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Missing activists

salman-haiderThe sanitised language — ‘missing persons’, ‘the disappeared’, etc — cannot hide an ugly truth: the state of Pakistan continues to be suspected of involvement in the disappearance and illegal detentions of a range of private citizens. Now, with the disappearance of Salman Haider and at least three other activists, a dark new chapter in the state’s murky, illegal war against civil society appears to have been opened. It is simply not enough for government and police officials to claim that the disappearances are being investigated. Mr Haider and the other recently missing activists need to be returned to their families immediately — it is surely impossible that several individuals can simply vanish and the state lack the resources to track them down and have them released on an emergency basis. The state, because it is the enforcer of the law, cannot be above the law. If Mr Haider and the other recent additions to the long list of missing persons have something to answer for, if they need to be investigated, there are laws in place to do that — though it would be remarkably confounding if individuals who have built a public profile based on their human rights and democratic activism are to be investigated and charged with crime by the state.

The recent disappearances are also sure to contribute to a worsening climate of fear and intimidation in the country among activists working for a tolerant, progressive and inclusive Pakistan. Where once missing persons belonged to the remote areas of the country, to Fata, Balochistan and far-flung parts of KP, and mostly involved those accused of waging war against the Pakistani state, the tactic has now clearly been broadened to encompass anyone who is deemed an irritant to state policy — or the policies of a state within the state. Meanwhile, the vast infrastructure of jihad and the mosque-madressah-social welfare network of extremism continues to thrive. That contrast, of peaceful citizens practising democratic dissent versus armed militias preaching hate and intolerance, is one that the state and society should encourage in favour of the former, and it is indeed official state policy enshrined in the National Action Plan. But the on-ground reality appears to be the reverse, of a state lashing out against the ostensibly weak and cowering before the purportedly strong. Why is that the case? And why are so many in government and across the political spectrum silent in the face of state repression? -DN


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