Beyond the purview of law

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Yet another case of enforced disappearance has surfaced. Less than two months after a Baloch student was ‘kidnapped’ from Karachi University, another student from the coastal belt of the restive province studying at the varsity and his younger brother have been ‘picked up’.
The cases of disappearances of activists continue despite protests from civil society groups. Peace activist Reza Khan who had disappeared on December 2 is yet to be recovered. Rights’ groups have been protesting the practice of enforced disappearance, but the government has chosen to shamelessly stay silent. In an apparent reference to state agencies’ involvement, Senator Farhatullah Babar had last month stated that lawmakers were aware of those behind disappearances, yet they don’t make the information public out of fear for their own safety.
The latest wave of extra-legal crackdown against dissenters had began in January last year with abduction of five social media activists. Four of these activists later returned to their homes but not before a malicious propaganda against them on selected TV channels and social media. Eventually, they had to leave the country over security concerns. The purpose, which was to silence their views, was therefore served. Since the state derives its legitimacy from the Constitution, if there is even a remote possibility that some individuals in our state agencies are involved in unlawfully and unconstitutionally disappearing activists, then those who represent the state in the Parliament, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Chief of the Army Staff, should be extremely concerned. For the actions of such individuals are putting into question the ability of those occupying these offices to uphold the sovereignty of the law and the constitution.
Those who claim to be committed to the cause of democracy in this country — including the leadership of the three largest political parties — cannot afford to ignore this issue. Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto need to set aside their political differences for the moment and take up the issue of enforced disappearances before the time when we may not be left with even the façade of democracy that we have at the moment. There is no hope for substantive democracy to emerge in this country until we can allow our citizens to express their grievances and dissenting opinions without fear of extra-legal repercussions.