[Reader-list] terrifying world of Pakistan's 'disappeared'

Javed javedmasoo at gmail.com
Mon Mar 22 08:49:04 IST 2010

Robert Fisk: Into the terrifying world of Pakistan's 'disappeared'

In the first of a series of reports from Pakistan, our correspondent
meets the wife of one of 8,000 citizens who have gone 'missing' at the
hands of the state

Thursday, 18 March 2010

If you want to know how brutally Pakistan treats its people, you
should meet Amina Janjua. An intelligent painter and interior
designer, she sits on the vast sofa of her living room in Rawalpindi –
a room that somehow accentuates her loneliness – scarf wound tightly
round her head, serving tea and biscuits like the middle-class woman
she is. And although neither a soldier nor a policeman has ever laid a
hand on her, she is a victim of her country's cruel oppression.
Because, five years ago, her husband Masood became one of Pakistan's

It is a scandal and a disgrace and, of course, a crime against
humanity. Ask not where Masood Janjua has gone – Amina does ask, of
course, all the way up to the President – for he has entered that dark
world wherein dwell up to 8,000 of Pakistan's missing citizens, men,
for the most part, seized from their homes or from the streets by cops
and soldiers on the orders of spies and intelligence agents and
Americans since 11 September, 2001. In Lahore alone, there are 120
"torture houses" just for the missing of the Punjab. Their shrieks of
pain from the basements could be heard by residents – who complained
only that the buildings might provoke bomb attacks. In Pakistan today,
preservation counts for more than compassion.

Masood Janjua was 44 when he was "disappeared" on 30 July 2005. He ran
an IT college and a travel agency, the father of two boys – Mohamed
and Ali, and a girl, Aisha. He just never came home. Nobody saw what
happened. Amina, who was 40 at the time, glows when she speaks of him.
"We were so extremely close, so happy, our world was so heavenly – we
were always visiting friends, having parties at home. He was so caring
and kind to our children, so affectionate. That he should be taken
from me! I think it was a very big mistake that they did. But when
they do it – like this – they never say they were wrong."
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"They". Everyone I talk to here talks about "they". Many refuse to
talk in case it provokes "them" to undertake a quick execution. "They"
is the Inter-Services Intelligence. "They" is military intelligence.
"They" are the Americans, some of them present – according to the few
"disappeared" who have been released – during torture sessions. The
Defence of Human Rights Pakistan (DHRP), the movement which Amina
founded with 25 other bereft families, has gathered evidence of
English-speaking interrogators who calmly ask victims questions during
their torment. Ironically, Amina lives in a military district of
Rawalpindi, beside an old British barracks, where US soldiers are
observed in Pakistani uniforms – sometimes female American soldiers
dressed, so she says, in the uniforms of Pakistani military

Even more ironic was the first word she had of her husband after he
disappeared. "When I went to the Supreme Court to demand his return,
witnesses came forward to say they saw Masood inside an army barracks
here in Rawalpindi, very close to his family. Just think – it was
within walking distance from our home! He was inside a cell at 111
Brigade barracks. It was so sad for me – it was as if they were being
cynical, to keep him so close to his family."

Amina Janjua found that one of the court witnesses lived in Peshawar
and she travelled to the North West Frontier Province to speak to him
five months after her husband disappeared. "He had been in the army
facility in Rawalpindi. The prisoners were kept in solitary
confinement and only when they were taken to the lavatory did they
come close to other prisoners. They were forced to wear big hoods –
hoods that went right down and covered their shoulders – and the
detainees would get no chance to talk to another human being. This man
said my husband was there – he even heard the guard call him

There is evidence that Pakistan's "disappeared" are moved around,
between barracks and interrogation centres and underground torture
facilities in different towns and cities. There are also terrible
rumours – fostered, some say, by the security authorities – that the
army has thrown detainees from helicopters, that the cops dispose of
bodies at night by dumping them in swamps or in open countryside so
that decay and animal mutilation will cover the marks of torture
before the bodies are found. But Amina Janjua believes most of them
are alive. You might say she has to believe that.

"After 9/11, everyone was worried. People were ruthlessly disappeared
after the New York attacks. No one knew why their loved ones were
taken. The first few months were like hell for me. Then I regained my
consciousness and said I could not accept all this. I said I would
fight. I said I would get my husband back." Brave words. Brave lady.

So she turned to the only brave institution still fighting in
Pakistan: the lawyers and the judges and the courts. So far, the
Supreme Court in Islamabad and the Lahore High Court have squeezed
around 200 detainees out of the maw of the country's security
apparatus – those, that is, who were still in Pakistan. Many are known
to have been freighted off to the tender mercies of the Americans at
Bagram in Afghanistan, where Arab detainees have long ago testified to
being beaten and sodomised with broom sticks. There have been prisoner
murders, too, in Bagram, the jail that President Barack Obama refuses
to close.

"At the beginning, I went to the International Red Cross about
Masood," Amina Janjua says. "I saw them over several months. There was
no progress. My father-in-law went to many people, he even went to
President Musharraf – he trained in the military with Musharraf and
they knew each other very well – and Musharraf said, 'I will do
something for you'– but he never did. After that, when we called the
President's house, they would start avoiding us. We wrote to all the
Pakistan intelligence agencies. All said my husband could not be

Many families have been given false hopes. "In some villages way out
in the country," Amina recalls, "families were told by the authorities
that their sons were coming home. These were poor people but they were
so happy, so delighted. They would hold a party and give out sweets
and slaughter valuable animals to show their happiness. But then the
sons didn't come home. Can you imagine treating people like this?"

Amina Janjua's fraudulent hope came in a phone call in 2006, a year
after Masood's disappearance. "We had our first breakthrough when the
military secretary of the President called Masood's father to say that
his son was alive and that they had heard about him, though he had
been ill – in a fever. That was our first sign of relief.

"Then he started avoiding us again. There was no message after that.
Then we were told 'No, he is not with us, but we are making every
effort because the President has made this request to help you.' I
went on asking senior people in the army what had happened to my
husband, and they – I put it like this – they started shivering. They
would shudder. They could not disclose any information."

Teaching herself law and fighting her own case, Amina Janjua returned
to the Supreme Court. "When I did this, I started hearing of many
other cases and things that are happening. And that's when I realised.
It's not about 'missing' people – this is about abduction. I started
organising files on these abducted people and eventually I had 788
families on my list and I started conducting research. And we got
about 200 prisoners released. The courts ordered this. They were all
still in Pakistan. Others, we know, had been taken to Bagram, three or
four to Guantanamo Bay where at least we knew they were alive."

But Amina's research could prove terrifying. She discovered not only
that abducted men were alive. They were also dead. "I suspected some
of them had died," she said. "I know of three prisoners who are dead.
One was Mohamed Shafiq; he was a coach driver and they released his
death certificate – it said he died of 'some illness'. He was in his
40s. One of the prisoners, a businessman called Said Menon, died
shortly after he was released.

"All of the 200 we got released had been tortured. Initially, it was
very ruthless – they were not allowed to sleep; there were beatings
and thrashings; they were hanged upside down. There was loud music.
There were actual torture rooms where the things were done to them.
The prisoners told us they didn't think their torturers were human
beings at all. The faces of the torturers, they said, were horrifying.
It was no longer a real world for them. The torturers seemed so
powerful, like monsters, so big."

The questions they were asked were repetitive, according to Amina
Janjua. Where are the guns? Where are the weapons? Where is Mullah
Omar? Two prisoners described to Amina's committee how they were made
to wear orange jumpsuits, shaven till they were bald and taken for
questioning to Islamabad. "They were interrogated by foreigners – they
could see them. They were English-speaking. They didn't know if they
were Americans or British."

The DHRP now holds public protests in all the cities of Pakistan where
the prisoners have their homes – in Lahore, Sagoda, Quetta,
Faisalabad, Karachi, Peshawar – but the families focus on Islamabad
where they demonstrate their fury and their anguish outside the
Supreme Court and the offices of President Asif Ali Zardari and the
Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. The DHRP files show that there are
1,700 missing from Baluchistan alone. At least 4,000 appear to be in
the hands of the Pakistani interior ministry, while 2,000 have been
handed over to what the DHRP describes as "foreign agencies" –
usually, the Americans. Perhaps 750 of the missing Pakistanis are
believed to have been taken by the Americans – illegally, of course –
to Bagram, the Policharki prison outside Kabul, or to Herat in western


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