People & Society

Raza Khan: The vanishing act

Published Jan 26, 2018 12:01am


Illustration by Maria Huma
Illustration by Maria Huma

Pakistan has a problem with peaceniks. Because the country is at war — sometimes with others, often with itself. And those advocating peace are dangerous because they question the logic of war. The dangerous then disappear. Lahore-based activist Raza Khan is one of them. He is the convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a friendship initiative between the youth of India and Pakistan. On December 2, the 40-year-old attended a meeting at another initiative he is part of: Lowkey Lokai, which holds dialogue and debates on issues critical to a peaceful society. That was the last time he was heard from or seen. Since then, Raza has been ‘missing’, with unconfirmed reports stating that he was picked up by plain-clothes men from his Model Colony residence. His family believes Raza is being unlawfully detained. Their counsel says they fear that intelligence agencies are responsible for his disappearance.

Raza has been a vocal opponent of state suppression. Friends attending the forum he spoke at on the night he went missing remember Raza being critical of the military. The security establishment does not take kindly to those taking such liberties. Liberals like Raza advocate the need for conversation. They champion diversity and call for shunning conformity. But that requires introspection. Imposing is easier. “Scarcely does a week go by without Amnesty International receiving reports of people going missing in Pakistan,” Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director Dinushika Dissanayake said in a statement urging authorities to take immediate steps towards Raza’s safe recovery.

Sadly, his disappearance will be neither the first nor last.

In the beginning of 2017, five bloggers went ‘missing’. Over time, four of them returned. The whereabouts of Samar Abbas, president of the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, remain unknown to this day. Ironically, those who wrote about people going missing have become the story themselves. A young female journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi, went missing from Lahore in 2015 for two years. She was reporting on the disappearance of an Indian citizen, Hamid Ansari, who reportedly came to Pakistan after befriending a Pakistani woman on the Internet. His disappearance, however, was reported to have happened because he was a spy — allegedly. Then there are Baloch students who have gone missing from Karachi. One, SagheerAhmed Baloch, was picked up from Karachi University on November 20 this year. The same month, four other Baloch students were taken away by security personnel during a raid on a house in Karachi while another was picked up from his own residence in the same city.

Where do these men and women go when they go missing? Their abductors have never been identified. The police feign ignorance, but are still hesitant to register cases. The judiciary, the parliament and the commission on enforced disappearances censure law enforcement agencies to little effect. Sometimes, as was the case with the ‘Adiala 11’, people disappear even when they are cleared by the courts — that too from prison! The deep state has its deep prisons.

Meanwhile, Raza’s family waits for his return, not knowing if he is even alive. Not knowing if it is better to speak or suffer in silence. Not knowing what would provoke his captors to keep him captive, or worse. For the loved ones of all those who have gone missing, time is a cruel friend. It both gives and takes away hope. The wait is painful and uncertain. The plea is always the same: if their loved ones have broken the law, they should be tried and punished. If not, they should be freed. But Pakistan, it seems, has a problem with freedom too.

This article was published in the Herald's January 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.