Our masters' impunity

General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was indicted this month for the murder of Benazir Bhutto. He was charged with “murder, criminal conspiracy for murder and facilitation of murder.” It is a matter of public record that the security agencies that were answerable to Musharraf, who was a powerful dictator at the time when Ms Bhutto was assassinated, engaged in behaviour that amounts to a cover-up and resulted in the destruction of vital evidence. An article adapted from Heraldo Muñoz’s forthcoming book, Getting Away with Murder, was recently published in the magazine Foreign Affairs, highlighting such a cover-up. Muñoz headed the special UN Commission that investigated the assassination of Ms Bhutto.

While General Musharraf’s indictment is quite symbolic in a country where the military has directly ruled for more than three decades, most analysts believe he will be set free sooner or later. Being a general in the Pakistan Army means you are immensely powerful. Being the army chief means your power is unlimited. When you rule a country for nine years with an iron-fist and come from the country’s most powerful institution, you seldom (if ever) hear the word ‘no’. No wonder then that General (retd) Pervez Musharraf still suffers from delusions of grandeur, thinks he did no wrong and knows that he will not be punished for his misdeeds.

On the other hand, thousands of innocents are being punished for no crime of their own. These are the ‘disappeared’ who have not been formally charged and nobody except those who picked them up know about their whereabouts. It is because of the increasing number of disappearances in the country, especially in Balochistan, that ‘missing persons’ is now part of our local media’s everyday lexicon. The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has been hearing the cases of missing persons in Balochistan for many years now but there has been little progress. Human rights organisations, Baloch nationalists and some sane voices in the local media have regularly raised this grave issue. Unfortunately, the civilian government has not been able to do much about it because of the Pakistani security establishment. Most of the disappearances are allegedly carried out by the security agencies under the garb of counter-terrorism despite the fact that many actual terrorists do not get caught. They are the ones who should be actually behind bars but our tragedy is that they roam freely on our soil while innocent people are picked up, tortured and killed.

Today (August 30) is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Various human rights organisations have urged the government of Pakistan to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. “Ratifying the Convention against Disappearances is a key test for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s new government,” says Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch. “The government would send a clear political message that it is serious about ending ‘disappearances’. And it would show its commitment to ensuring justice for serious human rights violations.”

It is hoped that the prime minister would pay heed to this advice. Otherwise, there seems to be no end in sight as far as ending injustice is concerned.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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