I met Raza one chilly evening in December 2007, during the agitated, confusing and angry “winter of our discontent”. It was on a quiet street in GOR I in Lahore, where friends had gathered to mount a vigil in support of a judge of the High Court who had refused to take oath under the new Provisional Constitutional Order of General Musharraf’s Emergency Rule. This judge was among the scores of judges summarily dismissed by the regime – which now wanted to evict him and his family from his official residence in contravention of the 30 day notice period. Local activists had decided to mount a vigil outside this residence as a show of support and to bring attention to the rampant abuse of unaccountable power that was quickly taking over the country. Some of them guilted me into joining them for a few hours.
As we were a small group, everyone eventually got into a discussion of the political events going on at that time. There were some lawyers, a couple of young members of PTI (among them Raza), some “white-collar workers” like myself, some life-long human rights activists, elderly ladies in their 60s.
Raza’s arrest, alongwith that of a few other friends and others, a few nights later, became a cause célèbre for the lawyers movement as it was the first time that ordinary citizens, not aligned with any of the major political parties, not even lawyers, had stood up to the imposition of martial law and affirmed their belief in the necessity of legitimate, representative, civilian government – by the people, of the people, for the people.
We have been friends ever since, collaborating on a variety of causes over the years: highlighting the complicity of the government in enforced disappearances in 2006 – 2008, helping with relief efforts in support of internally displaced persons in Swat in 2009, demonstrating against Israeli aggression in Gaza in 2009/10 and again in 2011, participating in the campaign for the release from unlawful detention of Baba Jan Hunzai and his comrades.
In the spring of 2008, at the HRCP’s Dorab Patel Auditorium, we organised a seminar, “Missing in Pakistan”, that re-focused national attention on this most disquieting phenomenon. Our guests of honour included the families and representatives of Pakistanis abducted by security agencies, whose whereabouts remained unknown. We did not discriminate on the basis of ideology or possible accusation/reason for internment – our stance was, and remains, simple: the right to due process before the law is the basic requirement for civilized conduct and justice, regardless of the nature of the accusation. Raza was an active member of the organizing team of this event.
On the evening of December 2nd, 2017, Raza himself was abducted by people whom law-enforcement authorities privately confirm could only have been members of the security agencies.
It is now more than four months since his enforced disappearance, almost exactly ten years since he helped to organize the “Missing in Pakistan” seminar.
I have to stand up for him and for myself now.
اتنا نہ ڈراوؑ کہ ڈر ہی ختم ہو جائے۔