How human-rights activist Idris Khattak went 'missing' in Pakistan

By Francesca Marino

Rome [Italy], Nov 23 (ANI): November 13, on the Islamabad-Peshawar motorway. It is around five o'clock in the afternoon, there's a long queue at the toll plaza. The man and his driver are stuck in the queue like many others.

An ordinary afternoon in an ordinary day, it seems. But there's nothing ordinary in what's going to happen. The moment the car stops at the toll plaza to pay the fare, a couple of guys in plain clothes approach the car forcing the two men to go out. The man and his driver are handcuffed, their faces covered with masks and they are thrown into another car. Nobody complains nobody says anything. The people at toll plaza let the car go without any payment.

An ordinary afternoon, in an ordinary day. In a couple of minutes, the void replaces the space occupied by the two men. The void, an ordinary entity in today's Pakistan.

The man taken by the 'unknown' people in plain clothes is Idris Khattak, and is not an ordinary man. Because fighting for the rights of citizens, in Pakistan, is not an ordinary thing to do.

Not anymore.

Idris had worked for Amnesty International and for Human Rights Watch on various human rights issues including, ironically, the issue of enforced disappearances in the country. His last post on Facebook, before he disappeared, was in fact on disappearances that, according to Amnesty International and other international organisations has become a common practice in Pakistan in the last few years.

Idris is an easy target. He has been an active member of left-wing politics and progressive circles since his student days and an important member of the Democratic Student Federation. Lately, he joined the National Party, serving as its General Secretary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The usual 'unknowns' had called him many times in the past threatening him and 'gently advising' him not to cross the limits in criticising the military.

A couple of days later, another lot of people in plain clothes shows up at Idris' house. They tell the family they are children of Idris' friends and need to take his laptop and his hard disk. They call a number: Idris is on the phone, telling his family to give laptop and hard disks to the guys. Just this and the call is cut.

Meanwhile, after three days, the driver reappeared. He is shaken and terrified. He has been kept for three days in a basement, with his warden telling him he was clear and would be released soon. During those three days, he never saw Idris and has no idea of what happened to him.

An FIR and a habeas corpus have been filed in Peshawar High Court by Latif Afridi Advocate, but unfortunately is not going to make any difference. The rule of law, in this case like in many other cases before Idris, counts nothing.

Reading from the latest Amnesty Report: "The groups and individuals targeted in enforced disappearances in Pakistan include people from Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun ethnicities, the Shia community, political activists, human rights defenders, members and supporters of religious and nationalist groups, suspected members of armed groups, and proscribed religious and political organisations in Pakistan. In some cases, persons are openly taken into custody by the police or intelligence agencies, and families trying to find out where they are held are denied information by the authorities. Some victims are eventually released or their whereabouts are disclosed to their families but they continue to be held in arbitrary detention including in internment camps. Those forcibly disappeared are also at risk of torture and death during captivity."

The bloggers, who disappeared a few years ago, have been brutally tortured and still carry physical and mental symptoms related to their detention. According to Amnesty International: "The disappeared are at risk of torture and even death. If they are released, the physical and psychological scars endure. Disappearances are a tool of terror that strikes not just individuals or families, but entire societies. Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law and, if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, they constitute a crime against humanity".

Defence of Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation working for the recovery of disappeared people, laments that more than 5,000 cases of enforced disappearance have remained unresolved till date in Pakistan.

According to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance established in 2011 under international pressure hasn't made any significant progress.

The ICJ says the practice of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is no longer restricted to conflict zones alone. "It has become a tactic for suppressing dissenting voices wherever they are present." Adding that: "The practice has now become a national phenomenon" in Naya Pakistan.

Ironically, Imran Khan had committed to criminalise the practice of enforced disappearances under his government; useless to say, nothing has been done. And to add insult to irony, the Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari has stated that the government wants to sign the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

Meanwhile, the practice continues and the impunity and the arrogance of ISI and its thugs grow every day. Grows like the void, the void left where they were people once. And dreams, and hopes. The dreams and hopes to live in a civilised country, where dissent and protests are part of the democratic process and citizens have civil and human rights. An ordinary country.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author) (ANI)