The Ahmed Farhad Shah Case: A Spotlight on Enforced Disappearances

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) recently found itself in the midst of a high-profile case involving the disappearance of renowned poet Ahmed Farhad Shah. The court, presided over by Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, issued a notice to the defence secretary, demanding the deployment of a responsible officer to assist the court and submit a report on the matter by May 19.

Ahmed Farhad Shah, a respected figure in the literary world, was reported missing under mysterious circumstances. His family alleged that he was abducted from outside his home, with the vehicle’s number plates being unreadable due to the darkness. The family petitioned the IHC, accusing the country’s powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of orchestrating the disappearance due to Shah’s criticism of authorities.

Justice Kayani, during the hearing, expressed the urgent need for a law that imposes the death penalty for those behind enforced disappearances. He warned that the court would issue summons for the prime minister and officials of state agencies if required. The state’s counsel informed the court that a special investigation team had been formed and efforts were ongoing for Mr Shah’s recovery.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Malik Jameel Zafar informed the court that he had visited the wife of the missing poet and learned about the circumstances of the alleged abduction. The court adjourned the hearing until Monday, May 20.

In a surprising turn of events, the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan informed the IHC that the missing poet had been apprehended and was currently in police custody. This revelation came as a relief to many who had been following the case closely.

Enforced disappearances have been a longstanding issue in Pakistan, with cases documented as far back as the mid-1980s. The practice became routine during the military rule of General Pervez Musharraf (1999 to 2008) and has continued under subsequent governments. Human rights activists allege that law enforcement agencies in Pakistan are responsible for these disappearances. However, the agencies deny this, insisting that many of the missing persons have either joined militant organizations or fled to become illegal immigrants in Europe.

In recent years, there has been a surge in protests against these enforced disappearances, particularly in Balochistan. Protesters, many of whom are women, have marched across the country demanding to know the whereabouts of their missing family members. Despite the government’s denial of these accusations, the UN defines enforced disappearances as "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state".

The case of Ahmed Farhad Shah has highlighted the issue of enforced disappearances in Pakistan and has sparked a nationwide debate on the need for stricter laws and transparency in the workings of state agencies. Justice Kayani’s remarks during the hearing underscored the importance of accountability and transparency, stating that everyone, including himself, is accountable.

The disappearances have had a profound impact on the families left behind. They live in a state of uncertainty, not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. The case of Sammi Deen Baloch, whose father has been missing since 2009, is a poignant example of this.

The government of Pakistan has established a Commission to investigate cases of enforced disappearance. However, the disparity between the number of cases reported by the Commission and those reported by human rights organizations suggests that many cases remain unaddressed.

The disappearance of Ahmed Farhad Shah is a stark reminder of the urgent need to address enforced disappearances in Pakistan. It is a call to action for the government, the judiciary, and the society at large to ensure that no one else has to endure the pain of not knowing where their loved ones are.

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