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Dear Pak, Kashmir Needs Solidarity – So Do ‘Missing’ Pakistanis


TAHA SIDDIQUI

Source: The Quint, India

Today, on 30 August, the Pakistani government and the military will begin its first public solidarity campaign for Kashmir, themed at raising awareness about the revocation of the ‘special’ status the region enjoyed under India, and the subsequent lockdown in the valley.

On Monday, 26 August, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that all Pakistanis would have to dedicate half an hour of their time every Friday to express solidarity with their Kashmiri brethren. Then, on Wednesday, the head of the Pakistan military's media wing, General Asif Ghafoor, said that in line with the government's announcement to observe 'Kashmir Hour', national anthems and sirens would blare across the country at noon on Friday.

30 August also marks the UN-recognised International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, which will be observed by the leading human rights organisations in Pakistan.


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Also Read : Kashmir Lockdown & Army ‘CALL’: How Lessons From 2008 Can Help

The Irony of Pakistan’s Kashmir Solidarity Campaign

While many Pakistanis have questioned the utility of such a move and what it may achieve – especially since Pakistan's failing economy currently needs people to work more rather than less – it also is ironic to mark such a day on 30 August.

30 August also marks the UN-recognised International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, which will be observed by the leading human rights organisations in Pakistan.

In the past, the Pakistani courts have pointed to the involvement of the Pakistan Army in ‘abducting’ the country’s citizens.


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The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) announced country-wide protests in several cities, including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Quetta. The protests will advocate for the criminalising of enforced disappearances, recovering the missing persons, and holding those behind it accountable. HRCP says it will be tweeting with the hashtag #DhoondKarLao which roughly means ‘Find Them and Bring Them Back’, referring to those who have gone missing.

In the past, the Pakistani courts have pointed to the involvement of the Pakistan Army in ‘abducting’ the country's citizens on grounds of different suspicions, and then keeping them in custody for a considerable duration, sometimes even for years, instead of producing them in front of the courts. While thousands of Pakistanis have gone missing since the advent of this practice a few decades ago, it intensified under General Musharraf's dictatorship during the early 2000s. The Baloch were the most targeted, especially those accused of having nationalist sentiments living in Balochistan province, and elsewhere in Pakistan. The province has been conflict-ridden and facing an insurgency since Pakistan's independence in 1947.

Also Read : Why Pakistan Would Be Wise To Stay Out Of Kashmir Issue

Pakistan Military’s Expanding ‘Campaign of Abduction’ — With Impunity

But in recent years, human rights organisations in Pakistan say the military has expanded its ‘campaign of abduction’ and is now taking away people from mainstream Pakistan too, and for crimes less severe than before. For example, in recent years, Pakistanis who were critical of the military on social media, were taken away too. I also survived a similar kidnapping, and a possible assassination attempt in Islamabad in January 2018, allegedly carried out by the Pakistan Army. I had to subsequently go into exile to France with my family to stay alive. Till date, none of my perpetrators have been brought to book.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in 2011, even set up a commission to look into this phenomenon, called the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED), which has around 2000 pending cases before it (although independent estimates put the number of missing persons between 10,000 to 20,000).

In such a scenario, where Pakistanis themselves are facing human rights abuses at the hands of its own military, expressing solidarity with the Kashmiris reflects nothing but double-standards.


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But the Commission has neither been effective in putting a stop to these abductions, nor making Pakistani authorities accountable, even though in some cases it has found the direct involvement of the Pakistani security and intelligence agencies. The UN Human Rights Committee, and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances have also expressed concerns about the CIED's inefficacy.

Last year, during a Pakistani Senate committee hearing, when a legislator inquired if any action had been initiated against individuals who were thought to be involved in abducting people, the head of the CIEF, Justice Javed Iqbal, who was briefing the committee, said that action had been taken against 153 army personnel. Later, when the media pressed further about who these army officials were, no further information came to light, and the local media also went silent about the issue.

Also Read : Has Pakistan Lost the Kashmir Plot?

Pakistan PM’s U-Turn on ‘Enforced Disappearances’

Even Pakistani PM Imran Khan had spoken about enforced disappearances when he was not in power, stating categorically that “agencies are involved” in this practice, referring to the intelligence apparatus run by the Pakistan Army. “When I come to power, if agencies continue to abduct, I will resign,” he had said, in one interview.

It is important to show solidarity with Kashmir especially under the circumstances they are facing today, but without respect for human rights on the home turf, such ‘Kashmir Hour’ campaigns will be meaningless.


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Independent investigations have pointed to the existence of several secret military prisons across the country, where these missing persons are kept, incommunicado. They are tortured, and more often than not, don’t live to tell the tale. Mutilated bodies of such missing persons are then dumped near their homes, for their loved ones to discover. Some have also returned home, but have been too afraid to share their ordeals with the press, for fear of persecution.

Dear Pakistan, Charity Begins At Home

In such a scenario, where Pakistanis themselves are facing human rights abuses at the hands of its own military, asking them to express solidarity with the Kashmiris reflects nothing but the government’s double-standards.

Since the government's announcement for ‘Kashmir Hour’, many Pakistani celebrities like renowned cricketer Shahid Afridi and leading film industry names like Shaan Shahid, have taken to social media to call on Pakistanis to come out and support the initiative. However, these are same people who have remained silent on human rights abuses on their home turf.

But if Pakistanis really want India and the world to take their concerns for Kashmir seriously, then today they should join hands with those protesting outside different Pakistani press clubs against enforced disappearances, and ask for a just society — not just in Kashmir, but also at home. The people should also remind Imran Khan of his promises to criminalise enforced disappearances (even if few expect any real change after such a law is passed, given that earlier measures to stop this practice have failed too).

It is important to show solidarity with Kashmir, especially under the circumstances they are facing today, but without respect for human rights on the home turf, such ‘Kashmir Hour’ campaigns will be meaningless.

Also Read : While Kashmir Is ‘Under Control’, Trump Isn’t Going To Interfere

(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist living in exile in Paris since February 2018 and is currently writing a book about Pakistan. He teaches journalism at SciencesPo and runs a digital platform calledsafenewsrooms.org, which documents censorship in the media. He tweets at@TahaSSiddiqui. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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