The chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, briefed the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights on Monday that he will contact Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s (PTM) leader Manzoor Pashteen to inquire about the matter of missing persons.
Pashteen, on April 8, had organised a gathering in Peshawar, putting forward his movement’s demands — one of which is the recovery of missing persons.
Javed Iqbal appeared before the Zahra Wadood Fatemi-led standing committee where Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party MNA Naseema Hafeez told him how the mainstream media has blocked out Pashteen and the PTM.
“Manzoor Pashteen is being deliberately ignored by our media,” said the MNA. “He is a Pakistani who is talking about missing persons. His rally was attended by women who were carrying the pictures of their missing family members.”
At this, Justice Iqbal said “Pashteen has suddenly emerged on the scene even though the matter of missing persons has been there for years. [But] I will get in touch with Pashteen and look into his list of missing persons.”
Regarding a lack of media coverage for the PTM, Iqbal said: “Our media does not give much coverage to the issue of missing persons in general. Pashteen has [at least] received a lot of coverage in the international press and social media.”
Iqbal said that many formerly missing persons, when recovered, choose not to inform the commission of their ordeals out of fright.
He said all the departments cooperated with the commission’s investigations and that in 70 per cent of the cases, the missing persons were indeed found involved in militancy.
The former justice made it clear that if a person is involved in militancy it does not mean that his family too should be considered militants
However, he rubbished the widely quoted figures regarding the missing persons’ cases, accusing the issue’s proponents “of trying to appease their foreign lords by bringing up the matter”.
“The numbers mentioned in Balochistan are contrary to the facts,” he said. “A lot of these people have left those areas or they are living in the mountains.
“Enemy’s agencies are also involved in this; they abduct our people to give a bad name to the country.”
Justice Iqbal accused former president Pervez Musharraf and Qaumi Watan Party chairman Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao of secretly profiting by selling Pakistani citizens to foreign powers.
“Aftab Sherpao, as the interior minister, handed over 4,000 Pakistanis to foreigners and Musharraf has also admitted to doing the same,” he said. “They received dollars in return and the parliament should get this investigated.”
“The MQM also showed little interest in recovering their missing persons even though they were a part of the government,” he added.
Justice Iqbal also accused NGOs of working against Pakistan’s interest, saying: “These NGOs are working for foreign interests rather than ours. If I had the powers I’d have banned them by now.”
The Pakhtun spring
Reports of protests led by the PTM in Islamabad first made headlines following the extrajudicial killing of Waziristan native Naqeebullah Mehsud — a shopkeeper and aspiring model — in Karachi in January.
The PTM — an organisation working for the rights of those affected by war on terror in Tribal Areas especially those from South Waziristan — staged protests in different parts of the country against alleged enforced disappearances, extrajudicial arrests and killings, as well as the alleged mistreatment of the Pakhtun community by security forces.
The movement’s leaders claim that in the past decade, 32,000 Pashtuns have gone missing from Fata. They insist that their struggle is to ensure implementation of the Constitution, under which law-enforcement agencies are supposed to provide details of the people they pick up and present them before courts.