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HomePoliticsWhat happened to Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shahzadi will remain a mystery

What happened to Pakistani journalist Zeenat Shahzadi will remain a mystery

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Zeenat Shahzadi who was abducted by gunmen on 19 August, 2015 returns home; Pakistan reports nearly 5,000 cases of ‘disappearance’.

Zeenat Shahzadi’s is the first case of a woman journalist’s enforced disappearance in Pakistan. The 26-year-old reporter, who has been “rescued” recently, was abducted by gunmen on 19 August, 2015 when she was on her way to work in Lahore. Shahzadi had been working on a case of Indian citizen Hamid Ansari, who had gone missing in Pakistan.

Ansari was arrested in 2012 for his alleged entry into Pakistan from Afghanistan, reportedly to meet a girl he had fallen in love with. Ironically, in August 2013 she secured a special power of attorney from Ansari’s mother, Fauzia, and had pursued the case in the Peshawar High Court and at the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. As a result, the security agencies later admitted to the Commission that Ansari was in their custody.

While Ansari was convicted by a military court, Shahzadi disappeared. Shahzadi’s disappearance took great toll on her family. In March 2016, her teenage brother, Saddam, committed suicide as he was unable to cope with the ‘loss’ of his sister.

Zeenat, the bread earner of the family, hails from Chaudhary Colony, Kamahan Road in Lahore. Among six siblings — three sisters and three brothers — Shahzadi was close to Saddam, the youngest of the six who committed suicide. He was a XII standard student at the Government College for Boys in Lahore. His body was found hanging from a tree.

Her brother Salman Latif told that she received threats from unknown persons who asked her not to pursue Ansari’s case anymore. “We also asked her not to put her life at risk but she said she wanted to help Ansari out of humanity,” he said.

Shahzadi’s lawyer Hina Jillani in the past two years has often highlighted the turn of events as to how she was to appear before the commission on 24 August, 2015 but before that she was picked up and how earlier she had been held by the police as she met the Indian high commissioner at a public event in Lahore. Jillani maintained that Pakistani agencies were behind the disappearance as the local police were helpless.

While confirming Shahzadi’s release Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal, head of the Commission of Enforced Disappearances, said that she was rescued from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He claimed that “anti-state elements” and “anti-Pakistan secret agencies” were involved in the abduction and that the tribal leaders from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had played “a big role” in her freedom.

Last week, Pakistan was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, along with 14 other countries, to serve on the 47-member body. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations, termed it as “a ringing endorsement of Pakistan’s strong commitment to human rights”.

Pakistan’s commitment to human rights is, however, debatable in its treatment of religious minorities, civil society, media, social and political activists. According to the recent data, the Commission has received 4,329 cases of ‘disappearance’ and the number is increasing by the year.

The Commission says a total of 728 people were added to its list last year – the highest in any year since its inception. Meanwhile, the rights groups say that the actual number is much higher with cases from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa coming in.

Pakistan has a history of violence and harassment of journalists. Saleem Shahzad, Najam Sethi, Hamid Mir, Umar Cheema and several other local journalists have been abducted and tortured over the years. Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, succumbed to injuries in one such incident in 2011, while he was investigating the attack on Pakistan Naval Station Mehran Mehran and al-Qaeda’s role in it.

However, like most judicial commission findings in Pakistan, Shahzad’s murder did not fall on any single individual or organisation. The report blamed “various belligerents in the war on terror which included the Pakistani state and non-state actors such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda and foreign actors”.

The same non-actors are today being named in Shahzadi’s disappearance. Though the Commission has not convicted anyone to date, thus allowing the enforced disappearances to continue with impunity.

No one knows what happened to Zeenat Shahzadi and no one will ever find that out. That’s the thing about ‘disappearances’ in Pakistan, it disappears even after the disappeared reappear. Time and again we are told not to ask the who, what, why, when, where and how of it and just be happy on the reappearance. Be happy about the reappearance of Shahzadi, after two painful years and loss of a younger brother.

Naila Inayat is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat

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  1. Glad that this young girl, who was victimised for trying to trace an Indian boy who went missing in Pakistan, has finally been restored to her family. The unfortunate thing is that such abductions and forced disappearances go unpunished. The impunity that intelligence agencies enjoy needs to be challenged.

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