Pakistan's missing activists might return, mangled and tortured: A view from across the border

There is a recent trend in Pakistan where activists have started disappearing. Not in a mystical manner with smoke and dust, more accurately they have been disappeared, almost undoubtedly by a state intelligence agency. The most notorious of which is the ISI.

It used to be that only the Baloch were disappeared, on charges of sedition, and nobody in Punjab or the big cities like Karachi cared. Then journalists started disappearing, some were shot at, suddenly television media realised that missing persons and death threats is quite a real thing, and all those Baloch people camping near the parliament house for months were not going for the world’s longest picnic.

Now it’s the turn of activists. Four have gone missing in recent weeks. Poet, lecturer and dramatist Salman Haider.

The state has two answers for missing persons questions. One that it wasn’t us, it was militants. Which is true in cases like Shahbaz Taseer, but not true in the dozens upon dozens of other disappearances. The second answer is that they are being investigated for working against and undermining the state, as if the uniformed patriots don’t do a good enough job of that, or when in the mood for a simpler answer, they are Indian agents.

Even NGOs haven’t been spared the foreign agents label.

 Pakistans missing activists might return, mangled and tortured: A view from across the border

Missing activists in Pakistan. Image Courtesy: Facebook

It’s not unusual to see Facebook pages pop up about Pakistani human rights and peace activists adorned with a bindi and a diya in one hand. Or otherwise dressed as a Hindu pundit. The lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir has more photo-shopped pictures of her online than Kim Kardashian.

See, we as a nation hate activity. Hence we hate activism. We like the way things are, by we I mean Punjab, where sectarian groups are free to hold rallies, contest elections and spew venom against minority sects of Islam. This keeps the province safe for the Sunni majority, a primary function of the state, because all guns and bombs then turn towards Shias, Ahmadis and Christians.

Jinnah did say you’re free to go to your mosques and temples but he never said anything about making it back alive.

So really what these activists are doing is disturbing the peace. Intelligence agencies pick up Baloch people and always find evidence of them being separatists with links to RAW. It’s a 100 percent record. But activists ask why the best spy agency in the world can’t tell when 60 kilos of C4 is being smuggled into a heavily barricaded city for a suicide blast. But hey, the important thing is that they can identify the bombers as Uzbeks afterwards and find more RAW links in the debris, it isn’t easy reading burned and charred documents.

There is peace in Punjab. The military is winning a battle it’s mostly fighting against its own citizenry, the military’s already won the PR battle, Zarb-e-Azb was declared a success long before the first shots were fired.

In Karachi MQM workers and leaders are being lifted too. So Karachi is obviously safe now..So what if someone stole my car’s tape deck, central navigation unit, screen and air conditioner parked next to a Rangers checkpost. So what if a Sindh High Court Judge’s son was abducted while he was shopping at a store. The city is safe.

China is coming to build a port and take over half of Balochistan, which is now clear of dissidents, and people. Everyone will become rich because the Chinese are going to literally throw money out of the CPEC train that will run across the country but mainly through Punjab.

Activists protest that we’re trading one imperialism for another, Pfft! If there’s anything to protest it should be about not having enough Chinese language centres and to ask: where are the genuine Chinese food outlets?

Those protesting missing persons are just trying to destabilise the entire thing. Under the National Inaction Plan suspicious persons, namely persons holding placards on the sides of roads, people who write poetry, and those who claim to promote human rights when they should be cheering military courts, can be detained for 90 days without an arrest warrant. Though, after 90 minutes, the mainstream media has forgotten all about them so then they can be detained indefinitely.

What kind of peaceful activism involves poetry anyway? It’s hard for agency workers to decipher. When the military police imprisoned Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the 1950s, it took them three years just to comprehend the title of Naqsh-e-Faryadi.

Of course, well wishers can file an appeal with the Supreme Court but each time they ordered the agencies to present evidence or let someone go, some judge gets shot somewhere in the country, by pure coincidence, and they say look we’re only picking these people up for your own safety.

And who doesn’t want to be safe? In a world with Taliban and undercover Indian agents and cross border surgical strikes, the only safety is with the military and its intelligence agencies. The most intelligent agency, with a collective IQ of 84.

But there are always mavericks. A prominent woman activist and mentor to Karachi’s youth was shot after conducting a panel discussion on Balochistan and its missing persons. She had no regard for her own safety obviously. They caught a boy who confessed to doing it because he didn’t like the interior decor. The agencies were absolved.

And what about the Baloch missing persons themselves. It’s not like they’re never seen again. The agencies do return them — mangled, tortured and deceased lying in a pool of their own dried up blood in the middle of the road. But missing no more.

At the rate of these disappearances, one would think we have half of India’s RAW in our holding cells and safe-houses. RAW must now spend years educating new professors, grooming artists writers, architects and investing in cafe’s and NGOs.

I have a personal anecdote about the magnanimity and kind nature of the ISI. Once, sitting around a small coal grate in the lawn, as retired uncles are wont to do in winters, one former ISI colonel told us a story about how it’s a huge misconception that the ISI is against the citizens of Pakistan. It just targets enemies. A high profile person was pinpointed for suspicious money transactions, the colonel and some of his goons went to the person’s office. But there were two similar looking men in the office and the goons were unsure who the mark was, so they picked up both.

In the van, the colonel started an interrogation. On the left was the man he wanted, on the right was his aide, public relations guy? Oh! His brother. Just visiting from America. Hearing that, the colonel opened the rear doors of the van and politely said: 'You’re free to go,' and pushed him out with a warm smile. The van was still moving. Quite fast. The colonel didn’t know how many bones were broken of the brother who was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, but he estimated, with a chuckle, that it must have been less than the number of bones broken of the brother they took.

With people like these protecting us. What do we have to fear from India?

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 11:09:55 IST