The Supreme Court has taken a very dim view of the failure to produce missing persons before it. On Tuesday’s hearing of the case, the Supreme Court showed how seriously it takes the matter, with the Bench hearing the case of 35 missing persons remarking that it could summon the Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa Chief Minister or the Prime Minister if the missing persons were not recovered. The missing persons were supposed to have been taken by the intelligence agencies, and to have been kept in camps in the Federally Administered Area. It is clear that the Supreme Court has no objection to anything except the disobedience of its orders that the failure to produce the missing persons implies. As it showed in the Swiss letter case, it will not refrain from unseating a Prime Minister.

While the Prime Minister is responsible for the intelligence agencies, the KPK Chief Minister is responsible for the law and order of the areas through which the missing persons would have moved. Whether the missing persons are terrorists or not is a separate issue. The rule the Supreme Court is trying to enforce is that all have rights under the Constitution, and cannot be deprived of them, including the right to a fair trial. The Constitution also obliges all state authorities to assist the Supreme Court, which seems in a mood to enforce obedience.

This insistence should show that recently retired Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was not carrying out some personal goal, but was expressing the will of the Court, indeed of the entire legal community, when he insisted on the rule of law. The government should not insist on the prerogative of its intelligence services, but should help enforce the rule of law. That implies finding all the missing persons, and ensuring that those the Court wants produced, are duly produced. No state organization can claim immunity to the law, and that anyone can be arrested unless there are legal grounds for doing so.

The federal government should realize this, and should not protect officials from facing the consequences of their actions. Terrorists, or anyone challenging the writ of the state, must be punished. There should be no doubt about that. But that terrorism, or denial of the writ, of the state, must be shown before a judge. The government must realize that the lingering of the issue of missing persons creates a bad image of it, and the only way it can stop this, is by ensuring the obedience to the Court implicit in producing the missing persons before it, no matter how sorry a figure any individual official might cut.