The government on Monday constituted a seven-member committee for “deliberation on a policy” related to enforced disappearances after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) instructed the heads of the government to explain how disappearances “became state policy”.
According to a notification issued by the Ministry of Interior, the committee will be headed by Minister for Law and Justice Azam Nazeer Tarar and comprise Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah, Minister for Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Shazia Marri, Minister for Communications Asad Mahmood, Minister for Defence Production Israr Tareen, Minister for Maritime Affairs Faisal Ali Subzwari, and Minister for Science and Technology Agha Hassan Baloch.
Recommendations or report of the committee will be presented to the federal cabinet for further deliberations. “The interior ministry shall provide secretarial support to the committee,” it said.
The notification added that the committee will also be allowed to co-opt eminent jurists, representatives of human rights organisations and other members “it deems appropriate”.
The development comes after IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, in a 15-page order on Sunday, directed the federal government to serve notices on former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf and all successive chief executives, including Imran Khan and incumbent premier Shehbaz Sharif, for following an “undeclared tacit approval of the policy regarding enforced disappearances”.
He passed the orders in a case related to the disappearance of journalist Mudassar Mahmood Naro and five other people after their petitions were fixed for final arguments, but the federal government requested an adjournment.
In his order, Justice Minallah said: “Retired Gen Pervez Musharraf and all other successor chief executives i.e. the former prime ministers, including the incumbent holder of the office shall submit their respective affidavits explaining why the court may not order proceedings against them for alleged subversion of the Constitution in the context of undeclared tacit approval of the policy regarding enforced disappearances and thus putting national security at risk by allowing the involvement of law enforcement agencies, particularly the armed forces.”
“Pervez Musharraf has candidly conceded in his autobiography In the Line of Fire that ‘enforced disappearances’ was an undeclared policy of the state,” he said.
The judge pointed out that the onus was on each chief executive to “rebut the presumption and to explain why they may not be tried for the offence of high treason”.
He further observed the armed forces had and continued to render sacrifices for the security and integrity of the country and ought to be respected by every citizen otherwise security and integrity of the country and its people would be exposed to being jeopardised.
However, the order continued, “the involvement or even a perception of the involvement of the armed forces in acts amounting to violation of human rights and freedom of the citizens weakens and undermines the rule of law”.
Chief Justice Minallah said that in case the missing persons were not recovered nor effective and demonstrable actions/decisions were taken by the federal government, the current and former ministers of interior shall appear in person to explain why the petitions might not be decided and exemplary costs imposed upon them for the unimaginable agony and pain suffered by the petitioners on account of lack of response and empathy while dealing with their grievances.
“The learned attorney general shall satisfy the court that in case of alleged disappearances in future why criminal cases may not be ordered to be registered against the chief executives of the federation and the concerned provinces,” the order said.
In the meantime, the court instructed the federal government to produce the missing persons before the court on the date fixed (June 17) or “justify the failure of the state to effectively investigate and trace their whereabouts”.