or it is simply incompetent, which is just as alarming. Either way, the people of Pakistan deserve answers. Will anyone who speaks up against the misuse of authority by the military establishment be subjected to enforced disappearances and torture? Will those who are lucky enough to survive ever see justice being done against those who perpetrated these heinous attacks against them?In October last year, senior journalist, Ahmad Noorani (another vocal critic of the establishment) was beaten in broad daylight by “unknown” attackers. Following the attack, the Director General of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) sent the journalist a bouquet of flowers and voiced his “full support” to “catch culprits and bring them to justice”. Operating with complete impunity has allowed the security agencies to not only violate the law but act like a callous mafia that first attempts to murder people and then sends them a box of chocolates which might as well come with a note that says, “we hope you have learnt your lesson”. When has action ever been taken against those involved in these enforced disappearances? Many of these “missing persons” remain missing – their families have no idea whether they are dead or alive.We deserve better. Pakistan deserves better. If someone has committed a crime, the State must produce them before a court of law but this culture of impunity has to end.Lawyer pursuing her Masters in International Law at the University of Vienna. The writer is a lawyerPublished in Daily Times, January 20th 2018.