Pakistan pressed over missing drone activist

Family members blame country’s intelligence agencies for abduction of Karim Khan, who campaigned against US drone raids.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – A Pakistani court has ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to produce a prominent anti-drone campaigner, who was abducted last week, by February 20, or to categorically state that they are not holding him, the activist’s lawyers say.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Shehzad Akbar, the head of Karim Khan’s legal team, called Khan’s abduction from his Rawalpindi home late on February 5 “a signature government abduction”, alleging that Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearance.

Khan had been due to fly to Europe on February 15, on a trip that would see him testify before members of the European Parliament in Brussels, UK legislators in London and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the US’ use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Khan’s 17-year-old son, Zahinullah Khan, and brother, Asif Iqbal, were killed in a drone strike in the Machi Khel area in North Waziristan on December 31, 2009.

Since then, he had waged a legal battle against the United States, going as far as to name the then-CIA station chief in Pakistan in a law suit filed in the Islamabad High Court in 2010. That case is ongoing, with an associated civil suit being referred to a lower court during a hearing on Tuesday.

Police claim ‘no knowledge’

In court on Wednesday, police claimed that they had no knowledge of the raid on Khan’s home on February 5, according to the state’s lawyer.

Khan’s brother-in-law Jan said armed men stormed the family’s house and seized the activist [Al Jazeera]

Khan’s family members told Al Jazeera that about 20 people had raided their house just past midnight, breaking the chains and bolts on the gate and brandishing weapons once they had entered the premises.

“When they went inside, the first thing they did, they took their guns out and started shouting. Then they picked up Karim Khan, and searched the house,” said Dilbar Jan, Khan’s brother-in-law.

Jan said that Khan’s family had moved to Rawalpindi from their native North Waziristan, where the state’s writ is tenuous, in order to “live more comfortably” while he did his work as a campaigner, researcher and journalist.

“They thought that when they moved from [North Waziristan] they were coming here to be less stressed and live their lives more comfortably. That there would be no fear here, nor would anyone harass us, or have any other problems.”

The police had initially refused to file a First Information Report (FIR) of the case on the night of the attack, and it was not until February 10, when a court ordered them to do so, that a kidnapping case was filed against “unidentified persons”.

Jan said that Khan’s family’s only demand at present was to certify whose custody Khan is in, and what crime he has been charged with.

“Let Allah make it that [the intelligence agencies] have picked him up. They are our own national agencies. If they say that anything has been done against Pakistan, that Pakistan is harmed, then we would not let anyone do [such a thing]. Without doubt, if someone has committed that crime then let him be given the punishment. But all that we want to know is where is he, and what has he been charged with. And if he has done it, then he will have to face the punishment.”

European parliamentarians protest

On Tuesday, Khan’s case was raised with the Pakistani government by the Dutch government, UK legislator Tom Watson, and German MP Hans-Christian Strobele.

“I am extremely concerned for the safety of drone victim and journalist Karim Khan whom I invited to speak to MPs this month […] Given the timing, I am concerned that there may be a connection between his disappearance and his intention to speak to members of parliament. I urge both the UK and Pakistani governments to do everything in their power to secure Karim’s release, and support his visit to parliament,” Watson said in a statement.

The other members of the delegation that was due to brief the European parliamentarians was still planning on flying to Europe on Saturday, their lawyers said.

Both Jan and Akbar, however, believe that it is unlikely that Khan will be produced on February 20, as ordered by the court.

“It is difficult. Because the police have already said in court that they do not know where he is. If the agencies have indeed taken him, then it is up to them to produce him,” Jan said.

Akbar said it was difficult to say if he would be produced, but that previous history in such cases – Pakistan has over 900 pending cases of people allegedly kidnapped by government agencies – suggested the government would either deny having him, or request more time to ascertain his whereabouts.

“Can you tell me even a single incident when 20 armed men in police vehicles come to a densely populated area and kidnap someone from their home? This is typical incident where so many people have been picked up in Pakistan […] This is a signature government abduction.”

Zarmeeneh Rahim, another member of Khan’s legal team, argued that Khan’s abduction erodes faith in peaceful, legal means of redress in Pakistan.

“The issue with a case such as Karim’s is that the perception seems to be that people of Waziristan are either collateral damage in the fight against militants, or once they have become victims of drone strikes, they become perpetrators of violence themselves. In Karim Khan’s case, he was a violent victim of a drone strike, his son and brother were killed, and yet he chose to fight through the courts, and peaceful and legal means of protest,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s tragic that his voice has been silenced at such a time.”

Additional reporting by Hameedullah Khan in Islamabad.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera