State of separation

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For families of missing persons, autumn is here to stay

You may be lost in the eyes of the world,

but how can I set you free;

When theres a whole empty world in my aching heart,

Youre the missing part of me.

– Susan Musgrave

Seasons come and go but for the families of the missing persons as those picked up by the ubiquitous intelligence agencies have come to be labeled autumn is the one permanent fixture.

They know not when the wait will end and life resume. For months and years, it has been on hold, much like inmates sinking every minute on death row.

So visible is the strife on their forlorn faces when they assemble almost every month in Islamabad that one cannot but be shamed by the sheer helplessness at the state-wrought agony.

The only time General Pervez Musharraf tried to explain the disappearances was in the wake of the Lal Masjid operation when he plainly dismissed any case (for relief to the missing persons) with acid suggestions that while many (amongst the disappeared) had gone astray, still others simply left their own families without informing them.

What does this tell about Pakistan to the outside world we, of course, are accustomed to how the state has failed the citizens again and again?

With those endless wire images all pictures of pain and stories about human spirit flailing precariously between hope and despair, our once-promised land only looks like a remnant of lost civilisation.

To be sure, no-one condones any act against the state. But surely, none can be denied the inalienable right to defence. In the case of the missing persons, official figures which are disputed stand at 175. Few, if any, have had recourse to a proper trial. Forget trial, the families havent even seen their loved ones once they were picked up.

They have been crying, not for any favour, but recourse to law still others only straining for a fleeting glimpse of the missing loved ones, only to breathe in the knowledge that they live. Such is the stuff desperation is made of.

Indifference to their plight at the official level is so acute that it appears the state has lost its soul. At one time, it seemed, if not for the resolve of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the sun would probably have set on the lives of many of these tormented souls a long time ago.

His mere presence, while being a symbolic harbinger of hope for them, was a major thorn in the side of the powers-that-be, who were questioned about their role with any degree of assurance for the first time in the states deplorable pick up history.

The Constitution Avenue is a familiar rendezvous for the missing peoples families, who are emotionally drained and tired of living on the edge.

The hearing itself turned into a delicate battle between the bench and those invisible forces, who seem provocatively, engaged in finding new ways to dodge the issue.

Recalling the top adjudicators resolve to help her ilk, Amina Janjua, who is leading the fight for the families of the missing under the aegis of Defence of Human Rights, said of a hearing on March 8, four years ago (as reported by The New York Times):

He was very fatherly. I was in tears. He said: Be comforted. We are using every channel, and every person is going to be released, and we are going to continue the hearings until the last person is released. On March 8, he was speaking like this. The very next day, he was not in his chair.

Some pundits attributed one of the reasons that invoked the presidential action against the chief justice to Mr Chaudhrys bold and consistent stand on the missing persons.

However, some critics argue that there is no longer the same zeal to trace the missing persons since the restoration of the superior judiciary. Is it plain fatigue resulting from the bend it like Beckham ways of the noncommittal agencies or simply an understanding of its limitations on the part of the judiciary; its difficult to tell.

As for the government, it is as helpless as ever to resolve the jigsaw puzzle although Interior Minister Rehman Malik did inform the Senate last week that an independent commission had been formed to look into forced disappearances. But its brief is to deal with fresh cases, which while welcome, does not address the ordeal suffered by the loved ones of the already missing.

For now, the indomitable Amina, whose husband is among the missing, and many like her are in danger of becoming as representative a landmark of the federal capital as any.

No one should ever have to endure such agony where your eyes remain glued to the door as if asking in mournful numbersGhar wapis kab aao gey? (When will you return home?)

The writer is a newspaper editor based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]