The arrest of General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan provides new hope to the families of hundreds of Pakistanis who’ve gone missing since the ‘War on Terror’ came to Pakistan
HASSAN GHANI, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, ISLAMABAD: General Pervez Musharraf has certainly fallen a long way. Once the strongman in a nation of nearly 200 million, today he languishes as a prisoner in his own home, armed police and rangers outside, more for his own protection than to prevent his escape.
He’d ruled the country for almost a decade, having overthrown its democratically elected government in 1999. But despite enjoying full support from the U.S. government as a loyal ally in the so-called war on terror, Musharraf fled Pakistan in 2008, after his attempts to overrule the country’s judicial system failed and domestic political support completely collapsed.
But with Pakistan facing corruption, instability, political violence, and an energy crisis, the general turned politician returned to the country last month as a self-styled saviour of the nation to run in the May 11 elections.
For the General, it was a major strategic error. The support he expected simply wasn’t there. What he did get was a shoe thrown at his face by a lawyer.
Things turned from bad to worse as he faced a raft of lawsuits and charges stemming from his actions as military ruler. As Musharraf attended a hearing in Islamabad’s high court, the judge issued an order for his arrest, a historic moment in a nation where military leaders are seen as untouchable.
?He quickly fled the court where the arrest order was issued and returned to his residence. He’s now become a prisoner in his own farmhouse, here, outside Rawalpindi.?
We were prevented from joining domestic Pakistani media at the entrance. The police told us they were under strict orders not to allow international media through.
Amid all of this chaos, there’s at least one woman who’s glad Musharraf has returned to face justice, even if that wasn’t his plan. Four days a week, Amina Masood Janjua drives to the Supreme Court in Islamabad to file cases for what are known as Pakistan’s ?Missing Persons.
One of Pervez Musharraf’s biggest controversies, still ongoing but now almost forgotten by the mainstream media, is the campaign of enforced disappearances conducted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies at the behest of the United States in the wake of the invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan. Pervez Musharraf admits in his biography that he handed over hundreds of suspects, including many Pakistani citizens, without charge or trial, to the U.S. for bounties totalling millions of dollars. The campaign later included domestic political dissidents, human rights organizers, journalists, or those who simply appeared suspect. Some have ended up renditioned to U.S. secret prisons around the world. Others are assumed held by Pakistani agencies, for years without charge, trial, or any contact with the outside world.
Amina’s husband, Masood Ahmad Janjua, a successful businessman until his disappearance, is among them.
AMINA MASOOD JANJUA: I believe that Massoud is still detained somewhere very close, I mean, in Rawalpindi or Islamabad area, where I have been given evidences from many detainees there are cells in this area. If anybody has died, you come to accept that thing, you know, your heart is at peace, because he is with God, the soul has departed. But feeling that your loved one is in trouble, he’s detained, he can’t see the sun, he can’t breathe properly, he can’t be given good food, natural air, and especially he’s away from his loving family, these tears are [incompr.] It gives us more spirit to fight.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think after eight years they won’t release him?
JANJUA: I think they’re afraid of the media factor, because it has been like one of the top of the list case and it has been [incompr.] like, because of my struggle, it has become too much of limelight. Everybody wants to know about the fate of my husband, what happened to him.
GHANI: It was her husband’s disappearance that sparked her activism. Today, Amina Masood Janjua is leading the campaign to trace and release these missing persons. Without the funds needed to hire lawyers, she’s learned and applied the law herself, for both her own husband’s case and hundreds of others in the same situation.
JANJUA: If you think that they are terrorists, you bring them in open court of law and prove it. We also challenge that all those who are disappeared are innocent because they have been taken out of the reach of the law.
I felt for those wives, those mothers who are in search of their loved ones. But they could not find any clues. All the corridors of power were closed for them.
I found myself responsible to guide them or to hold their hand for recovery of their loved ones. I have become one of the lawyers–like lawyers, I would say. And the judges have accepted me like this.
GHANI: There has until now been no progress on the likes of Massoud Janjua. Musharraf’s return to Pakistan and subsequent arrest has provided new hope for those families whose members were disappeared under his regime and remain missing.
JANJUA: He was the ex-president, as well as the chief of army staff. And when he is–the law is stronger than him. So if the law is holding him accountable, then in future the things will be brighter, of course. There’ll be more rule of law. There’ll be–the civil society is going to be stronger in future. And we are going to have a new political government very soon. So things will not be easy for the high-ranking in the army. So they are going to think twice now before doing any kind of illegal activities.
LT. GEN HAMID GUL: Okay, now, we accept that Pervez Musharraf is from a Third World country, and Third World country rulers, particularly dictators, are very vulnerable [incompr.] But what about those who were buying human beings for $5,000? Is it not reminiscent of the slave trade with you to go on?
GHANI: Retired general Hamid Gul previously headed Pakistan’s biggest intelligence agency, the ISI, in the late 1980s. Once an ally of the U.S., fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, he’s now become a fierce critic and says the United States must accept responsibility for the alleged kidnappings, torture, and renditions committed in its name.
GUL: Somebody should question them. But I think the West as a whole and Western society as a whole is somehow becoming bankrupt in morality. And that really hurts us, because they set the values for us. Many of the exalted values were actually set before us, because we were ruled by the British for so long, and they told us rule of law, honesty, dedication, and truthfulness, and respect for humanity, and this, that, the other. Where has it all gone?
GHANI: Amina’s campaign includes cases from across Pakistan from all regions. I joined her as she travelled to the town of Bakkar, close to Pakistan’s tribal regions. Here we met the children of Shaukat Hayat. They’re now living with their uncle after the disappearance of their father.
MUHAMMAD HAMAD, SON OF SHAUKAT HAYAT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): He was leaving the house in Peshawar when the police and soldiers grabbed him on the main road. After that we have no idea where he is, and they won’t tell us where he is.
It’s not his fault. He just worked in Peshawar and would come home after the evening prayer. But still they they grabbed him, like he’s a terrorist or he’s this or that.
INTERVIEWER: But he never tried to harm Pakistan?
HAMAD: No. Absolutely not. We’ve changed a lot compared to before. But you have to live. Difficult or easy, you have to bear it.
GHANI: Also here to show his support was Noor Hasan from Multan, whose son Sajjad was taken less than two years ago. He too believes his son is completely innocent.
NOOR HASAN, FATHER OF SAJJAD UL HASAN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): A car came from behind, and there was a black car in front. They said, “Everyone get off. We’re going to search the vehicle.” That’s when they grabbed him. They covered his face with a cloth and took him in a car. God only knows where they went.
Two boys were released three months ago. I met with them. They said, “They’ll release him. There’s no case against him.” So we can’t understand why they don’t release him. What’s the purpose? Look, if they want to process him officially, if there’s a case against him, do it. Bring it out in the open and do it. We won’t object.
What is this? We don’t know anything, where he is, how he is. His mother is sick, doesn’t know if he’s alive or dead. We reassure her, but still there’s a lot of pain.
GHANI: Through its policies in the region, the U.S. appears to be creating new enemies unnecessarily. Many of these families were previously oblivious to politics, foreign affairs, and the so-called war on terror until it was brought down upon them.
JANJUA: People get more annoyed and more angry. And when they come to the–even those who are not educated, when they run into discussion that why all these things are happening or why this is not stopping and why are people are not being released, they–at the bottom of all things, they find that there is a very big superpower involved. So in their hearts there’s, you know, a bad feeling for this power, that whoever the U.S. is, they don’t, like, wish it well.
HAMAD: We have just one hope, that he’ll come back soon and be with us.
GHANI: It’s possible that some of the men may have had links with Islamic organizations, but that isn’t a crime, and there’s no evidence that they’ve broken any laws. Those who are released refuse to speak to the media for fear of being abducted again. Amina claims some of the men have undergone serious torture, while others have died in custody.
GHANI: When I first met Amina back in 2007, I filmed an interview with her husband’s aging parents. Back then, their only wish was for their son Masood to face trial or come home while they were still alive. In January this year, Masood’s mother passed away waiting for his return. His father, himself a retired army officer, under whom Musharraf once served, now waits alone.
JANJUA: She was bedridden for four years. She fought and fought. And in the end he was simply asking that with–she couldn’t speak, but she was–just used to ask about Masood with hands. So, in fact, she was waiting for her son.
And when I went to her grave after her death, I uttered the same words which I used to say in her life. I told her that I will keep on struggling and that Masood will come back, I promise you that.
GHANI: But Musharraf’s legacy of enforced disappearances continues today. Amina Janjua claims the number of disappearances during the term of the current elected government have actually risen. So far, the civilian government’s promises to resolve the issue have amounted to little more than lip service. But she remains optimistic that the U.S.’s upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s general elections this month will have a positive impact on these cases.
JANJUA: The coming government will have a better opportunity to do away with the policies of the U.S. and with collaborating with the U.S. The military will also realize their mistakes by enforcing human rights violations, bombing their own citizens, abducting their own citizens, allowing drones to be on their own citizens. So that has only added to their problems and given them a bad name.
GHANI: Amina says there are currently more than 900 people who remain disappeared across Pakistan, for whom she’s filing cases at the Supreme Court. And she’s investigating several hundred more.
For General Musharraf, his fate too remains unclear. Nobody can quite understand what he was thinking returning to a nation where so many are now baying for his blood.
It’s here at the Supreme Court that General Musharraf’s troubles first began during his rule, when the chief justice of Pakistan challenged his autocratic rule. And it’s here, again, in Pakistan’s courts that Pervez Musharraf finds himself fighting for his very survival, again miscalculating the strength of the judicial system. His predicament will come as a small but welcome measure of justice to the families of Pakistan’s missing persons.
With cameraman Arsal Jalib, this is Hassan Ghani for the Real News, in Islamabad, Pakistan.?