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Recovering the disappeared


THE Supreme Court’s drive for the recovery of missing people believed to be in the custody of the intelligence agencies is yielding results. On Tuesday, the court ordered the release of two men, one of whom was produced in court. Aleem Nasir, a German national, said that he had been arrested by the ISI at Lahore airport more than a month ago and was subsequently harassed and interrogated. He has been luckier than most detainees who have been subjected to extreme torture as in the case of suspected Al Qaeda operative, Saud Memon, who was produced in court last May on a stretcher and in an unrecognisable state after having been in the ISI’s custody for two years. By pointing out on Tuesday that the ISI was not a law enforcement agency, the Supreme Court has once again drawn attention to the need for setting operational parameters for the agencies that seem to be answerable to no one for their actions. The Ministry of Defence said last year that they were not under its “operational control”. If so, then it must be made clear who they take their directions from so that their independence is curtailed and government control over them is tightened. Otherwise, there will be no end to arbitrary detentions and custodial torture, and the agencies will continue to hold ‘suspected’ political and religious activists incommunicado for long periods.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that while it is engaged at the moment in “providing instant relief to the complainant”, the role of the intelligence agencies would be considered later. Hopefully, such a process will not be put off indefinitely, for, although there has been progress in recovering the ‘disappeared’, people continue to go missing and are presumed to have been picked up by intelligence operatives. Fortunately, the families of the disappeared have been agitating consistently for the recovery of their missing relatives, and this has not gone unnoticed by human rights groups and civil society that, of late, has been more actively questioning acts by the government and its related agencies that violate the Constitution.