Abductions have been used as a political tool by rival groups and states to pursue their agendas for years. However, abductions have always been regarded as a violation of human rights especially under modern democracy and rule of law.
Constitutions provide for all fundamental rights including the right to free speech, association and dissent — until and unless the free speech does not violate rights of others. Why is it then that states and non-state actors resort to abductions in the presence of law and established institutions?
In the case of states, they opt for such acts if they are aware their purpose cannot be achieved through law; or if the state is insecure and so desperate that it cannot wait for the law to take its due course.
Almost all of us know someone who has gone missing, allegedly by the state, in our surroundings, especially in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The purpose here is not to defend the alleged acts or worldview of the abducted, but the process which they are subjected to, and the torment their families experience.
The irony lies in the general sense of apathy mixed with fear among the society which prevents them to speak out for the abducted. Perhaps, the missing persons and their families were waging a struggle on their own, and others would only accompany them if they suffer the same fate. Otherwise, no sensible and rational citizen would indulge in these risky affairs — even if they happen to be their elected representatives in the parliament.
The state has transformed into a totalitarian regime practicing the time-tested tools of repression. A look at the catalogue of those gone missing will reveal that they were not mediocrities — they raised their voices and walked their talk for whatever they believed in. The militants in the name of religion, the Baloch youth and the liberal bloggers can be distinctly categorised as poles apart in their beliefs, yet there is much common between them.
Without delving into their beliefs and strategies, it’s important to emphasise that they were proactive personalities not allowed much space in the present political atmosphere. They wanted to crack the status quo in the particular place which suited their worldview. The authoritarian state wouldn’t allow it and hence they would opt for other means that were not palatable to the sensitive state.
There will always be dissenting opinions and actions which states find repulsive, but sane states have a mechanism in place to either incorporate the dissenting views into their discourse or a judicial process to keep the dissent in check.
However, our state would overreact and consequently override all norms of ethics and law. Such tactics, no doubt, work like a tranquiliser for the anxiety-ridden state and lend short-term relief through which the state feels it has thwarted a panic attack, and now it can at least sleep through the night.
But it wakes up in the morning to confront the same disease and hence the vicious cycle persists. Adhocism may give an illusion of stability but the damage it causes surfaces in the long term. Ironically, such acts erode the roots of any state and eventually results in abrupt deluge and storms. It is during that deluge that institutions collapse.
The state is nothing but an outcome of a social contract among citizens, and its foundation are built on trust. If citizens lose trust in the state, the contract is practically annulled and the state’s one-sided business undermines its own foundations.
The most sinister and lamentable aspect of the missing persons is how the state uses the Other to justify its actions. To put it simply, the Baloch activists have been abducted, but a large majority of our citizens were convinced through mass propaganda that the Baloch were tools of the outside forces bent upon destroying the state (the Other), without giving an explanation about the cause they stood for. A member of an alleged militant organisation will go missing, resulting in a hue and cry from the right, yet the peaceful liberal citizens will be convinced to condone the illegal act.
Then come the recent three abductions of liberal activists and again the society has been starkly divided with propaganda. Liberals would condemn it but rightist would celebrate the same, labelling them as being anti-Islam. Who knows?
Simple base instinct is at play here: I don’t care about legalities if my opponent is harmed, but I do care for the same law if the one in harm happens to be a comrade. The society gets divided and extends further authority to the authoritarian state.
The statistics are contradictory and tailored by the concerned groups as per their political requirements. Baloch groups claim their missing people run into thousands, and include female teachers. The government gives a far smaller number of those missing from Balochistan and presents a not-so-gory picture.
In case of the alleged members of the jihadi groups, the official and unofficial accounts again contradict, depending on the source and their interests accordingly.
The bloggers have been freed by their abductors yet the government and its courts won’t take action against the abductions. An eerie silence has overtaken a much-needed debate and consequent reforms to address this growing issue.
The families of these missing people have been protesting for years now. Commissions have been formed, seminars conducted, walks held and those protesting the abductions have had to go through ordeals of their own.
The missing person is not an inorganic element, but a father, son, brother and much more. Denying a family their sole dependent in the name of national security without any recourse to law is outright criminal.
In case, the state is positive that someone has committed a wrong, there is a due process of law that can be adopted. If the natures of their crimes is complicated and not covered under the existing laws; create, debate or amend the laws. How can the lawmaker and implementer themselves take the law into their hands while beating the drums of laws being insufficient to cater to the arrest and trial of the alleged wrongdoers?
Moreover, if this is not the case and what we are hearing about the abductions is mere propaganda to undermine the state, the state should address and counter it and convince the populace of its innocence.
The culture of silence should be dispelled not perpetuated. National interest is better served in rule of law, accountability and inclusive debate, not by hushing the voices that are not serving the state’s immediate interests. State building is not a short-term pilot project, but an evolutionary entity which needs to flourish with diversity, equity and law in order to grow and gain the trust of its citizens.
There is no doubt that security states tend to be repressive at times but that cannot work on a sustained basis. It is time we correct our ways and embrace our marginalised and disgruntled population, rather than repressing them.
The present framework of the National Action Plan (NAP) and its associated laws are either lacking in substance, or the institutions meant to implement them are lacking in capacity. Besides, the NAP alone cannot efficiently repress these groups. We should also think of more permanent, out-of-the-box solutions.
To begin with, a truth and reconciliation commission may be constituted, but it should be inclusive and broad enough to accommodate the concerns of all relevant stakeholders. Although our record in such undertakings is not impressive, there appears no other way out. An impartial inquiry and then a process of reconciliation to heal the wounds and erase the scars of discontent is the need of the time.
We all need to put our heads together and determine the flaws in the government’s overt and covert policies. Political parties, judiciary and civil society ought to present a unanimous stance on the protection of fundamental human rights of all the citizens, irrespective of their creed.
All missing persons must be retrieved and returned to society with due process. If anyone is deemed to have committed any wrong — be it a Baloch youth, a madrassah student or a liberal blogger — the courts should come forward to take care of them.