700 Pakistanis missing since start of war on terror
28 December, 2006
By Amir Latif
Sitting against a small table in her home in Pakistan's northern city of Rawalpindi, 10-year-old Ayesha Janjua writes a letter to President Gen Pervez Musharraf.
She is appealing to him to get her father, missing for the last one-and-a-half years, released. Masood Janjua is one of the hundreds of Pakistanis missing since 9/11 onuspicion of having links with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Intelligence and independent sources say the number of missing persons stands at around 700. Most of them are in the custody of Pakistani intelligence agencies while some are languishing at Guantanamo Bay.
Families of various "detainees" have taken their files to the courts, which have issued strict orders to the interior ministry to inform the judiciary of their whereabouts. But the interior ministry and intelligence agencies have been, in some cases, reluctant to provide details, and in some cases outrightly deny that the missing people are in their custody.
The courts apparently seem to be helpless before the intelligence agencies, as according to the Constitution, civil courts,
including the Supreme Court, cannot try any case against the armed forces, which are being accused of holding the missing people.
"Dear uncle Pervez Musharraf, my father's name is Masood Janjua, who went missing on July 30, 2005 along with his friend Faisal Faraz. His name should be familiar since he is one of your detainees," Ayesha writes.
"Dear uncle, put your daughter in my position and think how much it hurts to have her father taken away like that . I have not seen him in one-and-a-half years, even not on the last three Eids. Something is missing in my personal and family life. I feel insecure. The base of the family is not there. The base that protects us. I feel that my whole world has crumbled.
I know he is there and alive and around me. He is in my heart," she adds as tears roll down her cheeks. Ayesha's father Masood Janjua, a 45-year-old businessman, also involved in the education sector, is being held without trial for his alleged ties to Al- Qaeda. He was on his way to Peshawar with his friend, Faisal Faraz, whose whereabouts are also not known. Masood used to run two colleges in Rawalpindi. In his absence, his wife Amna Janjua has been running the colleges.
"When I think of my husband, the last thing I remember is the clock tower in my room. It was 9:30 am. Since then, I have been running from pillar to post for justice. I want him to be back with us without even a delay of a second. I must be informed of his whereabouts and if there are any charges against him he should be produced before the court so that we can hire a lawyer and defend him," an emotional Amna told Paktribune, adding, "my father-in-law, who is a retired colonel and a former comrade of Gen Musharraf, has also approached him (Musharraf), but nothing favourable has so far resulted".
Amna's father-in-law and Gen Musharraf had been colleagues at Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army. Affan Leghari, a 22-year-old student of Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Pakistan's most prestigious institute of higher learning, was picked up by security forces in October 2004. He was taken away from his home in southern port city of Karachi in the early morning by plain-clothed security officials. Since then, his family has heard no word about him. His aging father has been approaching the courts and media organizations to win the release of his son. "I still don't know about the charges against my son," Mr Leghari told newsmen at Karachi Press Club. "I just want to know that if there are any charges against
him, he must be produced before the court. But I am sure, the agencies have nothing against him, that is why they are not producing him before the judiciary," he maintained.
According to analysts, the "disappearance" phenomenon has become a rising trend in Pakistan over the last three years after the courts released several suspects on the ground of lack of evidence against them. In the four years after 9/11, majority of persons were illegally detained on the charge of having links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but during the last
one year, several political activists of nationalist parties have been missing. Their families allege that they have been detained by security forces on the charge of having connection with a shady Baloch Liberation Army (BLA).
These detainees include poets, writers, political activists and even common citizens. Dr Safdar Sarki, a Pakistani-American, who is also the secretary-general of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), has been missing since February 2006. Family members of Gohram Saleh from Makran, who was allegedly picked up by security forces in August 2006, have threatened to commit suicide if he is not released immediately.
A fresh Amnesty International report reveals that several out of hundreds of detainees have been sold to the US by the Pakistani government. Family members and eyewitnesses to many of these disappearances or illegal detentions or abductions
report that the individuals in question were picked up by security officials (sometime in plain clothes), said Khalid Khawaja, the chairman of Defence of Human Rights Council, a body that provide legal assistance to the families of missing persons.
The council had staged several demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court building in Islamabad last month, following which the apex court took suo motu notice of the increasing cases of disappearances. "It is heartening to know that the Supreme Court has taken notice of the increasing disappearances, but the problem is that majority of the missing persons are
being held by the army, and the courts cannot summon the army officers directly. It has to go through the interior ministry, which has been dilly-dallying over the matter," Mr Khawaja said. He claimed that some of the detained persons, who were later released, had confirmed to him that they were held and interrogated by army officials.
Paktribune tried to contact Muhammad Atif, who was picked up by the security forces some two years ago in Lahore, and has been recently released, but his family members refuse to tell anything about him. "Please leave us. We have found him alive, and this is enough for us," a family member of Atif said on condition of anonymity. "If you quote me, I will simply deny that I ever spoke to you," he said. According to sources, around 20 detainees have been released by the security agencies during the last two months after a period of two to three years of illegal detention.
"Atif told us that he was interrogated three-four times in the initial days. After that, they (interrogators) forgot him. He was never questioned for the next two years," a family member said, adding that Atif was interrogated for his alleged
links to Al-Qaeda and Taliban. According to Khalid Khawaja, another illegally- detained person, Umer recently surfaced
after three years, and soon after his release, he was picked up by Lahore police on the charge of possessing an unlicenced pistol. Umer is currently languishing in Lahore Jail.
Pakistani authorities have handed the US about 600 Al-Qaeda suspects including Ramzi bin Sheba who was on the FBI's most wanted list. He was captured in September 2002 after a raid on an apartment in a posh area of Karachi. A Yemeni national
Ramzi was believed to have attended the meetings held to plan the 9/11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti-Pakistani, and even more senior figure in the Al-Qaeda network who is considered the head of its Pakistan cell, was apprehended in March 2003 from Rawalpindi and is believed to have been handed over to the Americans and is being held at an undisclosed location. He was the most senior Al Qaeda operative after Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri.
Khaled Sheikh Mohammed's sister Mariam has filed a petition in the Sindh High Court to determine his whereabouts as well as of four other relatives who were later apprehended. The court has issued directives to the interior ministry to produce the accused before the court but the ministry says it is trying to locate the suspects.
"The detainees were taken away within the due course of law and their whereabouts are not known. More than three years have passed and I put their cases in front of the Sindh High Court, but there is no information about their (relatives of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad) whereabouts," Ghulam Kadir Jatoi, the counsel of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's sister said. "The high court has called on the security agencies to give them a proper reply on the whereabouts of the men, but they (agencies) are playing with the high court. These detainees should be produced before the courts and let the courts decide if they belong to Al-Qaeda or not," he added.
"One thing has been proved that there is no respect for judiciary in Pakistan. The courts have passed orders time and again to produce evidence and proof against the detainees however nothing has happened. President Pervez Musharraf has introduced the slogan "Pakistan First", but is actually working on the agenda of "US First", said Dr Merajul Huda Siddiqui, a central leader of a six-party religious coalition, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. Pakistan has become an open field for the US and Pakistani agencies who have full impunity to operate here. There is law of the jungle here, he added. Human rights groups have criticized the practices of detaining suspects without a trial or charge, arguing that war on terror cannot be won by resorting to illegal detentions and torture of suspects. But a former Pakistani intelligence officer and a security and defence analyst, Ikram Sehgal, believes that while the rule of law should be respected, there is a new type of war underway which at times may require bending some laws.
"Human rights organizations are correct in their assessment. There are many Pakistanis who may be suspects and there may be enough evidence to bring them to court. But terrorists as you know do not have 'terrorist' written on their foreheads and no
terrorist leaves behind documentary evidence," he said. "It is difficult when you are in the process of a court of law to bring that particular evidence against him".
Human rights groups, he said, had a valid point that human rights were being violated but on the other hand what about the rights of the many innocent people, who would die if these people were really terrorists.
"Whenever there is war, there is something called collateral damage. You will know that more than 50 per cent of those who die are non-combatants. It depends on the security agencies and how good they are and efficient to know if the person is guilty as charged," he maintained.
" But I am for the rule of law and agree that the rule of law must prevail but when you take into consideration the type of war going on, where a person comes and plants a bomb in a mosque for example and 150 people die, what about their rights' No terrorist leaves documents or a trail behind," he added. However, Dr Merajul Huda Siddiqui contests Mr Sehgal's contention by saying, "Ok, if I accept for a minute that terrorists do not leave any documentary proof and tangible evidence behind, then what is wrong with informing their families about their whereabouts' It is sheer violation of the Geneva Conventions that suspects are being tortured in Guantanamo Bay and other facilities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the Pakistani and US governments think they are guilty, they should be taken to courts. This is a very dangerous phenomenon which is hurting their
families. If the victims and their families start to believe that they cannot get justice from the courts or from the governments, they will choose another path, i.e. revenge.