When Mohammad Ayub Khan heard his nephew had been picked up by Pakistani security officials in Karachi, it brought back painful memories of another nephew who had gone missing in similar circumstances years before.
Khan, an ethnic Pashtun, says he had been calling army and police offices seeking news of Haji Akbar since his nephew was ordered off a bus by uniformed soldiers seven years ago during a security alert in the northern Swat Valley. Last year, his second nephew, rickshaw driver Abu Ghurera, was detained by men in plainclothes in the country’s biggest city, according to witnesses.
“I have knocked on every door but have not gotten any answers,” said Khan, who blames government security agencies for both the disappearances.
“Tell us where our children are so we know if they are alive. And if they are dead, at least return their bodies.”
Rights groups say such cases have been common for the past decade. But the simmering resentment of the Pashtun community boiled over in January, when a young Pashtun man was gunned down by police in Karachi in an incident an inquiry has since ruled to be an extrajudicial killing.
The killing, initially described by police as a shootout with terrorist suspects, sparked peaceful protests across the country by members of the 30 million-strong Pashtun community, who say hundreds of their young men have “disappeared”.
The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which organised the protests, has compiled a list of approximately 1,200 missing persons after speaking to families.
A preliminary list of 315 names has been seen by Reuters. Relatives of 20 of those listed were contacted and confirmed their family member was missing.
Amnesty International said on Monday that a UN working group on enforced disappearances had 700 pending cases from Pakistan and urged the authorities to do more to resolve them.
PTM leaders say stories of Pashtun disappearances have been largely ignored until now, especially ordeals suffered by families from the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, including thousands who moved to major cities to escape a near-decade long insurgency by Islamist militants.
The Pakistan Army’s public relations department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the military has in the past said it does not detain individuals without evidence. Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior did not respond to requests for comment.