KARACHI: ‘Did the earth swallow you up or the sky?’ is a commonly used proverb in Pakistan. For the families searching desperately for their relatives who have gone ‘missing’, the answer is fairly simple: it is the country’s intelligence agencies, they allege.
On October 15, 2010, Major Osaid Zahidi (retd) went to visit a friend at Gulshan Chowrangi. According to eyewitness accounts later gleaned by Osaid Zahidi’s family, he was being followed by uniformed men. He has not been seen since that day.
While Osaid had no political affiliation, his brother, Junaid Zahidi, a former union council naib nazim from the Jamaat-e-Islami, started looking for him. He mined his contacts for any clues and learnt that his brother was safe; but in the custody of the country’s security agencies in the Malir Cantonment.
Six months after Osaid went missing, Junaid’s body was found in the limits of the Malir Cantonment. According to Osaid’s wife Adeela, Junaid’s friends later revealed that he had received threats to back off from finding his brother. The Zahidi family has lost two men, the 11 children of Junaid and Osaid have lost a father and the family cannot fathom why an institution that it served has turned against it. “When Junaid’s son sees a man in a uniform, he cries because he thinks these men killed his father,” Adeela said. “My son, who used to sleep on his father’s chest, does not have his father anymore.”
After Junaid’s death, the task of looking for Osaid came down to Adeela, who now travels between Sindh High Court and police stations. “I had to get out of the house then,” she recalls. “I consulted with a few people who advised me to file a petition at the Sindh High Court.” Her husband’s name has also been included on a petition on missing people filed at the Supreme Court.
Adeela describes her husband as a quiet man who was not an ‘extremist’ but opposed ‘US intervention and interference’ in Pakistan. “This is a religious house,” says Osaid’s mother, Tauqeer Azeem. She has lost two sons – one forever, one for the ‘time being’ – to the state. “We have cooperated at every step,” Adeela says, when asked about the status of investigation into her husband’s disappearance. “But they should at least tell us what his crime is.”
On July 1, 2011, Osama and Ajmal Waheed took an AirBlue flight from Islamabad to Karachi. Closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of the airport, seen by Ajmal Waheed’s family, shows the two men, proving they arrived back.
The fate of the Waheed brothers is linked inextricably to the state.
Ajmal Waheed is the eldest of the now-infamous Waheed brothers. Dr Arshad and Akmal Waheed were convicted of providing support to Jundullah. After being released, Arshad relocated to South Waziristan with his family, where he was killed in a drone strike in 2008. His acts inspired a split in the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) after a breakaway group from IJT’s Karachi University chapter left to join Arshad.
Ajmal opposed Arshad’s beliefs and declared that he would “never step foot in Waziristan”, his fate was linked to his brothers. According to his family, Ajmal was working to support his brother Osama Waheed’s legal defence, who was implicated in several terrorist attack cases, including that of the Parade Lines mosque attack in Islamabad in 2009. Osama too was a victim of an enforced disappearance, and had been detained by men who identified themselves as Crime Investigation Department personnel at Karachi’s Cantt railway station in 2008.
After he was cleared of the cases against him, Ajmal went to Adiala Jail to bring his brother home. The two were first detained briefly in Rawalpindi, and then told to go back to Karachi and not be seen in Rawalpindi for at least six months.
They have been missing since they took that AirBlue flight to Karachi.
Ajmal taught his son Usaid Waheed to always follow the law, to the extent that he wouldn’t let him give a bribe to get a driving licence. “I don’t care how many times you fail the test, just remain within the limits of the law,” Usaid recalls his father, a schoolteacher, telling him.
Like the young Zahidi children, Usaid’s family has begun to resent the role of the state. “There’s our family, four or five of us. We do not like or support what the agencies do because of what has happened to our father. The agencies are supposed to protect our country, not pick up people for no reason. Think of how many families there are like ours, who now feel the same way for them.”
While Osaid’s brother was killed, the Waheed family has been threatened in a different way. According to Ajmal’s wife Ameena Batool, a child of one of their acquaintances was picked up, blindfolded and driven around. He told the Waheed family that his captors only wanted to know about them. “I am concerned for my children,” Ameena Batool says, “that they might reach out to them now.”
The appearance of seven victims of enforced disappearances in the Supreme Court earlier this month has given the families of the missing in Karachi some hope, but their condition – they have been described as being sick, emaciated and bewildered – has depressed them. One victim’s mother suffered a heart attack after witnessing her son’s state.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2012.