In Pakistan, high court investigates 'disappearances' in wake of 9/11

In a move that could shed light on Pakistan’s intelligence services, the Supreme Court is investigating the extrajudicial detention of more than 1,000 Pakistanis after 9/11, some of whom are still missing.

Photo courtesy of Amnesty International/MCT/Newscom
In this 2008 photo, Pakistani human rights campaigner Amina Janjua holds a photograph of her husband, Masood, who disappeared in 2005. Hundreds of Pakistanis are said to have gone missing at the hands of Pakistan intelligence agencies since Pakistan joined the "war on terror."

Nearly five years after her husband went missing, Amina Janjua remains hopeful of his recovery along with scores of others who were "disappeared" by Pakistan’s secretive intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We’re confident now. The courts are on the right track and they’re making progress,” says the diminutive, head-scarfed woman, who insists on representing herself before Pakistan’s Supreme Court. “Of course it’s going to be difficult... the last time they looked into these cases they were sent home,” she says, referring to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency in November 2008, which resulted in most of Pakistan’s Supreme Court justices being sacked.

Experts say an ongoing hearing in Pakistan’s Supreme Court tests the limits of the judiciary’s ability to curb the influence of Pakistan’s security agencies, including the all-powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) which has in the past been termed a "state within a state."

In the years since the 2001 attacks in the US, several hundred people suspected of links to militant groups have been held in secret detention centers and some were transferred to the the United States for cash. The Pakistani government also imprisoned hundreds of activists fighting for autonomy in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Case of Junjua's husband typical

The case of Mrs. Janjua’s husband, Masood Anwar, is fairly typical. According to Janjua, the travel-agency owner stepped out on the evening of July 30, 2005, along with Faisal Fayyaz to catch a bus. She hasn’t heard from him or seen him since. A leaked confirmation of his detention from a senior intelligence officer and the testimony of a former detainee who claims he briefly shared a cell with Mr. Janjua keeps her hope alive.

“This [case] is important in the sense that this would result in accountability of the intelligence agencies because intelligence agencies would be scrutinized," says Hassan Askari-Rizwi, a political analyst based in Lahore.

Pakistan’s civilian establishment was rocked last month when the Supreme Court ruled a political amnesty known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance was unconstitutional. That ruling paved the way for a revival of corruption cases against senior politicians, bureaucrats, and diplomats. Among them are several cabinet members and Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington.

Mr. Rizwi says the missing person’s case has the potential to challenge Pakistan’s security establishment, and by extension the Army, in the same way the amnesty case challenged the civilian politicians. But, he cautions: “This is happening for the first time. I don’t know if they will be able to succeed.”

Up to 1,600 people went missing

The so-called missing persons case was earlier headed by Ifthikar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s iconic chief justice, before he was sacked in 2008. He was restored as a result of the so-called lawyers’ movement in the spring of 2009 and the case was reopened in late November.

Thursday’s hearing 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.
Attorney General Mansoor Khan told the court that up to 1,600 people went missing between 2001 and 2008 though most have now been recovered. According to Janjua, who now heads an organization called the Defence of Human Rights and Public Services Pakistan, some 172 people remain missing.

"It may be that my husband is still missing because they [the ISI] want to take revenge on me for embarrassing them," she says. Justice Iqbal, who heads the three-member bench which is overseeing the case, said on Thursday that answers provided by the ISI are likely to be “unreliable.” He also said the ISI is unlikely to fully cooperate with the court, which could derail the investigation of the disappearances.

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.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.