PAKISTAN: Military regime of General Musharraf unleashed a phenomenon of disappearances

Disappearances after arrest or forced disappearances have become a major political issue in the country. Enforced disappearances of persons following illegal arrest has been a common phenomenon in Pakistan since the military government took power in 1999. The situation became worse after the 9/11 incident in the United States and the government of General Musharraf believed that it had a free hand, due to the ‘war on terror’ to arrest people and keep them incommunicado for months on end. Eventually they either disappear or are found killed on the road side.

It is very difficult to ascertain accurate numbers of disappeared people, but according to the cases filed in different courts, the majority of them in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a list of about 300 persons has been submitted. After action by the judiciary the military government was pressured to release some of the disappeared people, believed to be in the custody of the military intelligence agencies. But it is claimed by different political and religious organizations that more than 4000 persons remain missing after their arrests.

The phenomenon of forced disappearances became common after the military regime of General Musharraf came into power which unleashed the war on terror. As early as 2002 up to one hundred students, political workers and human rights activists went missing after arrest, mainly from Balochistan province. Some time later many students and activists were released after going through severe torture in military camps in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan and Dera Ghazi Khan bordering the Punjab province. Before General Musharraf’s military coup it was very rare to hear about the disappearances of political workers and activists. However, now it is quite frequent for state agencies to keep the arrested persons incommunicado and extract confessional statements through torture.

Forced disappearances mostly occur in the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh. Even before the 9/11 incident the government of General Musharraf started this process of disappearances in Balochistan province, when it wanted to construct cantonment areas in very sensitive and poor areas to curb resistance from nationalists. After 9/11 the government took shelter behind the war on terror as an easy excuse to deal with any resistance against the military government and unfortunately received backing for their actions from some powerful sections of the international community.

Disappearances of religious extremists began later when resistance started in bordering areas like South and North Waziristan. On December 5, 2005, the Interior Minister told the national Assembly that the government had arrested 4,000 persons in Southern Balochistan since 2005. No list has yet been provided by the government of the people arrested and since then very few have been produced before court. It is impossible to ascertain numbers of people “disappeared” in counter terrorism operations, particularly since 2005 because of the secrecy surrounding such operations and the likelihood that the families of some of the disappeared do not publicize their cases for fear of retaliation.

The Pakistani authorities have presented figures suggesting that more than 1,000 alleged terrorist have been arrested since 2001 by its Law Enforcing Agencies. However, the government has processed only a fraction of the cases through the prevailing legal system. According to a reasonable estimate, hundreds of suspects have been handed over to the United States, often for sizeable bounties; many have ended up at Guantanamo. These acts of wrongful extradition were done in violation of the Extradition Act, 1972. This law provides detailed procedures for the extradition of suspects including the holding of an enquiry by a Judicial Magistrate.

In Pakistan, the role of intelligence agencies, civil and military, which includes Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and military Intelligence (MI) is more significant, not only in the field of enforcing law and order in the country but such agencies are also politically involved, which may be one of the causes of forced disappearances. The cantonments in major cities of the country have torture camps including Karachi, the main commercial and industrial city, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar, where people are kept incommunicado and severely tortured. This has been described in detail by the persons who were released after many years.

In the Supreme Court of Pakistan, there are about 240 cases of disappearances of which 105 people were released, as claimed by the government. All these persons were kept in the military controlled torture cells. Before the actions from higher courts the government was denying their arrests. Still there are thousands of people, the whereabouts of whom are unknown.

Please find the list of disappeared persons by clicking following link for a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at:

Pakistan has not ratified or signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights so it does not feel any responsibility in regards to human rights laws and international norms and standards. However, by being a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan could be pressured into signing all the protocols and convenants of the human rights charters of the UN. The Council should also monitor the cases of disappearances in Pakistan and constitute a committee to probe the situation.

The high level of disappearances taking place in Pakistan should become a matter of major concern for the international community including the human rights agencies of the United Nations.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-209-2007
Countries : Pakistan,