A credible Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper, Express, has reported that the government is considering granting amnesty to all personnel of the security forces and intelligence agencies who have been involved in enforced disappearances, torture and killings. As a quid pro quo, these officials would assist in recovering the missing persons.
The newspaper quoted ‘reliable [government] sources’ that the new administration is emulating the Argentina model where several missing persons were recovered under a similar arrangement. The report added that the government was contemplating registering terrorism-related cases against those who are recovered while the intelligence personnel would not be questioned regarding those whose who have been killed during custody. The cases of the dead missing persons, under this plan, will be permanently closed for future investigations.
Since the majority of the missing persons in Pakistan belong to Balochistan, the fresh government plan should concern and caution us all.
This is an outrageous plan if it is what the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz government intends to do. For a long time, we have been proposing the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Balochistan to ascertain the details of what had happened in the province during the past ten years. Since state institutions, such as the Supreme Court of Pakistan, have found ample evidence regarding the involvement of intelligence agencies and the Frontier Corps (F.C.) in missing persons’ cases, the government is hesitating from taking action against those who are involved in these crimes. The security forces have been operating in Balochistan with such impunity that their involvement is an open secret and there is barely a need for a thorough investigation. However, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is still important to formally confirm the state-sponsored crimes against the Baloch people.
Granting amnesty to those who were involved in illegal crimes does not set a positive precedence. The new government should end the culture of immunity and no one should be above the law. If the security forces and the intelligence agents carried out unlawful actions, they should face trial for their actions.
The missing persons’ issue reflects a very complicated state policy which is not very easy to resolve.
When General Musharraf took advantage of the context of the war on terror and sanctioned enforced disappearances in Balochistan, he had a long-term strategy in his mind. His regime, while initiating the enforced disappearances, had no intention of sending the people back to their homes once they were taken into official custody. So, he developed such a a mechanism that missing persons were constantly kept at different locations under the supervision of different officers. Their whereabouts were regularly changed so that officers and lock-ups would have no fresh records of people detained there.
One such example is the case of Ali Asghar Bungalizai, a tailor master who disappeared from Quetta in 2002. While one brigadier of the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) admitted before former Balochistan Governor/Corps Commander General Abdul Qadir Baloch, who is currently a federal minister in Prime Minister Sharif’s cabinet, that Mr. Bungalzai was in I.S.I.’s custody and would soon be released, a new brigadier, who replaced the previous one, completely denied having any information about Mr. Bungalzai. Eleven years later, no one still knows who among the two I.S.I. brigadiers lied.
Cases like Mr. Bungalzai’s were actually the outcome of an intentional policy pursued by Musharraf so that no officer could have complete information about a particular case. Because, the ultimate goal was to kill these people and dump their bodies at unknown locations. While some people’s bodies were found, many other’s faces were so mutilated that no one could identify them. Hence, there are several people who have been killed in the official custody but their families still cling with the hope that they are alive and one day will return home. Possibly, there are numerous other such people whose dead bodies were never found.
On their part, the Baloch have repeatedly rejected government offers for ‘amnesty’ because they rightly argue that amnesty is generally granted to criminals whereas most of the Baloch are not criminals but the victims of state-sponsored crimes. They have not been convicted by any Pakistani courts. Instead, the Baloch have a genuine demand that those who have indulged in these unlawful acts should be punished. Since the government personnel involved in these killings directly have an issue with the families of the Baloch victims, the government has no moral and legal authority to grant them amnesty.
We want international human rights groups, such as the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International, to get involved and prevent any such plans of the Pakistani government to grant absolute amnesty to gangs of official criminals. These people should be put on trial and punished for their crimes. This is not a matter of a few individuals but this is the question of the civil rights of thousands of citizens and their brutal murder. The law should not be so brazenly supportive of rights abusers.
The Baloch Hal
Republished in The Balochistan Point on July 6, 2013