It is astonishing that the newly formed government is still not clear about how to deal with the issue of missing persons. Senator Baber Awan, secretary of Pakistan Peoples Party’s Reconciliatory Committee On Balochistan, has announced the formation of two committees on Blochistan, the army ridden province, by the government of Pakistan (Daily Dawn 05.05.2008). Among the two committees one has been formed to investigate complaints by family members of missing persons and second for internal displacement of people during the military action. But later on it was clarified by the ruling party, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), that the committee was constituted by the PPP for missing persons. After the issuance of statement of AHRC on May 06 about the government’s false statements on missing persons (please refer to the following link http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2008statements/1503/), the very next day, a news item appeared in “Daily Jang”, in a clarification, that the Pakistan Peoples Party’s committee on Balochistan has constituted six members subcommittee on the recovery of missing persons. The majority members of the committee are from party’s lawyer’s wing, the People Lawyers Forum, only with one member from national assembly.
The about-face of the government from the position of making the committee for missing persons and then to suddenly shift the responsibility for this committee on to the political party reveals an extremely inconsistent approach toward the issue of missing persons. Senator Awan himself announced that government has made committee on missing persons without naming the members of the committee but just one day after the issuance of statement of AHRC the government has distanced itself from one of the most important issue the country faces. It has long been established that the causing of forced disappearances is one of the worst crimes against the citizens of a country and for the newly formed government to now start back-peddling on this issue rings warning bells as to what might be expected in the very near future.
Besides, the ruling party, which has made committee on the issue of missing persons, has not mentioned about the terms of reference of the committee, 1) whether it is independent of its party affiliations, 2) what is the jurisdictions of committee, whether it can visit the places where missing people were generally kept, as some persons who were released through the sou moto actions of Chief Justice Iftekhar Choudry, testified before the courts after their release that they were kept in army torture camps and they themselves saw several persons in the camps, 3) does this committee have the authority to ask military or police officers to report before the committee, who were named by the family members of missing person for the arrest of concerned person and 4) what is the legal and constitutional status of the committee for recovery of missing persons.
Without the proper answers to these questions and terms of reference the formation of the committee is meaningless and will only serve as eye wash rather than any purposeful exercise for the missing persons and their families. If a ruling party is forming the committee on missing persons that is one thing, but it is a non-transferable responsibility of the government to form an effective committee for the citizens who were arrested by the army and who have since gone missing.
It is vital for the newly elected government to maintain the confidence of the people of Pakistan by forming a high powered tribunal with all the independence, authority, material and financial resources necessary for the recovery of disappeared people. The jurisdiction of the tribunal should not be limited up to province of Balochistan but the whole of Pakistan as several persons were picked up from Sindh, North western frontier province and Punjab as well. A strong commitment for the search of disappeared people is required from the government. The government must do all in its power to maintain the hopes of the families of the victims and not let them live in false hopes of the return of their loved one. If the hopes died there would be demoralization throughout the country which will not be good for the future of democracy.