The disappearance of Sajid Gondal, an official of the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), has raised the concern amongst journalists, NGOs and government officials, including Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, Adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Accountability and Interior, Shahzad Akbar, and now the Islamabad High Court (IHC). After Mr Gondal’s family filed a habeas corpus petition, IHC Chief Justice Justice Athar Minallah directed the interior secretary to take up the issue with the Prime Minister in order to devise a policy for the protection of the fundamental rights of citizens.

The Court’s laments that the police have not appreciated the gravity of this offence and the state failed to protect the fundamental rights of a citizen are not unfounded. Disappearances have risen and it is unfortunate that such cases are not treated with the seriousness they deserve, especially considering the impact that their rise has on press freedom and the international image of the country. The fact that the government was not able to keep in check where its citizens are disappearing off to, while their families have to seek help from the court to direct the interior ministry to take action, does not reflect well on Pakistan, especially now when we have been making strides in strengthening our security laws. The delayed response of the state towards Mr Gondal’s disappearance has led to international organisations such as Amnesty South Asia highlighting the incident, for which the government only has itself to blame—for not taking care of the case earlier and pursuing accountability.

Following Shireen Mazari’s and Shahzad Akbar’s responses, both of whom promised prompt action on this case, it seems that the government has learned its lessons and is finally taking missing persons cases seriously. Just like the government is devising a policy against torture, an international legal issue which impacts Pakistan on the foreign stage, legislation and action against enforced disappearances must also be taken, to make the human rights situation in Pakistan more compliant with UN standards.