| Lawyers at an anti-government rally in Rawalpindi on Monday. (AP)
Islamabad, March 26 (Reuters): Pakistan’s supreme court today gave the government two weeks to come up with information about hundreds of people who have gone missing after being taken in custody.
At least 400 Pakistanis have disappeared after being detained since Pakistan joined the US-led war on terrorism in 2001, Pakistan’s top human rights group says. Most were suspected of links with Islamist militants or separatist rebels.
The suspended head of the supreme court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, took up the issue of the missing last year and some analysts thought his call to the government to account for them might have been a reason behind his suspension on March 9.
Judge Javed Iqbal, heading a three-member supreme court bench, said the court wanted to determine who had detained the missing and under what authority they had done so. “If they are not answerable to any ministry, they are certainly and surely answerable to this court,” Iqbal said referring to security agencies. Many relatives of those who have gone missing have accused Pakistan’s main intelligence agencies, Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence, of being behind the disappearances.
The issue had to be settled “not within months but within days”, Iqbal said. He said the government was responsible for determining the whereabouts of the missing and he directed the attorney general, the government’s top lawyer, to submit a concise reply on the issue in two weeks.
The wife of a man who went missing in 2005 said she was satisfied with the court’s order. “I’m quite relieved. I hope this issue will be taken seriously,” said Amna Masood Janjua, who has become a spokeswoman for the relatives of the missing since her husband disappeared.
Thousands of Pakistani Opposition supporters rallied in towns and cites throughout the country today to protest against President Musharraf’s move to sack the country’s top judge.
Chaudhry’s suspension on March 9 angered lawyers who see it as an attack on the independence of the judiciary, but today’s protests did not draw huge crowds and there were no reports of serious trouble.
The uproar has blown up into Musharraf’s most serious domestic political crisis since he seized power in 1999, and comes in the run-up to an expected attempt to seek another term.
But analysts say Musharraf, who is also army chief, does not appear to face any immediate threat to his rule as he has the support of the military. Today’s protests were called by two exiled former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who met in London last week and agreed on the rallies. Authorities picked up hundreds of their supporters yesterday.