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A first in Pakistan: Dissident disappears; ISI, MI chiefs in the dock

July 31, 2012 15:21 IST

For the first time in Pakistan's history, the police has booked the all-powerful director generals of the Inter Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence on the charge of kidnapping. Amir Mir reports from Islamabad.

The unthinkable has happened in Pakistan.

For the first time in the country's history, the Punjab police has booked the all-powerful director generals of the Inter Services Intelligence directorate and Military Intelligence on the charge of kidnapping a civilian, in compliance with the Islamabad high court's orders.

The unprecedented First Information Report, FIR, against the ISI and the MI chiefs has been lodged by the Liaqatabad police station in Lahore on an application filed by Sadia Rahat, the wife of Naveed Butt, spokesman for the Hizbul Tehrir, an outlawed organisation.

The FIR names the director generals of the ISI and MI and two other officers of the intelligence agencies as the kidnappers.

Ten to 15 unidentified others have also been named in the FIR for allegedly kidnapping Butt from outside his home on May 11 while he was escorting his children back from school.

The FIR has been lodged at a time when the number of missing people is rising in Pakistan despite efforts by the government, parliament and supreme court to discourage the intelligence agencies from kidnapping civilians, especially political activists and Baloch and Pashtu nationalists.

The term 'missing people' has been in use in Pakistan since General Pervez Musharraf's military regime announced its support for the United States' war on terror.

According to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, which is headed by retired Justice Javed Iqbal, 518 cases of missing people are currently under investigation.

Of the missing people, 18 had disappeared from Islamabad, 117 from Punjab, 174 from Sindh, 170 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 57 from Balochistan and 12 each from Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the Federally Administered Areas.

The bodies of 42 missing people have been found in various parts of Balochistan; they had been tortured to death, presumably by the intelligence or security agencies.

The Punjab police's extraordinary move comes in the wake of Butt's kidnapping. His organisation, the Hizbul Tehrir, has been accused of trying to provoke a military coup in Pakistan.

In April 2011, Brigadier Ali Khan and four majors of the Pakistan army were arrested for planning to lead a coup against the Pakistan People's Party government and revive the caliphate system.

The detained officers conceded they were in touch with the Hizbul Tehrir, which had provoked them to launch a rebellion against the country's leadership, for its pro-American policies.

Following the army officers' arrests, Butt stated that Osama bin Laden's death in a US military raid at Abbotabbad in Pakistan was sufficient reason for officers and men of the country's armed forces to conclude that they are led by a bunch of American stooges.

After Butt disappeared, his wife approached the high court to seek his release.

When senior officials of both agencies refuted reports that Butt was in their custody, high court Chief Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman ordered the Punjab police to register a case of kidnapping against the chiefs of ISI and MI. He also urged the police to find Butt.

Though the police acted according to the high court's order, the director generals of the ISI and MI have not been summoned so far for questioning.

In May, Amnesty International's annual report declared that Pakistan had failed to bring the perpetrators of forced disappearances to justice and most of the victims were still missing.

Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty accused Pakistani security and intelligence agencies of resorting to human rights violations, forced disappearances, torture and killing of civilians, journalists, activists and suspected members of armed groups in indiscriminate attacks and extrajudicial executions.

Shetty noted that reports of extrajudicial executions were most common in the restive Balochistan province.

A three-member Pakistan supreme court bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, has pinned the blame for the disappearances in Balochistan on the Frontier Corps.

Given the spate of such incidents in recent years in Balochistan, it would not be illogical to surmise that this is part of a pattern in the war being waged against dissident nationalists and the intelligentsia in the province in the mistaken belief that if such 'troublemakers' are eliminated, the problem would go away.

It remains to be seen whether -- despite the supreme court's instructions -- the security and intelligence establishment, which is insulated in a culture of impunity and non-accountability, will respond positively and produce the missing people.

Amir Mir in Islamabad