Cost of Arbitrary Killing & Enforced Disappearances

  • The sordid efforts to shield a serial killer senior police official have laid bare the tragic humanitarian crises which has been particularly alienating Pushtoon population at an alarming level

The unending culture of impunity

The enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings have been endemic in the country’s police and the intelligence agencies. This has been happening with the impunity over the course of decades and more particularly after NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan following Al-Qaeda attacked the key facilities in the US on September 11, 2001. Since then Pakistan has been a proxy war theatre due to tactical warfare tricks applied by the state institutions to shield country’s geo-strategic interests through a policy which reflects an underlying fear of Pakistan being besieged from its eastern, northwestern and southwestern borders. The enforced disappearances and the arbitrary killing of citizens have turned out to be end result of this policy.

The large scale saga of missing citizens has left behind a largely ignored greater humanitarian crisis which has been happening right under our nose for years. However, the sufferings of the families have been overshadowed by mega geo-strategic games where sufferings and losses of the victim families are completely ignored.

Many children have grown up waiting for the return of their missing fathers. Mothers have died waiting for a glimpse of their missing sons. Each knock at the door make many wives believe that it may be from their missing husbands. In some cases, wives have been waiting for the return of their husbands for over 12 years. The victim families do not know whether or not their loved ones are still alive or dead.

Time and again the intelligence agencies have been blamed for abducting and torturing citizens without prosecuting them on any charge in any court of law in most of the cases. Officially, the number of enforced disappearances cases is close to 1300, while unofficially the statistics probably run into several thousands. Significant number among them were allegedly killed under the convenient cover of the so-called war on terror which now country’s military 17 years down the line, says was “ imported and imposed” by the US. This painful realization by the army has come only when the US is becoming exceedingly aggressive in its pressure tactics to compel Pakistan to bring Afghan Talibans by hook or crook on the negotiating table after losing to them in the battlefield.

The army run secret services have inherited this policy from the former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf who shamelessly boasted in his autobiography of having earned millions of dollars as bounties by selling off people to Americans. The number of enforced disappearances cases and arbitrarily incidents of killing of citizens has reduced to some extent, but the crisis is still far from over. The off-shoots effects of this policy still looms large on day to day lives of common citizens struggling to make their both ends meet particularly in northwest of the country.

Nonetheless, many even argue in favour of enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killing as the only available tools to quell separatist insurgency in southwestern Baluchistan and militancy in northwest in a country where criminal elements use legal loopholes to escape justice from the trial courts. And perhaps that was the part of the reason the Parliament made the time barred controversial legislation which virtually legalized kidnapping, torturing and killing of suspected militants by security forces and secret services under Protection of Pakistan Ordinance 2014. Even this did not stop intelligence agencies from illegally detaining citizens. The extra-judicial killing might have worked in the short run, but in the long run, this would lead to more lawlessness and strengthen the well-ingrained culture of arbitrary killing of citizens by security forces in the country.

Contours of policy behind Alienation of Pushtoons 

The Pushtoon factor has played a critical role in carrying out Pakistan’s alleged undeclared geo-strategic policy in the region. The US blames, that Islamabad’s this very policy is designed to contain Indian footprint and create adverse conditions for the NATO forces to leave Afghanistan by supporting Afghan Taliban insurgency.

It is quite understandable the compulsive conditions the State institutions have been through to protect country’s geo-strategic interests to counter Indian designs to encircle Pakistan first from eastern border and now from northwest and southwestern borders by having greater foothold on Afghan soil. However, its net causality has been Pushtoons whose sufferings have largely gone unnoticed in the insensitive mainstream media but certainly these have been highlighted on social media.

Pushtoons have borne the brunt of consistent US pressure on Islamabad to do more to end the alleged sanctuaries of Afghan Taliban from Pakistani side of border region in south and northwest of the country. An estimated 4000 were killed in more than 400 US drone attacks since 2004 onwards. Most of them were innocent citizens, with only an insignificant number being militants. Much of the intelligence to Americans was allegedly shared by Pakistan’s secret services. The common tribal people with grown up beards and turbans were mistaken as Talibans and hence were targeted along with their families in US drone attacks in semi-autonomous border regions with Afghanistan.

Under intense American pressure Pakistan also launched frequent military operations over the years in northwestern border regions. Resultantly an estimated four millions were made homeless. Though a large number among them have returned to their homes in the tribal areas, nonetheless many among them migrated to other cities like Karachi.

Over the course of decades, and particularly after the US occupation of Afghanistan, they have been mistreated under British era Frontier Crimes Regulations. It is better known as black law under which tribes and communities have been collectively punished for crimes of an individual or group of individuals. Their markets have been bulldozed and their houses burnt under this draconian law. Many among them were illegally detained and allegedly killed by security forces and those who have resettled outside tribal region like in Karachi have also been arbitrarily targeted either mere on the suspicions of being militants or refusing to bribe the unbridled police.

Tipping Points of Resentment Among Pushtoons

The extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud by the police led by notorious senior officer Rao Anwaar in Karachi in January this year has ignited underlying resentment among Pushtoon from Karachi to Peshawar. There have been sustained protests since Naqeebullah was killed allegedly for refusing to grease the palms of the police officials who eliminated him and his other friends by declaring them as the terrorists, a usual tactics in Karachi where land mafia and senior politicians allegedly including People’s Party’s co-chairperson Asif Zardari have been using him to force people sell their expansive lands and properties at throw away prices. The country’s intelligence agencies have also been accused of handing over many suspected terrorists to Rao led police party to get rid of them in an extra judicial manner.

An exemplary punishment to Rao and his hand-picked police unit for killing Naqeeb and others can potentially be a beginning point to placate the anger among Pushtoons. Now they have pinned their hopes with the Supreme Court whose sustained perusal of this case in fact has alarmed those who were shielding Rao. The top court through available preliminary evidence identified elements that made frustrated efforts to facilitate his exit from Islamabad airport to some foreign destination weeks ago. The fear of legal proceeding against them for shielding him, finally forced the backers of Rao Anwaar to ensure his surrender before the Supreme Court last week. The top court rejected request from a counsel of Rao to include officials of intelligence agencies in Joint Investigation Team to probe his role in killing Naqeeb and others. This may be probably out of suspicion by the top court that the secret services may be sympathetic towards Rao who had his role in containing anti-state mafia led by Altaf Hussain’s MQM in the mega city of Karachi.

Some of the friends of Naqeeb and those who were playing important roles in organizing protests have been killed one after the other apparently to silence the voices fighting for the fundamental rights of citizens. It seems to be a dangerous game being played to save Rao allegedly involved in killing of hundreds of citizens mostly those with Pushtoon background. While the suspicion for their killing lies on land mafia, politicians and intelligence agencies, the actual killer remains unidentified.

It is no longer an issue of killing of few individuals but a genuine demand from Pushtoons to bring an end to the saga of arbitrary detentions and their killings under the convenient cover of ending terrorism. The protests in fact were more about overall sufferings of Pushtoons at the hands of the security forces in the trial areas over the years and less about Naqeebullah’s murder.

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Javed Rana

Javed Rana

With over two decades of journalistic experience including a long stint with Al-Jazeera, Javed Rana is witness to countless monumental developments taking place in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Javed focuses on non-state armed actors, legal, political & geostrategic issues.