My article on the case of the Indian national Hamid Ansari who has ‘disappeared’ in Pakistan, published in The News, July 11, 2014; an abbreviated version in Hardnews, India. See Hamid’s mother’s online petition appealing to the governments of India and Pakistan to find her son and my friend Indian journalist Shivam Vij’s earlier articles on this case, in The Friday Times, and in the Christian Science Monitor
On July 1, the Peshawar High Court directed Pakistan’s defence and interior ministries to provide full information about an Indian national, Hamid Ansari, who disappeared from the mountainous Kohat district in late 2012. There is room here for cautious optimism on several fronts.
The two-member bench is hearing cases related to the forced disappearances of around 25 missing persons. During one such hearing the honourable judges directed the respondents — including the defence and interior ministries — to submit comprehensive comments, not brief and stereotyped replies stating only that the detainees are not in their custody.
I first heard about Hamid Ansari’s case a little over a year ago, through an email from an old friend Jatin Desai, a journalist in Mumbai, asking what could be done to trace this 27-year old Rotarian from Mumbai, an MBA degree holder, and a teacher at the Mumbai Management College, hailing from a highly educated family.
His parents — bank employee Nehal Ansari and college professor Fauzia Ansari — moved the Supreme Court of India seeking directives for the Indian government to pursue the case of their missing son with Pakistan. In February this year, the Indian Supreme Court disposed of the petition, saying there was little the government and even less the court could do.
Fauzia Ansari refused to give up. She continued contacting activists and journalists in Pakistan for help. All efforts to find the whereabouts of the missing young man were consistently stonewalled due to the difficulties of communication, and the kind of suspicion, that exists between India and Pakistan — at least at the official level.
Hamid had travelled to Afghanistan in November 2012 telling his family he had a job interview there. After his disappearance, going through his Facebook and email messages, they learnt that this was a ruse. His real purpose was to enter Pakistan to try and rescue a woman — whom he had befriended on Facebook — from a forced marriage. He entered the country illegally, encouraged by some Pakistani friends on Facebook. The family knew these people’s names, as well as the hotel Hamid stayed at in Kohat.
The Pakistan authorities did not follow up on these leads. Now we know why.
Fauzia Ansari finally managed to get her application through to the Human Rights Cell of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which in March 2014 forwarded the case to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.
The Commission of Inquiry on April 10, 2014, directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa home department to register an FIR at the city police station in Karak district under Section 365 of Pakistan Penal Code, and to constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) to trace Ansari.
It was at a JIT meeting that a government official stated that since Hamid Ansari had entered Pakistan without a visa, the case did not lie in the category of enforced disappearance. However, as Ansari’s representative pointed out, if the young man had crossed border illegally, he should be punished in accordance with the law.
During the hearing, Chief Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel and Justice Nisar Hussain Khan expressed surprise as to how an Indian national could enter Pakistan from Afghanistan without valid documents, and reach Kohat without the knowledge of the intelligence agencies. The next hearing has been fixed for September 8.
Had Hamid belonged to a foreign country other than India, he would have been charged and tried for illegal entry, not disappeared. But India and Pakistan treat each other’s nationals differently than the citizens of other countries. Each is believed to hold several prisoners of war from the other side, dating back to the wars of 1971 and 1965. Each has flouted international laws and basic ethics by not informing the other of its citizens being taken prisoner.
Remember Mohammad Arif, the Indian soldier captured during the Kargil war of 1999, whom the Indian government had declared missing in action, presumed dead? Five years later, he turned up alive in India after a prisoner exchange – to find found his wife married to another man and pregnant with her second husband’s child.
Another Indian ‘lost’ in Pakistani prisons for 35 years, was Kashmir Singh, who then Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney encountered quite by chance during a visit to the jail.
Today, with the Internet and other tools, the light of information is slowly but surely piercing the cover of darkness that makes such cases possible.
There is no excuse for such cases of ‘lost’ prisoners. It is the responsibility of the security agencies and prison authorities to maintain updated data on the human beings in their custody. It is the government’s responsibility to inform the prisoner’s country that he is in their custody.
Let the law follow its course, and Hamid Ansari and others like him reach home safely at the earliest.
NOTE: The following paragraphs were edited out from the version published in The News (I was trying to make the point that Pakistanis are also being ‘disappeared’ but the editors thought it best to keep the two issues separate):
Enforced disappearances are a major tool of what I call Pakistan’s Dirty Tricks Brigade — shadowy, unnamed beings who specialise in targeting those they deem to be ‘anti-state’ or anti ‘ideology of Pakistan’, a hyper-nationalist, jihadist-centred, anti-India national narrative that the DTB perpetuates through any means possible.
This includes mounting smear campaigns against progressive minded Pakistanis who take forward the democratic political process that is now eroding that carefully constructed narrative. Throwing a major spanner in the DTB’s works is Pakistan’s belated, but necessary, military offensive in North Waziristan, particularly the army’s avowed commitment to even target the ‘Haqqani network’ that Pakistan’s security establishment until now espoused as ‘good Taliban’.
Meanwhile, the increase in Internet-enabled information and information sharing through social networks is also slowly but surely piercing the cover of darkness under which the DTB works and thrives.