An Appeal to Social Activists of Punjab

Release Bakhtyar Khan Orakzai

Dr. Farhat Taj

An unknown number of people in Pakistan have been disappeared, presumably by state agents working with the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. Many of them are Baluch nationalists but the disappeared persons also include people from other ethnic groups.  Some them have never been reported upon by media in Pakistan. I write in support of one of such never reported on disappeared persons, Bakhtyar Orakzai, my student from the Kohat University of Science and Technology, KUST. Apparently, he is disappeared by intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

Bakhtyar Khan Orakzai, born in1986, is from the Mishti tribe of Orakzai agency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA. His family and friends believe the intelligence agencies of Pakistan abducted him in 2015 apparently on suspicion of connection with the Taliban. At the time of his disappearance, Bakhtyar was studying MSc in Sociology at KUST and was one of my good students. As his teacher I could recall nothing that indicated he was one of the Taliban militants, facilitators, or even their sympathizer. He and  his family members lived in Kohat as Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, from Orakzai agency.

For over a year his family remained uninformed about his whereabouts. Later one of his family acquaintances who works with an intelligence agency of Pakistan unofficially and on humanitarian basis informed the family that he was in the custody of the intelligence agencies. The acquaintance was unable or unwilling to provide any more information because he was not allowed to communicate anything to the family. To this date the family has no official confirmation of his arrest, whereabouts and well being from the agencies.

Before his abduction, Bakhtyar was getting threatening telephone calls from Taliban militants based in Orakzai, asking him to pay extortion or be ready for death. This is usually what the Taliban do with people who they think are wealthy. Bakhtyar was disturbed days before he was disappeared and had no idea where to escape. Some of his friends think the intelligence agencies misunderstood the Taliban’s telephonic contacts with Bakhtyar and concluded that he has links with the Taliban though no previous association between them could be established.

In a civilized society all faculty and students would have vocally protested against the mysterious disappearance of one of their students. However, in the case of Bakhtyar’s abduction, faculty and students of KUST have maintained complete silence as if nothing unusual has happened. This demonstrates the fear people have of the Pakistani intelligence agencies as well as their callousness towards the issue. 
Wider academia is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of Pakistan probably do not even know about the disappearance of Bakhtyar Orakzai because the KUST academia has chosen to ignore his plight. In addition, his own tribe and all other people in his social milieu have chosen to keep silence.

Complete silence over Bakhtyar’s disappearance indicates a wide spread fear of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan in the hearts and minds of the so-called  ‘brave’ and ‘ghiartamand’ Pashtun. This in turn manifests the woeful state of rule of law in Pakistan.  But this is not the only explanation for the silence over Bakhtyar’ ordeal. There is a generalized insensitivity in the Pashtun society. Political parties having influence in Pashtun area areas are, like other Pakistani political parties, are often indifferent to human rights violations perceived to have been caused by the state agents. NGOs in Pashtun areas only support causes that are unlikely to displease the intelligence agencies. Moreover, there are some ‘chosen’ Pashtun who are collecting around human rights awards all over the world. But they are totally silent on human rights of people in their region seemingly disappeared by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.  

The Pashtun society in Pakistan has suffered tremendous death and destruction since the start of the post 9/11 war on terror in the region. Everyone bewails the death and destruction, and rightly so. But the society has collectively failed to translate its human and material losses into a collective will to seek justice from the oppressive state. The whole society looks as a tribalized mental universe in which few are capable of seriously associating themselves with causes not directly affecting their close family and friends’ circle. 

This point was sorrowfully put across by Advocate  Ajun Khan, father of one of the children killed in the deadly terror on the Army Public School, APS, in Peshawar, when I met him last year at his residence in Peshawar. In addition to serious grievances against the state for failing to deliver justice to the families of the APS children, the Pashtun society too, said Ajun Khan, has failed the parents by not continually standing up with them to put collective pressure on the authorities for justice. 

Long before the carnage at the APS, another school in Peshawar was attacked as a consequence of Gen. Zia’s so-called Afghan Jihad in 1980s, killing and injuring hundreds of children. Had the Pashtun society collectively stood up to demand justice for the families of the children killed in 1980s, there would have probably been no attack on the APS. If the Pashtun society  failed to engage itself in a sustained struggle for justice for  high profile mass slaughter of the APS children, it is unrealistic to hope it could raise a collective voice for justice for individuals like Bakhtyar Orakzai.

I therefore, would to request social activists in Punjab on humanitarian grounds to raise voice of Bakhtyar Khan Orakzai. Recently, the activists from Punjab ran a successful campaign for the disappeared bloggers, who are now resealed.  I hope the activists from Punjab would loudly speak for Bakhtyar Khan Orakzai and argue that should be brought before the court along with charges against him, if any, and let him face justice. If no charges, he must be released immediately and allowed to live in peace with his family. A campaign for an ethnic Pashtun like Bakhtyar Orakzai, by activists from Punjab would contribute in strengthening the rule of law in Pakistan.

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