Strange case of Zeenat Shahzadi, who is still in ISI custody

Pakistan may soon have a new name internationally– Ghaibistan, or the land of the disappeared. Here is why.

She was as patriotic a Pakistani as any Punjabi in Lahore, capital of Punjab– stronghold of Pakistan army– can possibly be. On August 15, 2015 she posted on Facebook: “Military Courts starts working actively. Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif approved the death sentences of seven hardcore terrorists Well done.”

But this did not prevent Pakistan’s CIA called the ISI to think that she is anti-Pakistan. According to the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Zeenat Shahzadi was kidnapped off the streets of Lahore on 19 August 2015, and had no contact with the outside world until her release on 18 October 2017. “The brazen, daylight kidnapping of a young female journalist was the first of its kind in Pakistan,” said the CJFE Thursday.

A global coalition of press freedom organizations are calling upon Pakistan to immediately allow freedom of movement to journalist Zeenat Shahzadi, who was recently released after two years in captivity, said the CFJE. “The 26 year old Pakistani journalist was recovered from her kidnappers last month after having vanished from the streets of Lahore, yet she has not yet been released from government custody. There is no justification for this delay. For the sake of her safety, Shahzadi must be immediately released to her family and allowed to seek counsel and treatment from qualified professionals,” said the CJFE.

The teenage brother of Shahzadi, Saddam Hussain, who was distraught over her disappearance, committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on March 24 last year.

Journalist bodies in Pakistan, afraid that they may themselves become the next target if they speak out, kept mum over Shahzady disappearance.

Houston based Tanvir Arain, a Pakistani journalist who repeatedly faced gun attacks by the ISI, had petitioned against Pakistan spooks to former premier Nawaz Sharif in May last year for the release of the young journalist.

“I feel sorry to about the state of rule of law in Pakistan that on 19 August 2015, Ms. Zeenat Shahzadi, a journalist working for the Daily Nai Khabarand the Metro News television channel in Lahore, Punjab, disappeared while on her way to work in an auto-rickshaw. She was to appear before the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances on August 24, but before that she was disappeared by plain-clothed persons. Police registered an abduction case against “unknown men”.

Arain said Shahzadi was pursuing the safe recovery of a young Indian engineer Hamid Ansari , resident of Andheri West in Mumbai, who was forcibly disappeared by Pakistani intelligence agencies in November 2012.

The story can be made into a hit Bollywood movie. Arain said Hamid Ansari fell in love with a Pakistani girl in the Khyber Pashtunkhwa province whom he met on Facebook. The parents of the girl wanted to get her married against her wish.

“As Ansari was denied a Pakistan visa, he came to Afghanistan and then crossed in Khyber Pashtunkhwa to meet the love of his life but was abducted by the ISI,” Arain said. He said though he never met Shahzadi, he became interested in her case as she was a fellow journalist.

Shahzadi had moved applications with the Supreme Court’s human rights cell and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances after securing special power of attorney from Fauzia Ansari, mother of Ansari and a college lecturer in Mumbai. (Ansari’s father Nihal Ansari is a retired bank official). She also filed a habeas corpus plea before the Peshawar High Court.
“The ISI boys asked her to back off, but she refused,” said Arain.  According to Latif, a brother of Shahzadi, she had received threats from unknown people who asked her not to pursue the case. “We too asked her not to put her life at risk, but she said she wanted to help Ansari out of humanity.”

In his letter to Sharif, Arain wrote that in February 2016 a military court is said to have jailed Ansari for three years on the charges of illegally entering Pakistan and spying.

Arain had urge the authorities to prosecute those military officials who abducted Hamid Ansari and kept him in illegal detention for more than three and a half years without producing him before the court. “The young Indian must be compensated,” Arain demanded.

People like Arain are sitting ducks in Pakistan. He is now filing for asylum in the United States.

Najeeb Khan, who lives in Albany and is director of the American Friends of Balochistan, had interacted with Shahzadi on Facebook. Khan too received ISI bullets in his body in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, for siding with the Baloch struggle. He recalls that though she used to be super patriotic when they come into contact, there seemed to have been a change in her ideas about Pakistan some months before her abduction.

The CJFE said 1,300 out of a total 3,000 missing people’s cases remain pending before the Commission on Enforced Disappearances. It said in addition to the missing persons’ crisis, Pakistan ranks sixth in the list of the 20 Deadliest Countries for journalists in the world, and as the ninth worst country in the world for impunity for crimes against journalists.

“It is unconscionable that Shahzadi’s family be delayed from reuniting with their daughter and sister any longer. The Pakistani government must immediately release Shahzadi to her family,” the CJFE demanded.

Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, on a query by this writer said, “As far as I know she is under treatment at a private hospital in Pindi. We have not been able to meet her.”

Quetta using silver bullet to kill Baloch owned newspapers

Corrupt and dishonest officials in the Balochistan capital of Quetta are bent upon to strangulate the credible local newspapers economically for political reasons, according to reports.

The newspapers under attack include Balochistan Express, Daily Azadi and Intikhab, owned by Baloch publishers. Balochistan Express and Daily Azadi are owned by veteran journalist Siddiq Baloch, who once used to work for Dawn newspaper. Intekhab is owned by Anwar Sajidi.

An appeal by the newspaper managements said political parties, human rights activists and all right minded people should condemn arbitrary action against genuine and credible newspapers known for their professionalism and independence in reporting.

These newspapers do not openly defy the existing systems but try to work within the constitutional frameworks, but corrupt officials in the administration are still trying to spell their death.

On the other hand, Khadim Lehri, Baloch editor of the pro-freedom daily Tawar newspaper was hounded by the intelligence sleuths and has been forced to go into hiding.

Quite a few journalists and contributors of the Daily Tawar were abducted, tortured, killed and their bodies dumped since 2010.

Lala Hameed Baloch, a senior journalist of Tawar was on October 25 2010,  abducted by Pakistani military and its notorious agencies at Karwat while he was going to attend marriage of a closed relative in Dasht Kunchiti. He was tortured to death and his body was dumped on November 18, 2010 alongside the body of Hamid Ismail at Hiroonk, a village 55 kilometer away from Turbat city. A paper was found in his pocket, on which it was written “An Eid Gift for Baloch Nation”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported Javed Naseer Rind, an editor and columnist with the Urdu-language Daily Tawar, Rind was kidnapped in his hometown of Hub in southern Baluchistan province on September 11, 2011. “Rind’s body was found in Khuzdar on November 5, nearly two months after he was abducted, according to news reports. The journalist had been shot multiple times in the head and chest, and his body showed numerous signs of torture, local news media reported.

According to BBC English, the mutilated body of Daily Tawar journalist Haji Abdul Razzak has been identified by his family, a day after it was found in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi August 21, 2013. The Balochistan-based journalist was abducted since 24 March and was tortured to death. The BBC report said, “only his arms and legs were sufficiently intact to enable identification.”

Several other Baloch journalists who used to write for Daily Tawar were also abducted and later killed under custody included Ahmed Dad Baloch, Nawaz Ahmed Marri, Rahmatullah Shaheen, Munir Shakir and advocate Ali Sher Kurd.

‘Angels’ of ISI who killed Daniel Pearl went scot-free

They are called “angels,” sarcastically, in Pakistan, because they indulge in dirty acts but come out clean in the end. They play the keystrokes, albeit discreetly, in politics, both domestic and regional, as well as international – as recent events have proved. An invisible government – a state within a state – if one may. They have traditionally worked as the eyes and ears for the Pakistan army – the world’s sixth largest. They are one of the world’s most dreaded secret service: Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s CIA more infamous by its acronym ISI.

Successfully convincing the entire world they had no idea where bin Laden and Mullah Omar had gone, ISI spooks have had a long history of political assassinations and executions. Thousands of skeletons line their cupboards. It’s almost an open secret, none dare to speak about in Pakistan.

One of the first to fall prey was the country’s first premier Liauqat Ali Khan. The mysterious death of the sister of Pakistan’s founder, Fatima Jinnah, suffocation to death of yet another former premier, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, at his Beirut hotel room, hanging of one of the most popular premiers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, shooting to death of his son Murtaza Bhutto like a wild dog outside his home and killing of his daughter, twice-premier Benazir Bhutto herself. These are just a few.

All this comes to my mind in my musings on the macabre, cloak-and-dagger assassination of prominent U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl.

Pakistan’s master spy agency Inter Services Intelligence – the angels – had feigned innocence over the dastardly murder, circumstantial evidence surrounding Pearl’s Gestapo-style execution told a different story.

Intriguingly, most of the world’s premier media blamed only “rogue” elements within the ISI, as if the hands of the “real” ISI were clean. For instance, Newsweek had reported, the president at the time coup leader Gen Pervez Musharraf– America’s favorite dictator at the time– was “unpopular in some quarters – including, ominously, among certain officials of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI – for backing the Americans against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and trying to crack down on extremist groups in his own country.”

As Pearl’s executioners had demanded release of the F-16s, even that Newsweek story made it pointedly clear that there was more to it than meets the eye: “If the kidnappers were standard-issue Islamic extremists, the demand for the F-16s didn’t seem to make much sense. Warplanes for the Pakistani Air Force are useless to guerrilla jihadists.” Aptly, the Newsweek story highlighted the role of a former aide and pilot of bin Laden, Khalid Khawaja, who was later killed by the very snakes the ISI helped nurture over the years.

The American public, mostly focused on things that happen within U.S. borders, seems to have acquiesced. For the people in the U.S. and rest of the civilized world, Pearl was a respected journalist from a top U.S. newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. Period. But not in Pakistan, a nation held hostage even today under the shadow of bayonets; army generals are the real rulers, the dismissal of premier Nawaz Sharif shows, while Pearl was an enemy agent for his investigative journalism.

For the ISI, especially, Pearl’s profile matched that of an “enemy agent.” As a journalist from Pakistan, I can reasonably assure the world that Pearl’s first major “sin” was that he was Jewish. His second major “sin” was he was stationed in Mumbai, commercial capital of Pakistan’s arch-foe India. These two factors themselves would have made the security managers – the angels – work overtime and keep a close tab on his itinerary.

But, of course, the cardinal sin was that he was trailing al-Qaida’s links in Pakistan. In other words, Pearl was knocking at ISI doors. It would be naivete bordering on absurdity, to believe that the ISI was not monitoring each and every move of Pearl from the very moment he landed on Pakistan soil. Any intelligence outfit worth its salt would have done just the same, considering an “enemy agent” was in the fields.

As a journalist myself, who has written on sensitive issues many years ago in Pakistan, those in the know of how the “system” works had warned me to be careful “otherwise you would vanish into thin air, traceless.” I was wise to lucky to have escaped to U.S. safety in year 2000, much before enforced disappearances of thousands of Baloch and now Sindhis began.

In fact, in my US asylum petition in 2000, I had said those who write objectively out of Pakistan are dubbed either an American or an Indian or an Israeli agent. Those words, my own, rang in my ears when Pearl’s captors first called him a CIA agent, then a Mossad agent. Beyond an iota of doubt, Pakistan’s angels had “marked” Pearl. That’s how they work.

To those angels, the man convicted of Pearl’s murder – the “mastermind” – was not a stranger either. Rather one of their own. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who according to a CNN October report had bankrolled $100,000 to main 9-11 terrorist Mohammed Atta on ISI instructions. That bankrolling led to the ouster of the then ISI chief Lt. Gen. Mehmud Ahmed, the key general who brought Musharraf into power – and regarded by many as more powerful than Musharraf himself in the army hierarchy.

While the FBI and police in the Southeastern province were feverishly working to track down the suspects, convicted killer Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was comfortably in the “protective custody” of the highest security official of Pakistan’s governing province of Punjab, home secretary Brigadier Ijaz Shah. That home secretary was Omar’s mentor and was in charge of ISI’s Kashmir desk a few years earlier. Brigadier Shah was accused by slain premier Benazir Bhutto publicly that she feared he was going to kill her, but still he never got arrested. Ijaz Shah was also accused of helping hide bin Laden. However, all these allegations against Shah did not stop ISI’s pampered cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan– aka as Taliban Khan for his support to the Taliban– from inducting him into the core team of his Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party in spring this year.

Omar Sheikh was a soldier sans frontier, who had participated in the jihad in Bosnia and Kashmir, where he was specifically assigned to kidnap foreigners – ideally Americans – but was arrested and sentenced after a shootout in India. Omar, was deemed important enough to be one of the three militants to be freed from India’s maximum security Tihar jail in exchange for over 155 passengers aboard an Air India plane that was hijacked to Kandahar – coincidentally, headquarters of the disbanded Taliban and safest sanctuary of al-Qaida until a month after 9-11 – on the eve of the new millennium.

Intriguingly, the methods employed by those hijackers were repeated by the 9-11 terrorists. The penultimate jihad of Sheikh Omar, prior to Daniel’s kidnap-slaying, was his role in the storming of the Indian parliament in December 2001, allegedly on ISI instructions. With the angels good wishes, Omar played a key role in this operation despite the fact that the U.S. authorities had more than a month earlier, requested Omar’s extradition to the United States.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg. ISI sleuths pressured Pakistan’s largest selling English newspaper, The News, to stop the editor Shaheen Sehbai from publishing Omar’s confessions. The report was filed by Kamran Khan, who is noted for his solid sources within the spy establishment, and who also used to report for the Washington Post. After the report was published, all government ads to The News were frozen.

Those who were doing it to Editor Sehbai were not certain “rogue elements,” but highest ISI officials loyal to Gen Musharraf. “Physically threatened,” Sehbai flew to U.S. safety just three days after Pearl’s slaying videotapes made international headlines.

Alas, Baloch nawabs, sardars finally talking to one another!

The news was like music to many Baloch ears, but some critics remained skeptical.

The London-based news portal Baloch Warna News broke the news. At least two feudal lords have announced plans to bury the hatchet.  The pro-freedom Baloch leaders Brahumdagh Bugti, president of Baloch Republican Party, and Hyrbyair Marri, head of the Free Balochistan Movement, held a telephonic conversation on Monday about cooperation in the Baloch freedom struggle.

Just a day earlier, Bugti had issued a separate, joint statement with Marri’s younger and estranged brother Nawab Mehran Marri saying they were joining hands in an effort to highlight the genocide being inflicted on Baloch people in Pakistan-occupied Balochistan.

The Marri brothers had not been on talking terms for more than eight years now after a dispute over accountability of freedom resources. The two brothers were on good terms until the arrest of Hyrbyair Marri and his close associate Faiz Baluch in December 2007. Mehran Marri is brother-in-law of Brahumdagh Bugti. Bugti on the other hand was not on talking terms with Hyrbyair Marri as the latter had allegedly reneged on returning one of Bugti’s favors.

Bugti and Marri who are among political successors of the two neighboring tribes of Bugtis and Marris in Balochistan have agreed to initiate talks and resolve future problems of the Baloch freedom struggle. The statement added, “The regional political scenario and Baloch freedom struggle requires that all problems should be solved with mutual consent and principled and long-term cooperation should be established for the freedom of Balochistan.” In this regard, a meeting will be held in Geneva on November 18 to discuss problems and requirements of the Baloch freedom struggle.

It was not clear if the thaw between Bugti and Marri also includes the younger brother Nawab Mehran Marri, or the Marri’s brother-in-law Mir Javed Mengal. The family feud between Hybyair Marri and Javed Mengal was in such bad taste that Hyrbyair Marri lodged a case against Javed Mengal for keeping him out of his mother’s funeral rites.

Daud and Bugti have not been on talking terms for more than eight years after Daud told a memorial meeting in London that Bugti’s grandfather, former governor and chief minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Bugti, did not sacrifice his life for the freedom of Balochistan but for his personal honor.

Pakistan accuses Brahumdagh Bugti, Hyrbyair Marri, Mehran Marri and Javed Mengal of allegedly heading the militant outfits Baloch Republican Army, Balochistan Liberation Army, United Baloch Army and Lashkar-i-Balochistan, respectively. These leaders however publicly deny any links with any militant outfit.

The differences between the feudal lords are all the more troubling and tragic as all of them lost a sibling to Pakistan army brutalities. Javed Mengal eldest brother Asadullah Mengal was one of the first victims of enforced disappearances way back in 1976; Mehran and Hyrbyair Marri’s brother Mir Balach Marri died November, 21 2007 in the Baloch battlefields; and Brahumdagh Bugti’s sister Zamur Domki was ruthlessly executed January 31, 2012 by Pakistani intelligence on the streets of Karachi.

One of the most important leaders on ground zero, is Baloch Che Guevara, Dr Allah Nazar. He is the only none feudal leader who publicly owns the militant outfit Baloch Liberation Front. Dr Nazar refuses to leave Balochistan and is politically supported by the Baloch National Movement.

Feudal lords of Balochistan sometime exhibit extremely rude and jungle-like behavior even in the West.

Some staunch critics don’t care about the unity news much.  “Zero plus zero plus zero is equal to zero,” France-based Dr Ali Akbar Mengal, said. Dr Mengal believes nawabs and sardars are cancer of Baloch society.

Congress members listen to Balochistan woes

Happy Diwali.

It was very nice to attend the Diwali event organized by the BAPS and several Hindu Diaspora organizations at the Russell building of the US Senate Monday.

According to the premier advocacy Hindu American Foundation (HAF) there are several stories about the origin of Diwali. According to one story, “Over a thousand years ago, there was a kind, humble, and much beloved Prince named Rama who was soon to be named King. Instead, his jealous stepmother found a way to have Rama banished to the forest for 14 years. His wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, went with him because they did not want to leave his side. One day, a demon king named Ravana saw Sita and fell in love with her beauty. He hatched a plan and eventually kidnapped her. Rama went in pursuit of Ravana and fought a great war to win his beloved Sita back. After their reunion and completing their 14 year exile, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman returned home to Ayodhya where the people rejoiced and lit lamps all over the kingdom to welcome them back. Shortly after, Rama was crowned King of Ayodhya.”

Another story for Diwali is about the victory of Krishna thousands of years ago over the demon Narakasura, whose evil doings grew greater by each passing day — just like the black deeds of Pakistan army and ISI. According to HAF, one day Narakasura decided to kidnap all the beautiful young damsels of the kingdom named Svargaloka. “The inhabitants of Svargaloka could take it no longer. They called upon Lord Krishna to save them from Narkasura’s terror. Lord Krishna came as soon as he heard and fought the demon in a fierce battle. Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura….”

The HAF web site says Sikhs also recognize Diwali to celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, one of their spiritual leaders, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. For Jains, Diwali is the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras (Ford-maker or Savior), achieved enlightenment or nirvana/moksha. Lastly, Buddhists, especially Newar Buddhists, commemorate Diwali as Ashok Vijayadashami, the day the great Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism as his faith.

But when will the real Diwali be celebrated in Balochistan? When will the innocent and hapless people of Balochistan be delivered from the clutches of the Pakistan army or Ravana and the ISI or Narakasura? When will their human dignity be restored? When will Baloch women and children come out of the fear of being abducted? When will the youth breathe the fresh air of freedom without being tortured, killed and their bodies dumped by the Pakistani security services? When will Pakistan troops stop looting and burning Baloch homes and villages and killing livestock? When will deadly helicopters stop hovering over Baloch villages, firing on the civilians on the ground or throwing the bodies of freedom fighters to instill fear? When will the Pakistani forces stop tying the bodies of freedom activists behind their trucks to drag in the remote Baloch areas to create terror in the brave tribesmen hearts? In short when will the dark, dreary and cold night of Pakistan’s colonial rule in Balochistan end?

These were some of the questions in our mind when I and my friend Krishna Gudipati, director of the premier American Friends of Balochistan (@AFB_USA), braved the cold and wet weather, to attend the Diwali with the aim to do what is called in Hinduism puniya karma or good in the world (To be honest, I have personally reached the breaking point). Gudipati approached Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who in my humble view– mark my words– is destined to become the first woman and first Hindu president of the United States, either in 2020 or in 2024. Gabbard has all the qualities and ingredients that go into making a great president. “Gabbard was shocked to hear about the Pakistan army atrocities, including abduction of Baloch women and children,” Gudipati told me.

I had a chance to talk with Congressman Anthony G. Brown, (D) 4th District of Maryland. I told him about the unconscionable crimes against humanity being carried out by the Pakistan army and spy service ISI in France-sized Balochistan, which forms more than 40 percent of the land mass of Pakistan but has less than 10 percent of the population. He wanted to know more and pulled out the single visiting card he was left with and asked me to meet to get a better understanding.

Congressman Pete Olson, (R) 22nd District of Texas, also attentively heard about the scorched earth policies of Pakistan security forces in Balochistan. Olson shook his head in dismay and sympathy for the Baloch people of Balochistan when I told him about the killings, torture and abductions of women and children. He and his legislative director Richard England appeared to be willing to lend an ear to Baloch woes and help get justice for them. Quite a few congressmen from Texas, notably Louis Gohmert, are already sick and tired of Pakistan’s double games and want to support a free Balochistan.

However, since Balochistan is still not on the State Department radar, many people in the US don’t know Balochistan is the world capital of enforced disappearances. At least 8,000 Baloch are victims of enforced disappearances but the abductions after which the victims disappear continue unabated. Monday, as many as 40 civilians who were not combatants, were forcibly abducted from the Awaran area in Balochistan, said former Balochistan fisheries minister Kachkol Ali Advocate, who lives in exile in Oslo, Norway.

In this context, it was heartening the Amnesty International Monday called upon Pakistan to end enforced disappearances. Amnesty said it “is alarmed by reports it has received of a wave of enforced disappearances that have taken place over recent days, particularly of activists in the southwestern province of Balochistan, and calls upon the Pakistani authorities to immediately carry out independent and effective investigations with a view to determining the fate and whereabouts of all missing people.

“Enforced disappearances are a blight on Pakistan’s human rights record, with hundreds and possibly thousands of cases reported across the country over the past several years. Victims of enforced disappearances are at considerable risk of torture and other ill-treatment and even death. To date, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice,” Amnesty decried, adding, “The Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017, by far the largest number in a three month period in recent years.”

The key international human rights body said after its last visit to Pakistan, in 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, noted that there is “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.” Amnesty International notes that this situation has not improved over the past five years.

Amnesty International demanded of the Pakistan’s authorities to publicly condemn enforced disappearances, recognize enforced disappearances as a distinct and autonomous offence, and call for an end to this cruel and inhumane practice. “Pakistan has thus far failed to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – a glaring omission that casts an unflattering light on the country’s claims to be committed to the highest human rights standards.”

Amnesty International pointed out the UN Human Rights Committee – the treaty-monitory body that oversees how States implement and comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – took note of Pakistan’s record on enforced disappearances and recommended that the country: “Criminalize enforced disappearance and put an end to the practice of enforced disappearance and secret detention.”

 

Poultry

As if a cruel joke, the UN general assembly on October 16 elected Pakistan as a member of the UN Human Rights Council– a move that was widely condemned by Baloch Diaspora activists. “It is like a monkey being asked to guard the bananas,” said Inayatullah Baloch, who now lives in Iowa and is member of the American Friends of Balochistan (AFB). Bhawal Mengal of the World Baloch Organization, London, in a tweet likened Pakistan’s election to the rights council as a fox being made the in-charge of a poultry farm.

Amnesty said In its election pledge as member of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan said that it is “firmly resolved to uphold, promote and safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”

For that claim to be taken seriously, and for Pakistan to fulfil “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” expected of all Council members, it must make ending enforced disappearances a priority and hold all suspected perpetrators – including military and intelligence personnel – to account, through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

Once confined to the restive territories of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluchistan, enforced disappearances have spread to other parts of the country, including urban centres and major cities. In early January 2017, five human rights defenders were abducted from the capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab province. Four of the defenders returned to their homes between 27 and 29 January. Two of the defenders have since said that they were threatened, intimidated and tortured by people they believed to belong to military intelligence.

After the last Universal Periodic Review in 2012, Pakistan’s government made a commitment to take “effective measures against enforced disappearances” and to “combat impunity for all those who attack human rights defenders”. Later this month, when Pakistan’s human rights record is subject to scrutiny again, the government must finally take urgent steps to turn those commitments into reality.

Raj Shah, 32, Deputy Assistant to President Donald J. Trump and Principal Deputy Press Secretary, also attentively listened to the story of crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and near genocidal situation in Balochistan.