THE CASE OF THE MISSING INDIAN

Published: Thu, 07/17/2014 - 07:33 Updated: Wed, 08/13/2014 - 11:47

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 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. What could be done to trace this 27-year-old Rotarian from Mumbai, asked Jatin.

Hamid Ansari was 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—even 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 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 exist 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. From Facebook and email messages, though, 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 his Pakistani friends on Facebook. The family knew these people’s names, as well as the hotel Hamid stayed in at Kohat.

The Pakistani 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, directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa home department to register an FIR at the city police station in Karak district under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code, and to constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) to trace Hamid.  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 fall in the category of enforced disappearance. However, as Ansari’s representative pointed out, if the young man had crossed the 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. 

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 target even 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. Let Hamid Ansari and others like him reach home safely at the earliest.

This story is from print issue of HardNews