When I first saw Amina it was in a documentary about the missing people of Pakistan, it was a fiery Amina shouting, pleading for help while the police dragged her son and hustled him in to a waiting van. Ever since then that image has never left my mind. An image of a helpless mother furiously pleading for help while holding her son’s shalwar (trouser) ,which was ripped off by the police during the struggle, with only one question in her eyes What have we done to earn the insult?.
These are the missing people of Pakistan- men and women have been abducted, imprisoned and in most cases tortured by our all-powerful intelligence agencies. Over 400 cases have been counted since 2002 by The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; over hundreds, more are estimated to be missing the phenomenon was termed “a sweep against the Al-Qaeda”. A sweep operation driven to frenzy, now with over 650 people missing across Pakistan. Among these are doctors, teachers, businessmen, academics, and housewives. Each one of them with a name, a family, a home and a life that continues to question these illegal abductions. Whether they are guilty or innocent is hard to find out because not one has appeared before a court.
Over the course of time, the struggle of these people was brought into the limelight. This was the time when media drive against Ex-President Musharraf was on its peak. Protestors marched the streets enchanting slogans, questioning the fate of the missing people and the Lal Masjid operation.It was the time where the Country’s judicial movement had begun endorsing several other missions, including the missing people’s case. These were the days of fiery press conferences accusing the President of selling his soul to the devil, the good old United States. The Judiciary has been restored however; the cases of the missing victims remain pending.
After 4 years of exhausting struggle on the roads of Pakistan, Amina continues to be hopeful. Her struggle initially began as a proetst agaisnt the adduction of her husband Masood Janjua, who was heading an IT college prior to his arrest, Masood has never been charged and presented in the court. The struggle has evolved into a platform for families of the missing victims. Amina Masood Janjua now heads the Defence of Human Rights Pakistan. An organization that represents the missing people in Pakistan. Organizing candle lit camps, seminars, painting exhibitions by the children of the missing and collecting funds to facilitate the families of the victims.
My recent conversation with Amina was regarding the status of her struggle, since the Judiciary that hailed to free the missing victims is yet to come up with a mode of action. Interacting with Amina has left me thinking about ways in which her struggle has changed with time. The Amina I spoke to answered my questions after calmly assessing them reflecting how her focus has now shifted to proceed with a rather logical approach than the initial emotional outburst. Below are a few questions that I was able to ask her in our brief conversation.
What is the Status of the missing people’s case? When is the Chief Justice taking action for the missing people of Pakistan as promised?
I have sent several letters to the Chief Justice, but received no response. Yet I continue to be hopeful. Just yesterday, I met with the Registrar Supreme Court of Pakistan and made requests regarding my case. They have been polite and reassuring over the time. Yet there has not been any action up until now. I am hopeful and will continue to write letters and struggle for the cause. Our pleas cannot be ignored and we have been assured that the cases will be taken up and action will be taken. We continue to await Justice.
Do you feel that the support of the people has faltered after Musharraf’s resignation and now that the Judiciary has been restored?
The support continues even after the Judicial Movement. There are still considerable amounts of people who continue to support us. It is just that I have now refrained form holding public demonstration. The families of the victims are now exhausted. I do not wish to exhaust their energies; it has been a long struggle. For over four years, we have been holding demonstration all across Pakistan. It has drained them now; my focus is now on arranging seminars and camps.
Since you are not holding any demonstration, in what ways do you expect people to stand by your struggle and show support in order to pressurise the authorities to take up the cases?
We hold seminars where we talk about the issue of the missing victims. These seminars include lawyers and prominent human right activists. Our mission is to educate people and to highlight that illegal abductions are unconstitutional. It is a crime punishable by death. Yet the Authorities seem to continue without fear since there is no vocal boycott. People can help by arranging seminars and inviting speakers to spread awareness regarding the issue. Our main aim is the youth, our struggle is for them, and my struggle is for the father of my children.
How has your organization helped the families of the missing people? Have you been able to trace any of the missing victims or do you fear that they have been sent to prisons abroad like Guantanamo or Bargram?
My organization focuses on highlighting these cases and bringing the pleas of the victims’ family to the forefront. Until now, I have registered over 150 new cases from which over 50 have been traced within months. The authorities identified these individuals and informed us that these people are in various jails with in Pakistan. My husband is in custody of Pakistani agencies in Gujar Khan Area. I have a feeling that most of these people have been kept in detention centres with in Pakistan.
You must have heard regarding the news of international detention centres being shut down. The Obama administration has ordered Guantanamo to shut down. There have been widespread demands of interrogation probe regarding torture of detainees. How does that make you feel?
I feel extremely hopeful; there are many people being released. The news of the detention centres being closed down is a big step forward. I feel that the Pakistani agencies should take note and shut down these illegal operation centres within Pakistan. Now that the Global Community has stepped forward its time that Pakistani authorities also join in. I am hopeful that many of these detainees will be returned home. With each return, our hopes continue to strengthen.
What are the upcoming campaigns by your organization? Could you please elaborate for our readers how they could possible participate and be a part of your struggle?
We need a forum to mobilize the youth of the country. We aim towards making an environment where human rights matter. A society that is safe and respects the rights of individuals. Apart from this being an emotional dilemma, it is also an economic crisis. Most families have lost their sole earners; they are even deprived of necessities such as flour. My organization caters for them as well as raising voice for their lost ones. I would request help from all factions of the society lawyers, NGO’s, writers, Human right activists, youth and everyone else to join in our cause. Arrange seminars help our cause grow. For those living abroad could help by sending funds, which would be used to arrange seminars and to support the families of the victims.
Amina represents the families of over 650 missing people of Pakistan. Those gone without a trace. Dragged out of their houses and hustled into waiting vans while their families watched terrified. Hundreds have joined ranks among the disappeared victims of Pakistan leaving loved ones appalled and helpless. The tearful loved ones have been left gasping for help, fighting fluctuating justice. While we crusade along boycotting American led attacks on the country, who shall we hold accountable for the disappearance of hundreds of Pakistanis. My last post talked about the CIA interrogation probe and what it could mean for Pakistan and yet looking at this makes me wonder if it would really matter. If we will not stop the malignant out growth of the war on terror who will? The truth is as we stand against the tortures there are many Pakistani versions of Guantanamo that need to be shut down. It is our right as citizens of this country to ask the authorities for accountability and brining these individuals to trial.It is our duty to bring Justice to the disappeared victims of Pakistan whose families have been left in a torturous limbo changing their lives forever.
Note: Details for donations can be seen on the official website of Defence Of Human Rights Pakistan