Islamabad/Lahore/Karachi: Demonstrations were held across the country to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on Thursday. In Islamabad, former senator Farhatullah Babar demanded that the new government should undertake a performance audit all state institutions responsible for national security. He also demanded criminalisation of the practice of enforced disappearances. Speaking at a demonstration in D-Chowk, Babar said former military dictator General (retd) Musharraf’s admission that after the 9/11 attacks, he secretly handed over hundreds of alleged militants to the United States without due process was on the record. “What more proof was needed that our own institutions are involved in enforced disappearances?” he asked. He lamented to date not a single person had been arrested and punished for the crime. He said it was ironic that those questioning state institutions over their policies risked disappearance but those responsible for hate speech were free to do so. Activists gathered for a seminar and a demonstration in Lahore as well. At the seminar, Sulaiman Wazir and Amir Baloch, Lahore-based students belonging to formally Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan, share their insights on conflict-ridden areas of the two western provinces. Wazir said he knew people in tribal districts were missing since 10 to 12 years, and there families still had no clue about their whereabouts. “A new movement has started in the region to document cases of enforced disappearances and to push for their recover,” he said, adding that as a result of such efforts [of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement activists] around 400 to 500 people returned to their homes recently. Baloch told the gathering that the problem of enforced disappearances started in Balochistan after the assasination of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006. He said as a result of efforts by Nawab Akhtar Mengal, who heads his faction of the Balochistan National Party, about 150 to 200 people had reportedly returned. He asked whether state institutions would now take measures to provide adequate security to these individuals. Tahira Habib Jalib, daughter of revolutionary leftist poet Habib Jalib, stressed the need for the residents of the Punjab to extend solidarity to those in other provinces whose loved ones had been missing. She also highlighted that the problem of enforced disappearances had intensified over time and its scope expanded. “We have seen instances were women were also abducted,” she said, referring to the case of journalist Zeenat Shahzadi, who, she said, was abducted twice, first for a few hours and later for many months. “When Zeenat returned, she was in such a mental state that she could not speak to her well-wishers. Several requests made by the HRCP went in vain.” Tahira Jalib said that another woman had been reportedly missing from Karachi. Awami Workers Party spokesperson Farooq Tariq told the gathering that he had also been abducted for three days during the emergency imposed in 2007 by military dictator General (retd) Pervaiz Musharraf. Tariq said that over the years the categories of missing persons had expanded to cover religious extremists, liberal and progressive political activists as well as peace activists like Raza Khan. Academic Raheem ul Haque shared his experience during the campaign for safe recovery of Raza Khan. “We wanted to make our activism innovative,” he said, “Two or three things turned out to be effective. One was trending Raza’s name or the news of his abduction on social media. We also started a signature campaign for academics. We got signatures from some 100 people including big names like Bapsi Sidhwa, Ayesha Jalal, Rasul Baksh Raees and Muhammad Waseem. Lastly, the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APNA) sent a press release asking for the return of missing persons.” Haque maintained that the practice was much more common in conflicts zones, and said that there was no hope for peace in the country until the issue was tackled. In Karachi, the HRCP Sindh chapter held a protest camp in front of the Press Club, where dozens of families of missing persons of Sindh and Balochistan, leaders of Sindhi nationalist and Shia religious parties, HRCP members including Asad Iqbal Butt, and Voice for Missing Persons of Sindh (VMPS) leader Sorath Lohar were present. Neelam Arejo, daughter of Khadim Arejo who went missing in April this year, also joined the camp. Arejo, a food inspector and a former leader of the Sindhi nationalist Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM-Arisar Group), was allegedly abducted from Hyderabad’s Hussainabad area. Speaking on the occasion, Neelam Arejo said that his father had resigned from the JSQM party office two years ago but still he was taken away by security personnel in plainclothes. She said she and her family approached Hussainabad police but they refused to lodge an abduction case on their complaint. “We also went to the court but our father is yet to be released. I request the authorities to release my father on humanitarian basis,” she said. Iqbal Butt shared with Daily Times on telephone that there were over 4,000 cases of missing persons in Pakistan, according to HRCP data. “Our data shows that there are around 200 cases of Sindhi missing persons and nearly 4,000 of Baloch,” he said, adding that at least 30 Shia activists were also reportedly missing. However, he feared that the number could be much higher since relatives of many individuals could be keeping the news of their abduction as well as recovery, in instances, a secret because of their safety. He said that after several rounds of talks with law enforcement agencies in Karachi, the HRCP had managed to recover just 25 personnel, including 20 Baloch and five Sindis. According to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, there had been 5,177 cases of alleged enforced disappearance reported since the commission’s founding in 2011. Just over a 1,000 cases remained unresolved, the commission head Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal told a Senate committee earlier this week. Published in Daily Times, August 31st 2018.