You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Marsia of Our Time: The Story of Pakistan’s Missing

February 9th, 2008, by Muhammad

The most tragic part of Saud Memon’s story is the fact that he never told it. He never could. Not because of any curtailment of the freedom of speech, not because of political pressure, not because he didn’t want to. He could not tell the world about what goes on in Guantanamo or in ISI’s torture cells in Pakistan. He died before that.

In its 60-year history, the Supreme Court of Pakistan could not have witnessed a more tragic scene than what it saw on May 4, 2007: A 44-years-old emaciated man, reduced to 80-pounds, was produced before the Court, lying on a stretcher. Abducted by the security agencies in 2003, he had been kept in detention in Guantanamo Bay, then in Afghanistan and finally in ISI’s torture cells in Pakistan. He had survived Guantanamo. He survived Afghanistan. But ISI took him. Finally, as a result of a nationwide campaign by families of the missing people, and the Supreme Court’s suo mote intervention, the government was forced to release him. They dumped him in garbage heap near his house, after beating him to pulp. Some neighbors recognized him and brought him home. He could neither walk nor hold his head.
A week later he was presented before the country’s Supreme Court which had managed to make the ISI capitulate. As many in his audience were brought to tears, advocate Shaukat Akhtar Siddiqui proclaimed, “This skeleton of a man has a reward of Rs3 million on his head in the Red Book of our Interior Ministry,” pointing to the emaciated body of Saud Memon.The FBI had arrested Mr Memon, 44, on March 7, 2003, because Daniel Pearl’s body had been found on a plot of land owned by him. But there was so little evidence to link him with that crime that he could never even be indicted before any court, in Pakistan or the US. The governments in Pakistan and the United States, though, couldn’t care less. Daniel Pearl was dead and someone or another had to be framed. Saud Memon was unlucky enough.

On Saturday, May 18, 2007 only 20 days after his was finally released from illegal detention, he died of meningitis and brain TB - all that he had gone through in the US’s and Pakistan’s torture cells simply killed him.

As Muharram wanes, the victims of Karbala must not wither from our memories. We must also remember that here in the our midst, quite bemoaned remains a son of the nation, Saud Memon – one of the most tragic victims in Pakistan’s history - and hundreds of other missing people who still languish in torture cells. If the text-books that we teach our kids are to bear the names of martyrs and victims, then shoulder to shoulder with all those soldiers must stand (or lie down) this victim of the government’s brutality, and, perhaps, our own insensitivity. Indeed, the true marsia of our times is the story of Pakistan’s missing – a story that we must sit in majalis to weep over, in the hope that by this public admission of guilt and expression of remorse, a nation that has so brutally wronged so many of its sons and daughter may be forgiven. May it be that in this weeping, we find atonement for our sins.

This was essentially the message of an event arranged today by the Rule of Law Project and LUMS Law & Politics Society. Amina Masood Janjua and Zainab Bibi spoke to students and professors about the ‘disappearance’ of their loved ones, at the hands of Pakistan’s security agencies.

The Movie: Missing in Pakistan

The event started with a brief speech by law professor Roger Normand, which connected the travails of the Missing People and their families with the general trend of human rights abuses resulting out of the War on Terror, both in the USA and in other states which help the US in this war. Then followed the very famous documentary by Ziad Zaffar titled “Missing in Pakistan”, which shows a lot shocking footage. The documentary focuses on the ordeals of the hundred of disappeared people and also sheds light on rampant human rights abuses in the country. Amnesty International reports that more than 2/3rd of the people locked up in Guantanamo Bay were provided by the Pakistani state. Human rights experts agree that the current spree of disappearances in Pakistan and elsewhere are sponsored by the US, as it wages its ‘War on Terror, in defense of liberty’. The documentary also showed the oppression against media people, including the murder of Hayatullah Khan from Waziristan who was murdered by the Army because his pictures of wreckage of an American plane exposed the government false claim that no such planes has ever entered Pakistan’s airspace. Some of the pictures, including beating of women by policeman and their removal of a 15-year-old protesting boy’s shalwar by were so disturbing that they brought many in the audience to tears.

Faisal Faraz: The Aitchison/GIKI graduate

After the movie, Zainab bibi shared the story of her son, Faisal Faraz, a graduate of Aitchison College and GIKI, an engineer who was picked up by the security agencies for no reason and remains missing to date. She said they were fighting this battle all alone. They had knocked the rulers’ doors again and again but to no effect. She said that her husband had died when Faisal was still young and that like all parents, she had invested her life in her son. Now when she is 60 years old, the forces of evil have deprived her of her hope – her son. She said that we had destroyed the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where even a 60-year-old widower could get no justice, no matter how loud she cried and how many doors she knocked. She appealed to the audience to join them in their struggle on the streets and stand up against the government’s injustice.

Amina Masood Janjua: An abducted philanthropist’s wife, Pakistan’s Truly Brave Daughter

Amina Janjua, a school teacher from Islamabad, who has been leading the struggle for the release of the missing people, ever since her husband went missing, more than two and a half years, also shared her own story of the evolution of this struggle.
30 July, 2005 was one fine day, when she bade farewell to her kind and loving husband, an engineer and philanthropist. While he was religious, used to pray and had a beard, he was not connected with any political or militant party. He was going to Peshawar with tablighi friends and promised to be back in 3 days. He never got back. He was picked up. Her father-in-law, a retired army man, tried to contact people in the army who had the audacity to tell a whole series of lies in such desperate times. The family knocked every door in the government and the army but to no avail.

Eventually Amina had no resort but to turn to the streets. She started to collect information about the families of other missing people through various means, including advertising her phone number in press. Eventually, they staged small protests in Islamabad. As news of the protests spread through the media, hundreds of families started contacting her. It turned out that while the nation slept, and General Musharraf proudly boasted selling people for bounty, disappearances had become a nation-wide phenomenon. Her list crossed a hundred, then two hundred… it only keeps increasing. By now, more than 500 such cases have been documented.

She said that back when the judiciary was free under the leadership of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court took suo moto notice of the case of the disappeared and, eventually, more than one hundred people were freed from illegal detention. As the judiciary made senior ISI and IB officials accountable, they was still some hope for her. But, since the imposition of Emergency Plus on Nov 3 and the subsequent dismantling of the judiciary, all hope has been lost. She said that it was a pity that we had a President who had nothing better to boast of in his autobiography than the fact that he sold hundreds of people for the sake of bounty Both the aggrieved ladies appealed to LUMS community and to Pakistani civil society at large to come out of their apathy and to help them in any way possible.. They also urged people to vote only for leaders who were talking about human rights and judicial independence.
Twice in the event, people stood up in the hounour of Amina Janjua, I felt that she was someone all Pakistanis, in fact people all over the Muslim world, need to look up to. In times of immense personal tragedy, this devout Muslim woman rose above herself, allied with similarly aggrieved people and turned that constellation of oppressed into a potent protesting force. Despite the odd, in their struggle they made many strides ahead. Today, she comes to seek our support. Her struggle is truly a people’s struggle – the struggle of people around the Muslim world, being constantly brutalized by the War against Terror. Among other things, she is the icon of Muslim women’s resistance – in that sense too, she represents the hope of a lot of people.

What can you do to help

Amina Masood Janjua talked about the various ways in which students and civil society members could help the cause of the missing. One way is to join the protests. From now on, the Emergency Times ( will keep you updated about an protests that the Missing People organize. Another is to help financially: many of the families who have lost members are desperately poor. She showed us of a tent which is where one such family is living. Set against the parched, cold loneliness of Balochistan’s deserts, the family and its tent looked extremely unprotected and vulnerable. Those people and many others need your money.
Finally, Amina Janjua told us that this odyssey has exposed her to so many of human rights abuses committed particularly in Pakistan’s jails (both the clandestine torture cells and the regular jails) that she has decided to set up an organization called Defense of Human Rights. The organization will initially focus on the missing people, gather information about them, document it and support remedial actions. She needs hundreds of young arms and some financial assistance to support this cause, but she was hopeful that amidst a general civil awakening in Pakistan, this would be possible.

If you are thinking about what to do this summer, you are unlikely to find any employment more meaningful or valuable than working with Amina Janjua in Defence of Human Rights. Specifice information will be posted soon. Stay tuned.

Further Reading:
1. May 5, 2007, SC seeks traced persons affidavits
2. May 5, 2007, ‘Skeleton of a man’ brought to court on stretcher: SC seeks affidavits on freed people
2. May 19, 2007, KARACHI: Key suspect in Daniel Pearl case dies

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