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Monday, February 8, 2010

The case of missing persons

A national shame.

Va la-qad karramna banee Aadam (Al-Qur’an, 17/70)
[Indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam]

- but, alas, our secret agencies know not!

Early last month, when the government’s defiance of the Supreme Court ruling on Musharraf’s notorious presidential decree NRO had shaken the country, the Supreme Court opened up another front. This time the adversary was far more intimidating: the fearsome secret agencies of Pakistan, backed up by the might of Pakistan’s army. Was this too great a risk taken by the judiciary, fighting the two most powerful organs of state simultaneously?

Be that as it may, on 7 January 2010 a three-man bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Javed Iqbal, resumed hearing of petitions in the case of missing persons filed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and other parties. This case, concerning people who had been snatched off the streets of Pakistan and whisked away, has been stuttering along since 2005 – before his outrageous sacking by Musharraf in 2008, the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was presiding over the hearings of this case. However, a swift end is expected in light of Justice Javed Iqbal’s announcement on 28 January that a decision could be made in February.

During the scandalous dictatorship of Musharraf the dignity of Pakistan’s citizens was at rock bottom, including Musharraf’s own, who could be relied on by the Americans to perform the most shameful deeds without demur. Since Pakistan’s involvement in the USA’s “war on terror”, hundreds of Pakistanis have been abducted, detained and tortured. Many have been handed over to the USA’s intelligence agencies. I understand that Musharraf has boastfully provided some figures in his book “In the line of fire” (which I haven’t read – and I have no intention of reading). Apparently, on page 237 of the book he says, “We have captured 689 (people) and handed over 369 to the United States. Various people have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars.” Did this man have a conscience? Here he is openly admitting trading in human lives for millions of dollars and he sees nothing wrong with that!

The symbolic value of a successful prosecution in this case is immense for it will give dignity to the citizens of Pakistan and it may, in time, lead to extension of the rule of law to the powerful Pakistani intelligence agencies and the army. Is this a pipe dream or will Pakistan’s Supreme Court succeed in its glorious bid to bring to heel the country’s security establishment?

How the case originated and subsequent progress

The phenomenon of Pakistanis disappearing mysteriously began some time after Musharraf’s infamous capitulation to a telephone call from the USA’s General Colin Powell. Nobody knows the exact number of disappearances – the figures vary greatly from one source to another. The Defence of Human Rights of Pakistan seems to have estimated the number of missing persons as being in the range 8,000 – 10,000. The website of DHRP states: “The Pakistani government suggests that only 4,000 have been arrested since 2001. Human Rights organizations claim thousands more. It is impossible to ascertain the correct figures.” However, the figure that the federal government seems to have given to the Supreme Court is around 1,600, many of whom are claimed to have been recovered. The Balochistan government speaks of some 1000 Balochis missing.

As the extract from Musharraf’s book confirms, hundreds of missing persons are thought to be Pakistani citizens whom the Americans suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In violation of Pakistani and international laws these people were simply handed over to the Americans in return for fat wads of dollars, resulting in some Pakistanis in positions of power becoming obscenely rich trading away the freedom of their compatriots to the Americans. Other missing persons are thought to include people associated with various militant groups, journalists and others who simply upset powerful people with their outspoken views.

The HRCP originally filed a petition on behalf of the families of missing persons in 2005. At a time when Pakistan was in the iron grip of a military dictator, the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry summoned up courage to constitute a bench to hear the petition. Notices were sent to the Attorney General and the Interior Ministry to answer questions and to file a detailed reply to account for the missing persons. So far as I am able to ascertain, these notices by the “upstart CJP” were not taken seriously. The Attorney General ignored the Court’s instructions and did not make an appearance in court; worse, he instructed the Deputy Attorney General (DAG) to deal with the matter. As for the Interior Ministry, it did not file a reply as directed by the court!

In 2006 the Supreme Court took up regular hearings of these petitions. That same year the HRCP issued a report which claimed that the number of persons picked up by intelligence agencies, and detained at secret locations, was growing at an “alarming rate”. Musharraf tried to deflect attention away from the army’s secret agencies by claiming that it was the “jihadis” who were responsible for the disappearances. The Asian Human Rights Commission on Pakistan backed the stance of HRCP by saying: “some 600 person are believed to have disappeared during this year following their arrests by the law enforcement agencies.”

Given Musharraf’s opposition to this case, the progress was extremely slow. Finally, at the SC hearing on April 10 2007, the hapless DAG blurted out in frustration: “It’s a very sensitive case and I am completely helpless. All I can do is to contact Interior Ministry and that I did. But they didn’t give me any information about the whereabouts of those missing people.”

After five hearings since December 2006 the poor DAG remained as clueless as ever, getting no worthwhile information from the Interior Ministry. In desperation he said:
”The crisis in the country is due to the non-enforcement of the Constitution … I have sentiments, too, being a father, a brother and a husband and feel the difficulties of the families of the missing persons. Therefore, I cannot face them.”

In November 2007 Musharraf imposed a state of emergency and suspended a majority of judges. It is thought that the missing persons’ case was a factor in the 2008 sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry by the military dictator. Following the departure of Musharraf from the scene, Iftikhar Chaudhry was eventually reinstated in March 2009 after an intensive civil society campaign. Not surprisingly, the case of missing persons was revived.

The Acting Attorney-General, Shah Khawar, informed the Supreme Court last November that a detailed list of people handed over to the USA by the Musharraf regime would be very helpful in resolving this case. The clear implication was that the intelligence agencies were not co-operating and the civilian government was unable to provide a comprehensive list of missing persons to the Supreme Court.

In the course of proceedings on 7 January the advocate for the defence requested the court to summon heads of the Military Intelligence and the Inter-Services Intelligence. Justice Javed Iqbal’s sardonic response was: “the last time we tried to summon them we were sent home for almost 16 months”.

The hearing on 21 January directed the government to provide a full list of Pakistanis handed over to the US as well as those in jail in Afghanistan, India and other countries.

The best known “missing person”

The most widely publicised case is that of the neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who belongs to the group accused by the USA of having links with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. On 31 March 2003 Dr Siddiqui and her three children disappeared while on their way to Karachi airport. Nothing more was heard of them over the next five years though the American intelligence agencies lost no opportunity to malign her as an Al-Qaeda terrorist (they gave her the sobriquet ‘Lady Al-Qaeda’). In August 2008 the Americans claimed that she and her eldest child had been in their custody in Afghanistan since July 2008. It was not disclosed where she had been the previous five years though she looked haggard and emaciated and bore scars of sustained periods of torture.

In the missing persons’ trial in Pakistan, however, Dr Siddiqui’s counsel has requested that the SC bench instruct the intelligence services to disclose how she had gone missing and ended up in American custody. To date no response has been received.

Meanwhile, the Americans organised a trial of Dr Siddiqui in New York. She was not accused of terrorism at all as one would have expected in light of the Americans’ campaign to damn her as an Al-Qaeda terrorist during her long disappearance. Instead, the charge was one of attempting to kill USA military personnel by seizing one of their weapons! The fact that the Americans shot her twice and tortured her and abused her was neither here nor there. This travesty of justice, a kangaroo trial if ever there was one, began on 19 January 2010 and ended with a ‘guilty’ verdict on 3 February. The flimsy evidence produced in court was shredded apart by the defence team but the jury remained unmoved.

During the trial of Dr Aafia Siddiqui no questions were asked about her abduction from Karachi 2003, what happened to her during the five long years between March 2003 and July 2008, and the fate of her two younger children. This shameful episode smacks of obscene collaboration between the secret agencies of the USA and Pakistan. It is my hope that our own Supreme Court will address these issues in the ongoing case of missing Pakistanis.

Some other persons who had gone missing

Though many of the missing persons have been recovered since the Supreme Court hearings began, many more are still missing. In very many cases it is hard to know what “crimes” they had committed to deserve this extra-judicial punishment.

I picked up the following information while googling the internet. Unfortunately, I have lost the name of the website which provided this information.

Asad Usman, a nine-year-old boy, was picked up by the Balochistan Frontier Constabulary paramilitary force, in an attempt to force his wanted elder brother to surrender. He was detained in Tump or Mand, near Turbat in Balochistan province. The Supreme Court ordered his release on April 27, 2007.

Masood Janjua, a businessman, was seized while riding a bus on 30 July 2005. The government has so far not acknowledged that its security forces are holding him though several former detainees have claimed to have met him during their detention. Masood Janjua’s wife, Amna Janjua, now heads the Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, and is diligently pursuing the case of Mr Janjua and other victims of illegal detention by the government agencies.

Dr Imran Munir, a Malaysian citizen of Pakistani origin, was arrested in July 2006 and his whereabouts remained unknown until the Supreme Court was informed in its hearing on May 4 2007, that he was facing court martial on charges of “spying against Pakistan”. A month later, the court was informed that Dr Munir had been sentenced to eight years in prison.

The court ordered his appearance in court and, on finding that his health was deteriorating, ordered his admission into hospital. Dr Munir was set to record his statement regarding his enforced disappearance when the hearing was disrupted with the imposition of the state of emergency in November 2007. Dr Munir’s conviction was set aside by military authorities after the Supreme Court questioned the conviction. Dr Munir is still confined to a hospital in Islamabad.

Shamsun Nissa, 60, has reported that her only son, Attiqur Rehman, was picked up by intelligence agencies from his hometown Abbottabad on the day he was to get married in June 2004.

Saud Memon, a Karachi businessman, disappeared in March 2003. He was wanted in connection with the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl as he allegedly owned the shed where Pearl’s body was found. Four years later, Memon was dropped off, emaciated and near death, at the doorstep of his family home in Karachi. He died two weeks later. While hospital authorities said he died of tuberculosis and meningitis, his family alleged he had been tortured by the authorities. He was never officially arrested or detained and lost contact with the family. Investigators at Human Rights Watch believe he was held in CIA custody before being turned over to Pakistani intelligence agents.

Abid Zaidi, 26, was released from illegal captivity by the law enforcement agencies. Narrating his ordeal of prolonged torture and ill-treatment, he said that he was kidnapped on false charges of being involved in a bomb blast in Karachi. “I was handcuffed and blindfolded for over three months during which they constantly accused me of the crime I was not involved in and forced me to admit that I was a part of the conspiracy,” he said. Abid, who is a PhD from the Karachi University, was ‘picked up’ on April 26, 2006, and was released three months later.

Face-off between the judiciary and the ISI/MI/IB behemoth

The Supreme Court panel of three judges considers the case of missing persons to be bigger than that of the NRO. It is curious then that while the Pakistani newspapers and television have kicked up an almighty fuss over the NRO their response to the missing persons’ case has been muted. Hamid Mir, in his ‘Jang’ column on 25 January 2010, explained why. His revelation that on 5 January the secret agencies kidnapped the teenage son of the head of a news agency as punishment for giving coverage to the missing persons’ case is truly extraordinary. No wonder people are reluctant to speak up for fear of the army’s backlash. Hamid Mir’s article can be read here.

A report published on 21 January in The Nation said:

“Some analysts here predict that the judiciary will be no match for the army and the ISI. ‘They don’t have the resolve or power to bring the military establishment to account,’ says Badar Alam, a senior editor for Pakistan’s Herald magazine, noting that the heads of the ISI and IB were called before the court in 2008 in connection with the case, without resolution.”

My personal view is that the common factor between the two cases of NRO and Missing Persons is the former dictator Musharraf. He is the one responsible for both evils and it is he who must be brought before Pakistan’s Supreme Court to shed light on all aspects of these cases.



Tailpiece

This article was also posted at the website of the critical supporters of the PPP: here.

Yvonne Ridley, an investigative journalist who had uncovered the fact of Dr Aafia Siddiqui being forcibly held in American captivity in Afghanistan, has written a perceptive article on the astounding verdict in the Dr Aafia Siddiqui case that ended in a New York Court last week. Here is the link to Ms Ridley's article:

http://www.americanpendulum.com/2010/02/truth-about-u-s-justice-dr-aafia-siddiqui/




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