While hearing the suo motu notice on the recovery of dead bodies stuffed in gunny bags in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and its suburbs, the Peshawar High Court, on November 6, 2012, directed the KP Police to track down the people responsible for dumping bodies by December 18, 2012.
A two-member bench, comprising Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, informed that so far the Court had received post mortem reports of 26 recovered corpses. It also reprimanded the Director General Health, Sharif Khan, observing that doctors had filed forged autopsy reports, giving starvation as the reason for most of these deaths.
A report about the cases had been prepared by the High Court's Human Rights Cell, which was later turned into a human rights petition on August 16, 2012. The Peshawar High Court on the same day took suo motu notice of the incidents based on the report. The Chief Justice then had stated that during the last one month 116 dead bodies were recovered from different areas of the provincial metropolis.
Earlier, on October 30, 2012, a Bench of the Peshawar High Court had sought an explanation from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, and KP Home Secretary Azam Khan, on the killing of Zahoorullah Khan, allegedly in the custody of the enforcement agencies. The Bench, comprising of the acting Chief Justice Miftah-ud-Din Khan and Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, asked the two to explain under what law Zahoorullah Khan had been picked up and under what circumstances he was killed. Zahoorullah Khan's father, Haji Mir Aslam Khan, had moved the Court, claiming his son had been taken away by plainclothesmen accompanied by the Police from his hujra (guest house) in the Matani area of Peshawar on August 24, 2012. The father submitted that after two months, the local Police handed him body of his son for funeral.
Hearing another case on the same day, the Bench directed the Station House Officer (SHO) of Takht Bhai Police Station in Mardan District to complete investigations into the killing of Mohammad Riaz, whose father, Mohammad Ayub, had filed a petition stating that his son went missing on June 1, 2011, from the Takhtbhai area. On June 27, 2012, his body was recovered in the Haripur town of the same District. Mohammad Ayub stated that his son's neck was broken, his body had marks of severe torture and was riddled with bullet holes.
The problem of torture and illegal executions, apparently by state agencies, is compounded by frequent illegal detention and rising numbers of 'missing' persons. Official documents conceded that 676 persons had 'disappeared' in Pakistan between January 1, 2011 and September 12, 2012. These include 241 from KP; 244 from Punjab; 99 from Sindh; 48 from Balochistan; 27 from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); and 16 from 'Azad Kashmir'. However, the Supreme Court-appointed commission on missing persons disclosed, on October 2, 2012, that the number of missing persons during this period was significantly higher, at 852.
On October 22, 2012, the Peshawar High Court had directed the Federal Ministry of Defence as well as the Federal Ministry of Interior Affairs to submit replies with sworn affidavits of senior officials in some 55 habeas corpus petitions challenging the alleged illegal detention of the scores of people by enforcement and intelligence agencies in Peshawar (KP). The Bench, comprising of acting Chief Justice Miftah-ud-Din Khan and Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, directed the representatives of the Federal and Provincial Governments to make efforts to trace the missing persons. Significantly, most of thehabeas corpus petitions were filed by women against the enforced disappearance, principally, of their husbands or sons. In their petition they had claimed that their cases had seen no progress over extended periods of time.
Before this, on October 4, 2012, the Court directed the Federal Ministry of Defence as well as Federal Ministry of Interior Affairs to provide the list of secret detention centres run by the ISI, Military Intelligence (MI), Frontier Corps (FC) and other agencies. The Bench stated that, under the law, any detention centre run by the enforcement or intelligence agencies that was not listed and notified was illegal. The Bench observed that the intelligence agencies pretended ignorance even after petitioners brought evidence on record that the missing persons had been picked up by or handed over to the personnel of these agencies. The Bench passed the directives after both the ISI and MI expressed their ignorance, in their affidavits, regarding the whereabouts of the missing persons.
The complicity of Government agencies in the unaccounted killings and detentions is thus quite clear. On July 10, 2012, the Peshawar High Court noted unambiguously:
As a last resort, the Ministry of Defence is directed to retrieve missing persons from the clutches of the Military Intelligence otherwise the Court would be constrained to take action under both the civil and military law.
Further, on March 20, 2012, a Bench of the High Court had directed the National Accountability Bureau, KP, to conduct an inquiry against the SHO of Hayatabad Police Station in Peshawar, Rajab Ali, suspected of being involved in extortion from detainees kept at illegal detention facilities. In one such case, in a petition filed on April 11, 2012, Shamor Rehman, a businessman, claimed that the SHO detained him at the Hayatabad Police Station and demanded PKR 600,000 for his release. He said that the SHO made him pay PKR 175,000, adding that his father had also paid PKR 200,000 to secure his release. Meanwhile, on April 10, 2012, the Bench revealed that three illegal detention facilities, allegedly run by the Rajab Ali had been discovered within the jurisdiction of the Hayatabad Police Station. "The illegal detention centres were used to extort money from the detainees," the Court observed. The SHO has now been sent to the Police Lines under the Court's directives.
During its hearing on November 6, 2012, the KP Police told the Peshawar High Court that they had registered cases against 'unknown persons' for the murders in the case of the recovery of dead bodies in the Province, and had recorded statements of the victims' legal heirs. Additional Inspector General (Investigation) Idrees Khan, however, argued, "Just one person has alleged in his statement that the Armed Forces are responsible for the murders."
It is not surprising, consequently, that the affected people, as a last resort, are approaching the Courts in the hope of some relief. The rise in such incidents only adds to the misery that the Province is facing as a result of terrorism and sectarian violence. According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, at least 11,782 persons, including 3,986 civilians, 1,465 SF personnel and 6,331 'militants' have been killed in terrorism-related incidents since 2005 (all data till November 11, 2012). The number of fatalities for the current year stands at 586.
These problems of illegal detention and killings have also drawn the attention of the international community. Concluding its 10-day visit to Pakistan on September 20, 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) acknowledged the incidents of enforced disappearances across Pakistan, and recommended that the Government should act to improve the situation at the earliest. The UN working group urged the Government to set up an officially recognized place of detention; to reinforce the commission of inquiry to enable parallel hearings; to assist families to meet the commission in the absence of members of the enforcement agencies; to include the new crime of enforced disappearances in criminal code; to ensure fair trial and punishment for perpetrators; to suspend the perpetrators, including army officers, from their official duties during the probe; to ensure accountability of law enforcement agencies; to train law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the human rights field; to ensure protection of witnesses and relatives of abducted persons; to provide financial aid to relatives of missing persons; and to ratify the convention for protection of all persons against enforced disappearances.
There is little hope of these ambitious demands being met in the foreseeable future, given the fractured and flailing nature of Governance across Pakistan. Indeed, whatever little relief the affected individuals and families may receive will only come from the aggressive interventions of the Courts, even as the Army and its covert agencies, as well as the Police, continue to use their considerable extra-constitutional authority to stonewall the courts and evade accountability.
(The writer Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)