Amina Janjua and the search for thousands of disappeared Pakistanis swept up in the U.S. and Pakistan’s “War on Terror”—in 15 scenes.



Amina kept all the flowers her husband Masood gave her over the years. She kept the first bottle of perfume, the first scarf. She believes he will be back as strongly as she believes in God. Tomorrow or the day after or next week or next month. She doesn’t know when, but someday. She must believe this to stay motivated. If she is a fool, okay, let her be a fool.

For years she was unaware of the miseries of the world. She decorated their Rawalpindi home, painted pictures and wrote poetry. She never read newspapers. They met in 1977 when she stopped by a gallery he administered and inquired about hanging some of her paintings. He could organize things in an instant.

They married and had children. They loved to go hiking on weekends. They enjoyed impulsively packing up their son and daughter and driving into the countryside with no specific destination in mind. When it snowed in the mountains they would go skiing on a whim, leaving behind the congestion of city life with all its problems and politics. Masood was openly critical of corruption and of his government’s ties with the War on Terror, but otherwise he was not a political person.

Nor was she—until he disappeared.


I sit across from lawyer Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who represents families of missing persons in his Rawalpindi office.

The power has shut off and he apologizes for being able to offer me only cold tea. Dust lingers from the ceiling as if contemplating its descent before finally falling in waves upon his desk. The mildewed books filling shelves on both sides of his office offer an odor suggesting sodden wisdom lost to moisture, neglect, and poverty.

Siddiqui tells me he does not know how many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people suspected of ties to jihadi groups—“you know the ones, mullahs and their followers”—are being held in jails throughout Pakistan in unknown detention centers as a result of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the subsequent alliance between the U.S. and the dictatorship of former President Pervez Musharraf. Suddenly, he says, everyone became a suspect. Despite promises of reform, the detentions have continued under the democratically elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Guilt or innocence is not the issue. To impose terror on suspected terrorists, to maintain a grip on power, ah, now that is a strategy, eh?

Siddiqui believes some of the missing have been given over to U.S. authorities in exchange for cash and are held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. But who knows? Perhaps they are elsewhere.

“You will not be jailed in America if you say you hate the United States,” he says. “But I, as a Pakistani, cannot criticize the policies of America or my own government while in Pakistan for fear of becoming a missing person.”

He pushes a stack of file folders toward me. I catch them as they nearly slide off the table. Each folder has a name. Each one tells a story. I pick one up, COMPLAINT OF AMINA MASOOD JANJUA, and begin reading.


On July 30, 2005, Amina and Masood ate breakfast around nine. Fried eggs and toast. The day was sunny, nice. Their children were asleep. The morning heat increased as time passed. They knew soon the streets would be dusty and clogged with traffic amid the pandemonium of the bazaars, and that the dust would cling to them.

Masood left the house to meet a friend, Faisal Faraz. Together they bought bus tickets to Peshawar, where they planned to spend the day with friends. They would return that night. Amina can still see him walking to the door, turning around one last time to smile at her as he said Goodbye, see you tonight. He and Faisal caught the bus, but the bus arrived in Peshawar without them.

We know where your husband is, the callers said. Don’t make a fuss. He’s okay. He will come home. They did not give their names.

Amina was not worried. She assumed Masood had been delayed. Maybe at a rest stop along the way. Their only phone was a cell phone, and he had taken it with him.

The first night passed. Then the second. Then the third. By the fourth day of his absence Amina felt her heart beating so hard it made her chest ache. She could not quiet her fear. After one week she could take it no longer.

Her father-in-law, a retired colonel in the Pakistani army who had been in the same commando training unit as Pervez Musharraf, spoke to then-president Musharraf about Masood. Yes, we’ll find him, relax, Musharraf told him.

Days passed, and then weeks. No Masood.

Amina wrote letters to the Interior Ministry inquiring about Masood.

No response.

She checked with jails, hospitals.

No Masood.

Then mysterious men began standing outside the house. They had short haircuts. Black suits and ties. They would not speak to her.

Amina started receiving phone calls about the same time.

We know where your husband is, the callers said. Don’t make a fuss. He’s okay. He will come home. They did not give their names. No call number appeared on her new cell phone.

One year passed. She started demonstrating with four members of her family outside the parliament. They had never demonstrated before and did not know what to say, worried how the police might react if they said anything. They held placards and stood silently.

Mr. President, one placard read, please find my loving father. Another: Mr. President, please find my loving husband. Another: Where are the human rights of my son?

More days passed. The days turned into weeks, months, years. Still no Masood. Now forty-six, Amina alternates between fear, sadness, and puzzlement when she speaks of Masood’s five-year absence, and can’t imagine what she would have done had she known that so much time would pass without him. Maybe, she thinks, she would have killed herself. But now instead of despair, a weary, hardened resolve to find him compels her. They had been married sixteen years when he went missing. Twenty-one years now, when she includes the five years he has been gone. She tries not to think what another five years will be like without him.


Mohammad Arshad lives in Kalawan village near Haripur, a town two hours north of Islamabad. Green farm fields unfold just beyond the open door and burros walk gingerly on stone paths, their backs burdened with firewood. His plain concrete home stands on a hill. A table, handful of chairs, and a bed for guests to sit on emphasize a sparse atmosphere, in keeping with Arshad’s grief for his eighteen-year-old son Sheraz. When Arshad speaks of him, his face drains into his chest and he cries and can no longer speak.

On December 3, 2009, the police knocked on Arshad’s door minutes before midnight. They overturned furniture and searched the rooms.

Why Sheraz? he thinks. Sheraz had a friendly attitude with everyone. He smiled easily but shyly. He always invited people he met at the bazaar home for tea.

We arrested two guys and they say your son has a rifle, the police told him. Everyone has a gun, Arshad told the police. To protect livestock. The police ignored him and woke up Sheraz, a slight university student with a patchy beard. They took him by his arms and pushed him toward their car, tugged a hood over his head and shoved him inside. They left in a fury of stones spewed from beneath the tires and left Arshad alone in the doorway shouting after them for his son.

The next morning, Arshad walked to the Haripur police station. The police said they didn’t have Sheraz, but that the Ministry of Defense and the Inter Services Intelligence agency, Pakistan’s domestic CIA, were involved in his case. Arshad said he did not want trouble with the ISI. He simply wanted his son back. The police said nothing.

More than a month has passed. Arshad’s wife often falls to the floor and weeps when she sees Sheraz’s empty bed. The weeping chokes her, sometimes she vomits. Arshad helps her up and guides her into their room where she collapses on their bed, inconsolable. Then he stands by himself in the front doorway and stares at the fields and cries quietly.

Why Sheraz? he thinks. Sheraz had a friendly attitude with everyone. He smiled easily but shyly. He helped older people in the village with farm chores by digging furrows in their fields and taking a hoe to the hard rocky ground. He always invited people he met at the bazaar home for tea. He wanted to join the army for the opportunities an army career would present to a young man born in a humble village. He also liked the idea of wearing a crisp ironed uniform, the way he would look in it.

You know how boys are, Arshad says.


Gulam Farwo sits beside his nephew Arshad. Much taller and stockier than Arshad, and with a full black beard that reaches down to his chest, Gulam’s own sorrow-filled eyes begin to tear.

Gulam’s two younger brothers, Munir, twenty-six, and Mohammad, thirty, went missing the same day Sheraz was arrested. On that December morning, he saw them in the mosque praying. After their prayers, the two brothers returned to their homes and tended their wheat fields. Gulam drove into Haripur. Two hours later, he received a phone call from a neighbor. Two policemen and six men wearing black suits and ties took his brothers from their fields, and now they are gone.

Gulam called the police. They said they would be released in a few days. After three days, the police said, We don’t know where they are. Some agencies are involved. ISI. We don’t know. You have to wait.

Gulam asked what charges his brothers faced, what evidence resulted in their detention. But the police refused to answer. This was not police business, they told him.

Gulam is also searching for his twenty-eight-year-old nephew, Mulla Kari Sadiuk. He was in Arshad’s house when Sheraz was arrested. Who are you? the police asked him. Sadiuk told them. Oh, we’re looking for you, they said. And they took him.

Only days before, two men with military-style haircuts had asked about enrolling their children in Jamia Mosque Kalawain, where Sadiuk teaches. Gulam told him to hide. Those men are trouble, he warned. But Sadiuk ignored him.


Amina spends her days in the office that Masood used as managing director of the College of Information Technology in Rawalpindi. Circles sag beneath her eyes. A purple-patterned scarf wrapped around her head frames her face. She adjusts a brown prayer shawl across a shoulder and uses it to wipe the screen of a computer monitor. Curled lists of missing people are tacked to the walls. Above her head hangs a photo of Masood. He would be forty-nine now. He smiles at the camera, head tilted to one side as if he is trying to figure something out. His thick, graying beard rings his face.

His face pressed against their shoes, while his kidnappers drove to a house and put him in a small, dark, dirty room. They removed everything from his pockets and turned off the light.

She uses his office to administer the Defence of Human Rights, a group she founded in 2006 on behalf of missing persons. She helps collect information on nearly one hundred cases that she then turns over to lawyers representing families of the missing. Each case needs as much detail as possible for a lawyer to take it. In some cases, the families have no clue what happened to their husband, father, son. In other cases, eyewitnesses have submitted letters saying they saw so and so taken by the police or by men in civilian dress with short cropped military-style haircuts. She speaks so softly that many of the families she tries to help must lean forward to hear.

If my son is alive, I want him here, and if he is dead, I want to know about his death, a woman dressed entirely in black tells Amina. Her son has been missing for a year. Amina holds her hand.

We won’t complain to anyone if he’s dead, the woman says. We just want someone to tell us.

Do you have any clues? Did anyone see anything? Amina asks her.

No. He was just gone. Nothing was disturbed in his room.

Tell me what you know.

I want my son to be with me, the woman says.


Amina never asked Shakil Ahmad Turabi to get involved in her struggle. He chose to, and now his son Hassan is missing.

An editor at the South Asian News Agency, Shakil stares into space while recalling the night of May 18, 2007 when a car cut him off as he drove home. Two men dragged him out and pushed him into the backseat of their car and shoved him to the floor. His face pressed against their shoes, while his kidnappers drove to a house and put him in a small, dark, dirty room. They removed everything from his pockets and turned off the light. About half an hour later, a young man with a major’s bars on his jacket told Shakil to introduce himself.

Your duty is to introduce yourself to me before you question me, Shakil said, trying to assert himself beyond his fears.

You don’t know who we are.


The major complained that the South Asian News Agency had republished a New York Times story about who would take over the government should Musharraf resign. The story claimed that the mood of the populace seemed solidly against both him and the army.

Why publish a story critical of the army?

How was that critical? Shakil said.

Do you know the number of missing people?


Do you want your name on that list?


Who would look after your three kids?

Allah. Don’t worry about my children.

Don’t teach me philosophy. And don’t publish bad news.

The major left and turned off the lights. One hour later, they gave Shakil his things. He had messages from his daughter Fatima on his cell.

Who is Fatima? the major asked.

Don’t be rude. My daughter.

Tell her you will be home in one hour.

After seven hours, he was released.

Days later, he started receiving anonymous phone calls. Why are you so active?

Six months later, on September 14th, two men assaulted Hassan, then fourteen, after he was dropped off at school. The school called Shakil and said Hassan was ill. He called his driver to go pick him up. But then the school administrator called him again. You must come, he said. Your son is in the hospital.

Hassan’s legs were black and blue and his face was bruised. His two assailants had told him, We tried to teach a lesson to your dad, but he did not mend his ways. Hopefully after this he will mend his ways.

After the assault on Hassan, Shakil was careful about what subjects he chose to write about. He was less critical of the government. For a time, his family experienced no more problems.

But then he met Amina at a demonstration for missing persons. Her struggle was a good story for his news agency and he admired her tenacity. He told her his story and she listened to him as if she had no problems of her own. Moved, Shakil demonstrated with her when she camped outside parliament. Days later, he started receiving anonymous phone calls. Why are you so active?

He thinks about that question now, the implied threat in the voice on the other end. He thought at the time he must be very careful or he might be kidnapped again. He worried they might beat up Hassan again, but he never expected them to take him.

On January 5, 2010, Shakil’s driver dropped off Hassan, now eighteen, at Islamabad College for Boys. He never came home. A teenager likes to stay out, Shakil reasoned. But by evening, he was concerned and started looking for him. Desperate after five days of fruitless searching, Shakil met with the inspector general of police.

You can get your son on Monday the 11th at two, the inspector general said. Shakil returned on Monday. The inspector general did not meet him until three thirty that afternoon. The army men who know about your son are not here, he told Shakil. Come Tuesday. On Tuesday the inspector general did not show up for the appointment. He never came to his office and did not answer his cell phone. On Wednesday, he came to Shakil’s house.

The army told me it’s not your son, he said.

Other families of missing persons have told Shakil the authorities gave them equally mixed messages. With us, not with us. Nothing.

But how can he stop looking, Shakil asks them. You can’t. You won’t, they tell him.

Shakil takes pills at night but can’t sleep. He tries to explain to friends how he feels, but he just breaks down, covering his face in his hands, feeling himself crumbling apart. His wife tosses and turns in bed, shouting out Hassan’s name and asking, Where are you? Their twelve-year-old daughter said, Father, give me a bomb. I want to blow myself up in front of the agency that took you and my brother.

It is natural to want to retaliate, he thinks, but no one can do anything in Pakistan. There is no rule of law. He avoids any criticism of the government when he writes a news story, even if that leaves the story unbalanced and incomplete. He lives every day hating the indignity of his compromises. But, he’s decided, he won’t lose his son to his words.


In 2007, according to court documents, new evidence regarding missing persons was provided to the deputy attorney general of Pakistan from a lawyer representing physician Imran Munir, a former detainee who had been charged with espionage. In a handwritten ten-page statement in English to the court, Munir wrote that he was held in solitary confinement in Chaklala, a Rawalpindi prison. One excerpt reads, verbatim:

[The guards] didn’t let me sleep every day except 3 hours a day and let me stand almost 15 hours a day in chains on my hands and both feet. They started giving me tremendous amounts of extra red chilies in my food every day and due to that I got external hemorrhoids and fresh blood started coming out through my stools and also got stomach ulcers. They didn’t let me shower and didn’t let me change my dress and therefore I got scabies.

The guards who were guarding the 12 solitary confinement cells told me that there is only one way to get out from the hands of ISI is to co-operate with them and give them the statement the way they want, otherwise they will not release me and they might hand me over to the USA custody in Guantanimo Bay or they might torture me further and they might kill me but will never release me. First I didn’t believe them, but when they let me speak to the other three inmates that were opposite to my cell and when I heard their stories that how they were apprehended by ISI and they were never charged and never taken to any court, than I believed them and realized that it is the only way to get out from the ISI custody to cooperate with them. Out of those three inmates there was a business man Masood Janjua of Rawalpindi.


Two staff members at Defence of Human Rights gave their resignation notices to Amina effective immediately. And the other woman is ready to leave. Maybe Amina has given her staff too much work. She herself works day and night. She knows not everyone is so dedicated. The women work from ten to four. Amina does not consider that too much.

When will there be hearings on the missing? she demanded. There are no hearings on the missing scheduled, he said. I am not going home, she declared.

She sits down, presses a hand against her stomach. She suffers from diarrhea, ulcers. She keeps to a bland diet, but still her stomach churns. She talks to keep her mind off her pain, recalling the spring of 2007 when Musharraf had removed fifty-five of the Supreme Court’s ninety-five judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, citing interference with counterterrorism efforts. Mass protests followed, and Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007. As a result, hearings for four hundred and eighty-five missing persons scheduled before the end of the year were delayed.

When the decree was lifted in March 2009, Amina spoke to the registrar of the Supreme Court. When will there be hearings on the missing? she demanded. There are no hearings on the missing scheduled, he said. She was heartbroken. I am not going home, she declared. I will stay here until you take our case. The registrar shrugged and said nothing. She had no idea how her children would manage without her. She went to the cafeteria and ate enough food for two people because she did not know how many days she would be gone from her home.

Amina arranged a blue tent on the damp ground outside the parliament building under overcast skies. Police watched her. She erected a placard outside her tent that said Release the missing. A photograph of Masood was all she had inside the tent. Families of the missing began joining her. Within days, forty people were camped outside parliament.

The authorities tried to intimidate her. Men in dark suits told Amina that the people supporting her would be involved in car accidents. Their vehicles would be confiscated and they would be sent to jail. Tell them to pack up and go home, they advised her. Instead, Amina told supporters to take taxis. Don’t drive your car, she begged them.

She talked to her family by phone and cried afterward. Her children fought with each other, her in-laws, and the son of a brother-in-law—all of whom were staying in her house. Her daughter scolded her, You don’t come home. You don’t care about your kids. What’s the point? The government won’t listen to you.

On November 13, 2009, twelve days after Amina pitched her tent, two men stood outside it and told her the registrar wanted to see her. She had been taking a nap and did not want to talk to them. Half-asleep, she followed them into the Supreme Court beneath cavernous ceilings that made her feel small and vulnerable.

The court had agreed to hear the missing cases, the registrar told her as he shuffled papers on his desk. Really? she asked. Are you sure? Yes, the registrar said, continuing to sort papers. You are a big security risk. You have too many people with you. The Chief Justice told the attorney general to remove the problem.

The first hearing was held November 16, 2009. Since then, five other hearings have been held. The court asks the government to respond to allegations that the ISI and the Ministry of Defense have taken people. The government responds by asking for more time. Soon, Amina will attend yet another hearing. And another and another. Into spring and then summer. Another hearing.


It’s one in the morning on Saturday, January 26, 2010. Three men arrive at the Haripur Police Station minutes apart. The first man, Sheraz, the son of Mohammad Arshad of Kalawan, steps out of a van. He wears the same white shameze he wore when he was arrested. A blindfold is removed from his face.

He starts walking.

He was held fifty-one days in a crowded cell. What is the case they have on you? he and his cellmates would ask one another. Why are you here? Why are they keeping us? None of them knew and no explanations were offered.

A bare light bulb in their cell was on all the time. Sheraz slept on the floor with a blanket and awoke every morning at four. Interrogators asked him what he did for a living and what was his relation with the Mullah Kari Sadiuk, the family member arrested with him.

He’s a relative, Sheraz said. I’m a student. I have no job. He was asked the same questions day after day. His interrogators told him they were from the intelligence bureau. They talked to him for fifteen minutes at a time. He asked to contact family. No, they told him. Not now. You will be released soon.

Now he passes silent vendor stalls, hears the cries of dogs, wind in the trees, sees dark shapes in plowed fields beneath hundreds of stars overhead. He looks behind him, sees no one. Still he worries. They said they would check on him.


Mullah Kari Sadiuk walks not far behind Sheraz. The man who had been interrogating Sadiuk told him only hours ago that he knew he was innocent. A short time later, he was escorted to a van. No other detainees rode with him to the Haripur Police Station.

He had a beard, wore a turban. He was a mullah, taught the Koran. He assumes he was faulted for that.

The police called him a terrorist and accused him of being involved in terrorist acts when they arrested him. They put a hood over his head and punched him in the face and kicked him, shouting, Oh, you terrorist fuck. He had no idea why he was suspected of anything. He had a beard, wore a turban. He was a mullah, taught the Koran. He assumes he was faulted for that.

They drove for a long time before the van reached the detention center. He was held alone in a concrete cell. He heard other prisoners praying and reading from the Koran. All of them mullahs. Without any evidence, why do they keep us, they shouted to one another through the space between the bottom of their cell doors and the floor.

His interrogators would put a hood over his face and ask him, Where is your home, where did you come from, where were you educated? Which schools did you attend? Do you know about so and so?

He said he worked for a mosque.

Who trained you? What organizations are they with?

They asked him the same questions two days in a row. On the third day, he was moved to another cell. He was never interrogated again.

In the silence of the night, he wonders if they are still watching him.


Mohammad Hafiz, the missing younger brother of Gulam Farwo, stands in front of the Haripur Police Station unsure whether he should go inside or not. His thin, bearded face and sharp nose catch the moonlight and throw a slim shadow against the wall. He decides against going inside and starts walking toward his village. He does not know that Sheraz and Sadiuk have been released and that his brother, Munir, has not.

How many brothers do you have, an interrogator demanded of Mohammad. What is your name? What is your job? What does your brother do?

On the thirty-sixth day, one of his interrogators told him that he knew Mohammad was innocent by the expression on his face. Then this morning, fifteen days later, he was released and driven to Haripur.

When he reaches his village, after he makes his way on the narrow stone paths leading to his home, after the hugs and tears and celebration, he will learn that his five-month-old daughter died during his detention. Standing over her grave, he will conclude that innocent people can do nothing to protect themselves. They only burn inside. He will decide that Pakistan is now his enemy.


Stacks of law books line the bland concrete walls of Courtroom A in Pakistan’s Supreme Court building. Mildew spreads across the ceiling and vast cobwebs consume cracked corners. The worn brown carpet bunches in waves across the floor rolling toward a security guard asleep in his chair beneath a painting of a stern Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

“I don’t know whether what I am doing is right or wrong. I am only struggling for my husband.”

Three Supreme Court justices ask Amina and a lawyer for the Ministry of Defense to approach. Amina carries a plastic bag stuffed with testimonials of families of missing persons. She sets it down, letting the bag sag against her right leg, and then she straightens up and stands immobile, a diminutive figure looking up at the justices. The Ministry of Defense lawyer walks from the other side of the courtroom and stands beside her.

“I have written letters to the Ministry of Defense and they have never responded,” Amina tells the court. “I don’t want to dishonor any institution. If they want any guarantee I will not say a word if my husband is released. If that is the hurdle. I am ready for any compromise. I don’t know whether what I am doing is right or wrong. I am only struggling for my husband.”

“What material does the Ministry of Defense have about the missing,” a justice asks.

“There is no material, your honor. The Minister of Defense is like a post office. He passes information on to other agencies. He does not consider it.”

“Are we playing a Ping-Pong game?” another justice asks. “I am looking at a one-page report from the minister about the missing and how he has passed information on as you say. But it is obvious a low-level clerk drafted this report and that the Minister of Defense signed it without knowing what he was signing. Consider the spelling errors. You know it is not an effective report. We need a whole report. Not a page with errors.”

“The ministry is cooperating,” the lawyer says.

“The report is vague and one-sided. The evidence should have been examined. The report does not serve any purpose other than as a spelling lesson. The Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior, ISI… all should be here with documents.”

“We have many missing cases,” the first justice says. “Who is responsible for this? Who investigates these cases?”

The third justice, who has yet to speak, crosses his arms and closes his eyes, and soon falls asleep.

“We want answers straight away,” the second justice says. He looks at Amina and then back at the lawyer. “Do you feel for her? Or have you become desensitized like a surgeon? Return with a credible report in two weeks. Not one written at a desk by some clerk. This is not just about madam. We are talking about thousands of people.”


Outside the Supreme Court, seventy-five-year-old Abdul Ghaafar rides a rusting bicycle with a large poster of his missing son Abdul strapped behind him. The photograph shows a young man with a thick mustache staring intently into the camera without expression.

Ghaafar has also arranged a large piece of cardboard between the handlebars on which he has written: My son is innocent. I am trying to find him. But I can’t. I am a poor person. I need due justice from the government of Pakistan. My son did not take any steps against the government. Please release my son. This is my request to the government of Pakistan.

Ghaafar stops as many people as he can. He tells them, I’m looking for my son. He drove a truck between Peshawar and Mardan. Have you seen him?

The last day Ghaafar saw him was a warm, hazy morning. Abdul drank tea and ate fried eggs and nan for breakfast with his wife and three children amid the noise of vendors setting up their booths on the teeming streets outside. He shaved, put on clean clothes. He told his wife, Have a good day. I’m going to get my truck.

He never returned. He has been missing almost nine years. If he is alive, he is thirty-four.

In 2005, the police gave Ghaafar a photograph of a man killed in Kashmir. Blood ran down his forehead and across his nose. This is your son, they said. No it is not, Ghaafar said. Yes he is, the police insisted. Show me his DNA, Ghaafar said. The police refused.

The people gathering around Ghaafar near the Supreme Court feel his profound sorrow. They consider Abdul’s picture and then stare at the old man before them with his heavy white beard and his sweat-stained black shameze and shake their heads. They do not recognize his son. Ghaafar gives them blue flyers to distribute. Kidnapped driver not recovered yet. I am a poor man. I demand the release of my son. Police should do everything to get his release.

He rides away, the bike shifting to the left and right beneath him, his legs pushing down on the pedals. The people he has just spoken to wave their hands and shake the flyers in the dust-filled air and promise to pray for him.


Ghaafar diminishes in the distance as Amina walks out of the Supreme Court, a smile on her face. The court rejected the report signed by the Minister of Defense. The court means business. It was like the justices asked about flowers and the Minister’s lawyer answered with talk about water. No related answers. The Ministry provided no evidence to contradict the claim that it knows about Masood.

If the Ministry of Defense lawyer continues to stall, Amina will demand that the court call for the defense minister himself and members of the ISI and ask them for all the names of missing persons.

She can always camp outside the Ministry of Defense. She can resort to that if she must. Sometimes she imagines Masood in a cell. How it looks. Dark, cold. How he feels. Lonely, grieving. Once she was stuck in a cramped bathroom. The door jammed and would not open. She laughs about it now but at the time she panicked and felt claustrophobic and had trouble breathing.

What must it be like for him?

Amina misses Masood most at night. Sometimes alone in their bedroom she weeps with only the shadows cast by a flickering candle to comfort her; she has no spirit left and doesn’t feel like doing anything. She doesn’t want to talk to her children, work in her office, attend Supreme Court hearings—nothing, until the moment passes and she gathers her resolve about her once more. In five years, she has accomplished much in her search for Masood. But she regards it as nothing compared to what he gave her.

Gives her, she corrects herself. Gives her.

Postscript: Both ISI and the Interior Ministry declined to comment on this article.

J. Malcolm Garcia’s writing has been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing and Best American Nonrequired Reading.

Editors Recommend:

By Bread Alone: Some Pakistanis have begun blaming Afghan immigrants for bringing “their” war into Pakistan—one Afghan baker’s story of harassment, corruption, and exile.

Birth of a Salesman: In a new book about the global war on terror, Amitava Kumar shows how criminal guilt has been sacrificed to the political need to haul in suspects. The result? Through crude character assassination, guilt is essentially fabricated after the arrest.

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5 Comments on “The Missing

  1. This is an extraordinary piece based upon the heart-breaking tales and agonies of the Disappeared. Malcolm has done a marvelous job indeed in making the power of words and beautiful expression make a head way right up to your heart and touch it. He has accomplished the task of giving a body to the otherwise spiritual feelings surrounding the real life stories , dilemmas and struggles of the Disappeared and their families.

    Had Malcolm not done something of this kind all, the true happenings of the icons of struggle and determination would have evaporated in the air ,everyday like always-unnoticed and forgotten by the cruel world. A big Bravo to him!!

  2. You know, I read these stories, and my heart bleeds. I’m always always struck by the fact, that how extremely helpless we all are… I mean, that story of the journalist, whose son is missing – how will he take action NOW? Knowing his son is in grave danger..?

    Is there no respite?

    I wish somebody would tell me or point me in one direction and say ‘THIS is what you must do! Do it NOW’ …


    A heartbreaking piece, indeed.

    I wish you many prayers for your success in Masood Janjua’s case. I’m amazed at the gross injustice that’s happening in this nation – it’s a wonder we’re still standing, and the ground hasn’t shaken beneath our feet, and the sky hasn’t fallen down upon us.

    Many duas for you.. (I’m unable to fathom how ELSE I can help).

    Stay strong.

  3. I’m ashamed to call myself an American, for whatever part this country has in causing these injustices, not to mention the horrible death and destruction America has rained on so much of the Middle East and Asia. Many, perhaps most, Americans hate this, but our government doesn’t care what we think.

    One lesson about America is that great wealth and comfort without wisdom is very destructive. Americans are only beginning to reap what we’ve sown. Our government is laying the groundwork for it to treat Americans the way these citizens of Pakistan, and so many other places, are being treated.

    May all people all over the world who love justice and mercy stand together against tyranny.

  4. I’m out of words after reading this. I just salute the brave lady, Amina Masood Janjua is, the struggles she’s doing and the way she has stood firm. In the same tone, many others who have ‘missed’ their loved ones and are living in absolute torture due to that barbarian Musharraf, boots and the ISI. May they die the worst death and get their share in The Almighty’s court of justice. Amen.

  5. I’m beyond being heart broken. My bloods boils after reading this. I feel disgusted with my country and what is happening in the name of protecting it. It is a beautifully written piece and as a Pakistani I want to thank the writer for doing such a wonderful job with it. It’s extremely touching.

    I don’t know why I’ve remained so indifferent to this issue, up till now. I just want to say sorry to Amina Bibi for the indifference that we have towards the missing people.

    They say you only get involved in such things the day it comes at your doorstep; it almost has after reading this article.

    I wish it could all be fixed at once. I pray that peoples’ loved ones are found.

    Justice has to prevail, and we have to make sure that it does.

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