Editorial: FC in Trouble

The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary has professionally committed itself to the goal of resolving the issue of missing persons. It is perhaps the most consistent engagement of the Supreme Court since the first cases of missing persons were reported in Balochistan in early 2000s.

The Chief Justice started hard by taking to task the provincial police and then also summoning the provincial chief minister to answer for the actual state of disappeared people. However, some segments of the media, including this newspaper, and local civil society remained skeptical of the Judiciary’s commitment. It remained unclear whether the courts were deliberately bailing out the Frontier Corps and the intelligence because of powerlessness or their covert support from these almost-absolutely-immune state institutions. Eventually, the courts are moving more courageously than what had been expected of them until a few months ago.

Now, attention is focused on the Frontier Corps (FC) after the testimony of Hamid Shakil, Balochistan’s Deputy Inspector General, who informed the court that the police had video evidence of FC’s involvement in the cases of missing persons. The available evidence, as argued by the DIG, shows personnel of the FC taking away three missing persons from a Quetta hotel and driving them away in FC vans. A number of missing persons who were lucky enough to be released in the past have confirmed FC’s involvement in such cases. According to their firsthand accounts, the FC whisks people away and then hands them over to intelligence agencies for illegal detention and exhaustive investigations. While in custody, the victims  say, they undergo brutal torture and maltreatment.

As expected, the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps (FC) did not appear before the court to defend his Corps. An FC representative present in the courot cited ‘busy engagements’ as the reason for the IG’s absence in the hearing. The Chief Justice, who expressed absolute displeasure on the absence of the IG,  validly argued that there was no issue more important than that of the missing persons which should keep the IG FC busy or distracted.

The judiciary deserves its share of applause for intervening in this critical issue and also making some progress. According to the Urdu Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), as many as 18 missing persons have returned home after the judiciary came hard on the elements responsible for the disappearance of civilians. This is a very heartening development. The judiciary must keep pushing hard for more similarly positive results. No one, including the Frontier Corps, and other intelligence agencies related to the Pakistani army, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Military Intelligence (MI), should be allowed to go away with charges leveled against them.

We sincerely hope that the judiciary would not spare anyone responsible for human rights abuses in Balochistan. The Supreme Court hearing on May 14, when the IG FC has been asked to appear, is very critical and significant. The IG should be asked tough questions. The process initiated by the Supreme Court should gradually be taken to its logical conclusion: Release of all disappeared persons and exposure of elements responsible for extrajudicial operations.

Published in The Baloch Hal on May 13, 2012