The News, Jan 25, 2009
Why are the courts silent over the missing?
By Omar R. Quraishi
I often get mails from Amina Masood Janjua -- who is the wife of Masood Janjua, missing for dozens of months, and according to her, picked up by the intelligence agencies during the time of General Musharraf. Hers is one of many cases of disappearances of dozens of Pakistani citizens during the previous government, otherwise known as the missing persons' scandal.
Mrs Janjua has written letters to even Barack Obama -- though one wonders whether they ever managed to make it to him -- and says that her US visa was revoked some weeks ago minutes before she was to board a plane from Geneva to New York, where she had gone to speak on the missing persons' scandal. No reason was given for this -- it never is -- but it probably had to do with the fact that many of the people picked up during Musharraf's regime were detained because of their alleged involvement in the war on terror. In the case of Masood Janjua, the government has yet to inform a court of law of his whereabouts. His wife however is convinced that he is in the custody of the intelligence agencies because she says that one former detainee, who was also held incommunicado but eventually released, said that he had seen him in a military prison. In addition, she says, her husband was contacted by an army officer for questioning and soon after he
While Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was the chief justice, he took it upon himself to hear such cases. Several people who had been held incommunicado were released because of the efforts of the Supreme Court under him to keep asking the government to do more. For instance, when the hearings began initially, one saw the usual passing of the buck. The interior ministry was made the respondent and when its representative did show up he told the court that the people who had disappeared were not in the custody of any law-enforcement agency under the ministry's jurisdiction -- meaning the police and paramilitary forces. The ministry officials were asked by the court that who then should be held responsible and whether the missing were in the custody of the military, to which they replied that the intelligence agencies did not come under the interior ministry's purview and that the ministry could not direct officials of military intelligence agencies to appear before the court.
At least then -- not sure about now -- the court could see through these tactics and the fact that they were a blatant violation of one of the cardinal rights guaranteed to citizens under the constitution and by the law -- the writ of habeas corpus -- and kept on asking the government for answers. This eventually bore fruit -- though not personally for Mrs Janjua. Several of those who had disappeared turned up at their homes, dropped off quietly by their captors while some were produced before the court. Then there is the case of Saud Memon, said to be a well-off businessman and a major financier of the militant group whose members were allegedly involved in Daniel Pearl's murder (the house where the reporter was kept and eventually killed, police claim, was owned by this man). He was reported missing for almost four years and was eventually produced when the Supreme Court began taking interest in cases of the missing. He was brought in a wheelchair, and according to newspaper reports, he weighed a mere 80 pounds had lost his memory and could not recognize his own family members. He had earlier been released and left on some street by his captors in terrible health. He died a few days later.
Now it may well be that the allegation against him may have been true but the government should have produced him before a court of law, charged him for it, and given him a chance to defend himself. That should have been done with all those who were picked up and that surely needs to be done now as well -- since many of those who were picked up -- like Amina Masood Janjua's husband -- are still missing and their
families are looking for them.
Here is an email that I got in response to my column of last week on Swat. It was written by a doctor who is from Swat and does not wish to disclose his identity. It is worth reprinting in full, without censoring, because it may well reflect the opinion that people of the region have about the rest of the country and of its institutions. It goes like this: "The people of Swat have a rich history and cultural values to their credit. They are law-abiding and peace-loving people. They had their own government, which catered to all their social needs like any other social welfare state. Violence was unknown to them and the valley was called a paradise of the East for good reason. After its merger with Pakistan, it lost many things and gained all the ills of Pakistan's pro-militancy strategy. Our government's policies have nothing to do with public opinion. They are run by a few generals and their puppets. They only care for their personal interests with an utter disregard for the sons of the soil. "Now we, Pakhtuns, are the chosen victims of this policy, no less than the Jews were the victims of Holocaust. It is now an open secret that Taliban regiment is the semi-official wing of the Pakistan army. It is, as they claim, their strategic asset. They are paid by the ISI to terrorise and kill the social and political activists at home and to bleed Pakistan's neighbours to the east and the west. The modus-operandi of the fake operation in Swat indicates that Taliban regiment and the Punjab regiment are in fact Siamese twins --joined at the hip. We no more love Pakistan and its army. They have turned our paradise into hell."
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.