RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN — Amina Masood Janjua’s biggest enemies are hopelessness and doubt.
“I tell myself, one day I will see my husband again,” she said. “God is the greatest, and he knows about my struggle. He will bring him back.”
As she spoke, she stared at her mobile phone and a picture of her and her husband, standing together, smiling. “I really had a happy life,” she said.
On July 30, 2005, that bliss ended abruptly. Her husband, Masood Ahmed Janjua, disappeared. “My courage and hope are growing, but so is my pain,” she said.
Since September 2006, Mrs. Masood, 47, has been running an organization called Defense of Human Rights, helping families all over Pakistan who share her experience.
“My husband and thousands of others are the victims of the war on terror,” Mrs. Masood said, asserting that the disappearances are the work of “security services,” with Pakistan’s government taking the lead in an effort actually conducted under pressure from “the NATO forces, who took part in the war on terror, especially the U.S.”
The Pakistani authorities strongly deny such allegations.
A U.S. security official, insisting on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, noted that particularly in the years immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was close cooperation with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism, and that Pakistan had “handed over terror suspects to us.” The allegations of women like Mrs. Masood “wouldn’t surprise me,” the official said, stressing, however, that they were unproven.
In just over five years, Mrs. Masood’s group has now registered 1,030 disappearances. “Some had been taken by police or plainclothes men for questioning and never came back,” Mrs. Masood said. “Others just mysteriously disappeared, like my husband — later we found out that they had been arrested.”
Ninety-nine percent are men, and so far about 400 have returned to their families, she said.
Even at night, Mrs. Masood is fielding calls on her two mobile phones. Families from all over Pakistan call to register their cases and seek advice. “No one else is listening to these people,” Mrs. Masood said. “Very often they start crying. I tell them it’s O.K. to cry and cry with them, and then we talk.”
Mrs. Masood, whose husband ran a college of information technology in Rawalpindi, said she remembered vividly every minute of the day he vanished. It started like any other day, she said. They had breakfast together, eating eggs from the same plate, drinking tea, he teasing her.
“But then when he kissed me and the three kids goodbye and went out of the door,” she said, “I had some bad feeling and wanted to tell him, please don’t go.” She didn’t, and Mr. Janjua took off with a friend to visit other friends in Peshawar.
That was the last she saw or heard of him until sometime in 2007, when a man who had been released from a detention center run by the intelligence services contacted her and reported seeing her husband at the center.
Mrs. Masood lives in an area surrounded by military facilities. The house remains as her husband left it. In addition to running her organization, she has taken over her husband’s college. “I have to keep it running. How else should I pay the school and other fees for my children?” she said. Like other women whose husbands have disappeared, she gets no support of any kind from the government.
As we talked, three visitors arrived — women who each have a missing relative. Like many other Pakistanis, they criticize U.S. policy and blame it for their woes.
“Kidnappings, drones, from a country that says they value human rights and justice?” sniffed Zahida Sharif, 45, the mother of three sons. Her husband, a medical doctor, disappeared in September 2005 near Peshawar. “Don’t our lives count?” she asked.
Her youngest son, Huzaifa, 6, has never met his father. She and her husband had learned about her pregnancy a short time before he disappeared.
Mrs. Masood said sadly, “Sometimes we hear from those who have returned, what they have been through, also the way they had been tortured.”
To which Mrs. Sharif said that she “cannot hear or think about torture,” adding that she had to take medication against depression. “My children have suffered a lot already,” she said.
Mrs. Masood said she and other families with relatives missing took heart when Barack Obama became president; she said she even wrote to him, congratulating him on his election and asking for help. “We thought he wanted to break with the mistakes the government had done in the past, but no reply, no help. Still people disappear, and he is even sending more drones,” she said.
In 2008 she traveled to Europe to give speeches and meet with human rights activists and members of various Parliaments. She had also been invited to speak in the United States and had a visa.
But, she said, as she boarded a plane to head to Washington from Geneva, a phone call came from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
“They told me, please don’t take the plane,” she said, because upon landing her visa would be found invalid and “you will be deported to Pakistan.”
When she asked why, the man on the line simply cited security reasons, she said. She did not go to the United States, and her own efforts and those of Amnesty International, which was organizing her trip, to find out more yielded no explanation.
A request from this reporter to the U.S. Embassy for comment went unanswered.
Mrs. Masood and other women have protested several times outside the Pakistani Supreme Court and Parliament, carrying photographs of their missing and seeking information.
“If you have got anything against them, put them on trial and present evidence, as it is supposed to be in Pakistani law,” said Nessim Jan, 39.
Her brother, Muhammad Jamil, went missing in January 2011. He is a plumber and was on his way to work. Later, men in plain clothes came to her parents’ house and told them that all was well and he would be back soon.
A year later, he has not returned. Her father, Ms. Jan said, had a heart attack; now, she is trying to earn money for the family, working as a cleaning lady.
Mrs. Masood said: “I have to give them lots of hope, I tell them he will come back. At times I have to paint a beautiful picture.
“If they don’t have any hope, how will they live and how will they struggle?”
Mrs. Masood mostly wears red, white and black clothes, the colors her husband loved to see her in the most, she said. “I want to be ready to receive him any day,” she said, pausing as tears filled her brown eyes. She fought the tears for a few seconds, then went into a full cry.
“I am heartbroken. I am desperate for a word from or about my husband’s whereabouts, but even that I don’t get,” she said, weeping and then drawing breath and apologizing. “I will not give up my courage, never.”
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