Forced disappearances in Pakistan

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Protest about missing persons, Karachi.

Forced disappearance in Pakistan originated during the military dictator General Pervez Musharraf (1999 to 2008). The practice continued during subsequent governments. The term missing persons is sometimes used as a euphemism. According to Amina Masood Janjua, a human rights activist and chairperson of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, there are more than 5,000 reported cases of forced disappearance in Pakistan.[1][2][3] Human rights activists allege that the law enforcement agencies in Pakistan are responsible for the cases of forced disappearance in Pakistan. However, the law enforcement agencies in Pakistan deny this and insist that many of the missing persons have either joined militant organisations such as the TTP in Afghanistan and other conflict zones[4] or they have fled to be an illegal immigrant in Europe and died en route.[5]

Since 2011, the government of Pakistan established a Commission to investigate cases of enforced disappearance in Pakistan. The Commission reports that it has received 7,000 cases of enforced disappearance since its inception and it has resolved around 5,000 of those cases.[6] Enforced disappearances have long been a stain on Pakistan’s human rights record.


The practice of enforced disappearance is a global problem that afflicts people in various countries and with different ethnicity, religions and political backgrounds. Although the enforced disappearance is a crime under international law, the U.N. has recorded thousands of disappearances in over 100 countries in recent decade. Some of the countries which are crucially charged with the allegations of enforced disappearances include Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Chile, Ethiopia, Syria, African countries, Bangladesh, India, China, Russia, US and Pakistan.[2]

From 1999 to 2008[edit]

After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, forced disappearance in Pakistan allegedly began during the rule of military dictator General Pervez Musharraf (1999 to 2008).[7] Pakistan went under immense terrorist activities. A large number of people became the victim of suicidal attacks. During 'War on Terror', many people were suspected as terrorists and then taken away by Govt agencies.[8][9][10] Many of them were then handed over to the United States authorities to be imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay's Camp X-Ray.[10] After Musharaf resigned in August 2008, he was charged with various human rights violations.[8]

From 2009 to present[edit]

According to Amina Masood Janjua, a human rights activist and chairperson of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, there are more than 5,000 reported cases of forced disappearance in Pakistan.[1][2]Defence of Human Rights Pakistan is a not for profit organization working against forced disappearance in Pakistan. The families of missing persons have also staged protest across Pakistan demanding to know the whereabouts their missing family members.[11][12]


Consultation Session with Political parties on Human Rights Compliance in Balochistan, Quetta Press Club.

Most of the cases of forced disappearances in recent year were reported in Pakistan's Balochistan province which has been witnessing a low-level insurgency for more than a decade and a half.[6] According to Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) around 528 Baloch people have gone missing from 2001 to 2017.[13]

A senior Pakistani provincial security official says that missing person figures are 'exaggerated', that 'in Balochistan, insurgents, immigrants who fled to Europe and even those who have been killed in military operations are declared as missing persons'.[13] Reports have shown that many people have fled the province to seek asylum in other countries because of the unrest caused by separatist militants.

Similarly separatist militants have also been found responsible for forced disappearances cases. Separatist militants usually wear military uniform while carrying out their militant activities. Hence they often get mistaken as security officials.[14]

People who have at any point gone missing[edit]

Some have reported to have been handed over to the CIA and/or flown to Bagram, Afghanistan and later shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. Reports of forced abductions by the Pakistani state first began arising in 2001, in the aftermath of the United States invasion of Afghanistan and the commencement of the US-led War on Terror.[22] Many of the missing persons are activists associated with the Baloch nationalist and Sindhi nationalist movements.[22]


The cases of forced disappearances were criticized by human rights organizations and the media.[7] They have urged the government of Pakistan to probe these incidents.[7][19] In 2011, a Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was formed, but there was little progress in the investigation.[23]

In January 2021, the Islamabad High Court, after hearing a petition on a disappearance case from 2015, ruled that the prime minister of Pakistan and his cabinet were responsible for the state’s failure to protect its citizens “because the buck stops at the top.” The court also termed enforced disappearances as “the most heinous crime and intolerable.”[24]

Pakistan has grappled with a persistent issue of enforced disappearances, which has marred its human rights reputation for a considerable period of time. Despite assurances from successive administrations to outlaw this practice, progress in enacting relevant legislation has been sluggish, leaving individuals vulnerable to forced disappearances without any accountability for the perpetrators.[25] Since the outset of its occupation, the Pakistani state has resorted to enforced disappearances as a means to suppress the oppressed population of Balochistan, marking a prolonged history of such occurrences. This systematic practice has been employed to silence the voices within the region.[26]

Government response[edit]

In 2011, a Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was formed by the government of Pakistan to investigate the cases of forced disappearances in the country. According to Amnesty International, the commission has so far received 3,000 cases of such disappearances.[15] By 2021, the Commission reports that it has received 7,000 cases of forced disappearance since its inception and it has resolved around 5,000 of those cases.[6]

In June 2021, the Pakistan's interior minister introduced a bill in National Assembly of Pakistan which criminalized enforced disappearance in the country with 10-year imprisonment for anyone found guilty of it.[27] The bill was later passed by National Assembly of Pakistan in November 2021.[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Still 'missing' – Business Recorder". Business Recorder. 3 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Despite fears, concerns and stirs 'Enforced Disappearances' still is a missing truth". Dunya News. 30 August 2018. Archived from the original on 15 February 2020.
  3. ^ "Depictions of Loss". The Friday Times - Naya Daur. 22 March 2019. according to Amina Masood Janjua, Chairperson of the group Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, there are over 5,000 reported cases of enforced disappearance in this country
  4. ^ "State not responsible for every missing person: DG ISPR". The Express Tribune. 5 July 2019. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021.
  5. ^ "Kidnap, torture, murder: the plight of Pakistan's thousands of disappeared". the Guardian. 14 December 2020.
  6. ^ a b c "Pakistan to criminalise enforced disappearances". Deccan Herald. 30 August 2021.
  7. ^ a b c "We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years". Human Rights Watch. 28 July 2011.
  8. ^ a b Shayne R. Burnham (28 September 2008). "Musharraf Faces Charges of Human Rights Violations". Impunity Watch.
  9. ^ "Pakistan". Freedom House. 2007.
  10. ^ a b Irene Khan (30 August 2008). "Where are the disappeared?". Dawn.
  11. ^ "Families of country's 'disappeared' beaten in Islamabad protest". The New Humanitarian. 2 January 2007.
  12. ^ Shah, Syed Ali (16 January 2019). "Missing persons' relatives suspend protest after 10 years following Balochistan govt assurances". DAWN.COM.
  13. ^ a b "Thousands vanish without a trace in Pakistan's restive Balochistan". The National. 8 December 2018. Archived from the original on 8 December 2018.
  14. ^ "Pakistan militants execute 14 bus passengers". CNN. 18 April 2019. Militants wearing security force uniforms stopped two buses in southwest Pakistan on Thursday and killed 14 passengers after ordering them out of the vehicles, police said.
  15. ^ a b c "Pakistan: Where Is Zeenat Shahzadi?". Amnesty International. 30 August 2016.
  16. ^ (2017-10-20). "'Missing' journalist Zeenat Shahzadi recovered after more than 2 years". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2019-07-27.
  17. ^ Tareq Haddad (11 January 2017). "State crackdown on dissent feared as four secularist activists 'disappear' in Pakistan". International Business Times. IBTimes Co., Ltd.
  18. ^ a b "Fears of online crackdown loom large after 'abduction' of 4 bloggers". Pakistan Today. 11 January 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  19. ^ a b Qasim Nauman (10 January 2017). "Rights Groups Ask Pakistan to Probe Disappearance of Activists". The Wall Street Journal.
  20. ^ "Second missing Pakistani blogger found, leaves country, says family". Al Arabia. 29 January 2017.
  21. ^ "Abducted blogger breaks silence: 'We want a Pakistan with rule of law'". Dawn. 9 February 2017.
  22. ^ a b Denying the Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan. Amnesty International Publications. 2008.
  23. ^ I. A. Rehman (25 August 2016). "Disappearances still a major issue". Dawn.
  24. ^ "End Pakistan's Enforced Disappearances". Human Rights Watch. 22 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Pakistan: Authorities must deliver on pledge to end cruelty of enforced disappearances". Amnesty International. 2021-08-29. Retrieved 2023-06-20.
  26. ^ "Long history of enforced disappearances in Balochistan". Big News Retrieved 2023-06-22.
  27. ^ "Bill criminalising enforced disappearance introduced in NA". The Express Tribune. 8 June 2021. Archived from the original on 20 July 2021.
  28. ^ "Passes Bill Criminalizing Protection Of Journalists And Enforced Disappearances - IG News". 8 November 2021.
  29. ^ "NA passes journalists Protection Bill, five other bills: Dr Mazari". Associated Press of Pakistan. 13 November 2021.

Further reading[edit]