FRONTLINE/World [home]

Search FRONTLINE/World

FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut
Man holding photo of missing person Protest Missing Person Report woman holding photo of missing person

Rough Cut
Pakistan: Disappeared
One woman's search rouses a nation


David Montero

David Montero has reported on South Asia for The New York Times and FRONTLINE/World and was the Pakistan correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor between 2005 and 2007. He has just moved to Cambodia.

Watch Video

Length: 16:50

Amina Masood Janjua was an ordinary Pakistani housewife, proud of her country and loyal to its military. But all that changed on July 30, 2005, when her husband never came home. She would later learn that he was detained by Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), on charges that have yet to be made clear. He was locked away in an undisclosed location without a trial and has not been heard from since.

International human rights groups estimate that several hundred Pakistanis have disappeared under the government label of "terrorism suspects" since September 11. Their families are not informed of their whereabouts -- a flagrant violation of Pakistan's constitution. For many, their crime was apparently being either an overly devout Muslim or an outspoken critic of President Pervez Musharraf, the military general who seized power in 1999.

Most families of the disappeared have suffered silently, too afraid to speak out. But this is the story of one woman who dared to go in search of her husband, and in the process, launched a movement that has shaken Pakistan's military-led government.

"There's not a single country in the world that is targeting its own people like Pakistan," Janjua, a mother of three, told me. "I've been telling people that this is like a flood. If you don't stand up today, you'll be taken away tomorrow."

David Montero

Wali Zafar, Paksitan's Minister of Law with reporter, David Montero.

I was a reporter with The Christian Science Monitor in Pakistan between 2005 and 2007, and I met Janjua after reading about her protests in the local newspapers. I began to follow her story and the questions she has raised.

No country has been so indispensable an ally in the U.S. war on terrorism as Pakistan. Nor has one been so handsomely rewarded. Pakistan's government has handed over more terrorism suspects -- several hundred, in fact -- than any other country in the world. In return, it's received millions of dollars in compensation. That's just a portion of the $1 billion it has gotten annually from Washington for counter-terrorism operations since September 11.

There are significant incentives for Pakistan to make arrests, but who exactly has been arrested, and who makes the determination whether these people are terrorists or not? Are those in custody treated in accordance with the human rights and due process standards that the constitutions of both Pakistan and the United States firmly espouse? Asking these questions publicly is dangerous in Pakistan, a country whose intelligence agencies function like a state within a state and whose government is ruled by a military dictator, General Musharraf.

Amina Masood Janjua

Amina Masood Janjua.

But that could be changing thanks to the courage of one woman. Janjua has done the unthinkable in a country where women's voices are routinely ignored and often suppressed: She's used the weapons of democracy -- street protests, the free press and the country's courts -- to launch the first direct public campaign against the ISI, which has held sway in Pakistan as a kind of shadow government.

What began as Janjua's private quest for her husband has become a movement that has rocked Pakistan's military regime. A case she filed against the government was taken up in January 2007 by Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court.

Chaudhry was so outraged by the government's actions that, for the first time in Pakistan's 60-year history, he forced the ISI and police branches to release prisoners they had long denied holding.

The response has been explosive: In March, Musharraf unceremoniously sacked Chaudhry, sparking weeks of national protests. Many believe that Musharraf, increasingly weakened and abandoned by his allies, could eventually fall. And now, after a long legal wrangle, the chief justice has been reinstated, making Musharraf's hold on power look weaker than ever. In a direct challenge to the regime, Chaudhry has already ruled that the general's two main political opponents, former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, can return from exile abroad and challenge Musharraf in Pakistan's national elections, scheduled for this fall.

David Montero

The reporter talks with protesters.

Meanwhile, the case of the disappeared continues to gather momentum. Many of the missing have been quietly released, and they are now speaking out about their experience. I managed to secure an interview with one such man, but only after Janjua convinced him that meeting with me would be safe. He was small and trim and soft spoken in a way that was oddly juxtaposed against his gritty ordeal in prison. Held illegally by the ISI for two years, the man told me that he'd been tortured and warned not to speak about his detention. When I asked him if Americans had ever interrogated him, he said he did not want to answer. In interviews with the international print media, several Pakistanis have said they were interrogated by Americans and other foreigners. When I asked officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad about this, they told me they could not comment about the issue. They promised to forward my request onto Washington, but said they doubted anyone would respond. There still has been no response.

Janjua has helped pry back the lid on the most secretive organization in Pakistan, the ISI, and its conduct since 9/11. Along the way, she's inspired an unprecedented national discourse. Today, Pakistani citizens who would never dare to publicly criticize the ISI are doing so freely in newspaper editorials, talk shows and tea stalls throughout the country.

To date, the Supreme Court has compelled the government to release 60 missing persons. But as these detainees reunite with their families for the first time in years, Janjua, the woman who started the whole campaign, still has no word about the fate of her own husband.

-- David Montero


I wouldn't blame Musharraf personally for the missing people case. He just overlooked it or might have instructed as he was advised. I think he is sincere in trying to help his country. When somebody dedicates four decades of their life to some organization, he's bound to develop some sort of loyalty and sense of belonging towards that particular setup. He's a military person and that's the way he perceives everything. I have no doubts about him being loyal to his country and its people. The way I see it is that he was used to a different environment and now he has had to deal with dirty politics and even dirtier bureaucracy. I think it's not him, it's the people around him.I sincerely hope that the missing people, whoever they are, are interrogated, tried and then returned back to their beloved families. Two years is just too long to wait for somebody to break and too much pain for their families to take. They should be returned.But then I don't understand why do my fellow countrymen have to take sides with religious organizations. Why can't they just go to mosques, say their prayers and come back? I don't think it makes them a better Muslim or a even a better person. This was not a problem a few years ago to associate yourself with a religious organization. But now some of them are involved in anti-state activities and what not. So I think that one should be careful in this regard, stay out of trouble and help each other for the betterment of Pakistan.

Deepak Jeet - Irving, Texas
Thank you for taking the effort to show this video. I am filled with respect for this lady's courage. I pray that she be reunited with her husband. Hope this reporting can show American leadership and intelligentsia that befriending Pakistani people is more worthwhile that befriending a Pakistani dictator. Judging from past history, my hope seems a long shot.

Not long ago Rumsfeld was patting Saddam's back for a job well done. Telling Saddam to use nerve gas against Iranian Isamlic fundamentalists. Will the US policy makers ever see that they are shaking the wrong hand? Musharraf is piling up weapons to prepare for the next offensive against India in the name of "war on terror". (And with this president you can't tell "terror" from "terrier".) I can see all the money Genral Musharraff is raking in is going for the wrong purposes under President Bush's "watchful " eyes.

At least Musharraf appears to be much better than all the previous corrupt governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Bangash Khan - Knoxville, Tn
May I ask the anti-Musharraf gentleman from Punjab what their remedy is to suicide terrorism? Are you folks believers in the theory that bomb blasts began in Musharraf era and will end when Musharraf leaves? Are you really that much in denial?

karachi, pakistan
I must admire the struggle of amina baji about that 700 missing persons. Honestly I'm with her to resolve this national problem. God bless her.

nina minelli - fontana, ca
what I don't get is that why if Muslims hate us so much are they living here in the U.S.? I think that when 9/11 happened all Muslims should have been put in a camp like they did with the Japanese. No, instead they closed down the airports except to the bin Laden family to take them to safety.

Rockford, IL
Our problems in Pakistan seem to have stemmed from the 1976 U.S. election of President Jimmy Carter (an extremely weak U.S. President). Russians began "testing" the American policy in Angola, then Ethiopia and finally Afghanistan. The military dictator Gen. Zia, a humble servant of the Saudi Royal family, created what finally became the Taliban. The corrupt governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto further strengthened their hands. That cancer called Al Qaida and Taliban have got to be destroyed completely to save whatever is left of Pakistan, no matter what the cost.

New York, New York
Musharraf's Govt was better then the Govt of Nawaz Shareef, who was groomed and installed by the ISI. He always had a soft corner for terrorist organizations like Sipahe Sahaba. As Prime Minister, he said in 1998 that Pakistan needed Taliban-type rule in Pakistan, dreaming for himself to be the Ameer-ul-Momineen like Mullah Omer was ruling Afghanistan.

I congratulate and commend Amina for her courage and her determination and of all the families who are fighting so desperately for their loved ones. It shows at the end of the day people everywhere want the same things - safety, security, happiness and family. It is so sad how such basic needs get side tracked and mangled on the stage of global politics and power struggles. It is as if ordinary, innocent civilians and their lives are fodder for the power hungry. I hope the families of missing persons find their loved ones and justice. Keep up the good work Frontline - education is power.

Not only Pakistani men are missing, many were assasinated by shooting in the head and heart, by mistery men all over the Pakistan. No one has started to collect data on these killings. By putting a add in the news papers and asking public to inform obout these mistrey killings, we will be able to know the amount of these killings. Lots of men returning home from overseas were killed by shooting in the head and heart, no robberies. Missing men is not the only case difference is that Mrs. Janjua is the only one came forward for her missing husband, others who were killed no wife or family came forward or protested the way she did it.

It a great video. I am very happy to see the support of US residents through their comments. Just wanted to update what happened next to the Chief Justice. On Nov 3,'07 emergency was imposed under which Musharraf ordered arrest of 60 judges. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudry was also one of them. He and his family were house arrested for several months, till the new govt. issued the release order in Feb.'08. And to date that is Aug'08 lawyers and the people of Pakistan are struggling to get the pre-emergency judiciary in its position.

Yasir Ali - Karachi, Pakistan
It's really amazing to hear that some of our freinds who are Pakistani and are supporting Musharraf. My dear friends, can anybody tell me what will be the end of this so called war on terror???? In my opinion is this WAR is full of ERROR.

Dallas, TX
Just wondering how many of these ended up in CIA's secret prisons? And how many have been tortured and/or killed. My heart goes out to all these families.
While most are languishing in prisons within Pakistan, there must be many that have been sent for "Extraordinary Rendition". Reportedly there was a big incentive for the Pakistani secret agencies to provide people (read warm bodies) for CIA interrogations. (It translated into direct dollars for the agencies - unfortunately quantity, not quality, mattered).ISI (and other agencies) started taking people who looked like a mullah (and appearances don't tell anything). ISI is smart, it detained only those that lacked influence with the government and hence did not warrant an earnest search by the authorities. (Police does not initiate a real search if secret agencies are involved -- the family needs to have connections to get things going).Unfortunately ISI sold their own country-men for a few dollars!

The relatives of those arrested are rightfully and naturally upset and I would sympathise with them. It should be appreciated that the security of all citizens of Pakistan is seriously compromised by the incidence of suicide bombers who almost exclusively belong to the extremist religious elements. What does one expect the security services to do? Should they apply the same legal process as is applied under peace time conditions or should they resort to extraordinary methods in dealing with an extraordinary situation? After all, suicide bombings are now a common place and are claiming innocent lives almost on a daily basis. How does one deal with this situation? Pakistan's Government like the UK & US Governments is holding suspects under special rules and unfortunately the detainees will largely come from the extremely religious section of the community. Amina and her husband both appear to be very religious given the "religious retreat" in Peshawar. The husband seems to lend himself to trouble and fit the bill. Now I am not saying that he is anything other than a decent family man. The ISI probably have some grounds for holding him. Surely they have better things to do other than holding people for no reason. Under normal circumstances this would be absolutely unacceptable but these days if there are grounds for suspicions ISI can either do nothing or detain those who may provide either information or prevent them from committing possible acts of indiscriminate killing. Now which of the two alternatives should they adopt? Of course there will be innocent people who will get caught in this too! The message really is to keep away from extremist religious activity even at the level of personal practice or at least suspend it for the time being.

Anthony Sterrett - Allen, TX
What an inspiring story. If only we in more powerful countries would do more to help. The cowards and prideful masses of the United States (cough, Democrats, cough) are constantly whining about how it's not our job to "police" the rest of the world. Whatever happened to "With great power comes great responsibility"? The Christian faiths (which are actually a majority in the USA, thank you very much) are under the impression that America was blessed by God to come into its power; the third verse of our national anthem contains these stirring lines: "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, / And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust!'" Regardless of your faith, it is undeniable that the United States is the most powerful country in the world; economically, physically, influentially. How is it not our job to help people in other nations? I see Darfur, I see China, I see South Africa, and now I learn about Pakistan. Why don't we as Americans get up and fight?Because we've been coddled into thinking that we're "safe" here. Between our Civil War in the 1800's and September 2001, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, there was no war on American soil. Even now, there have only been minor attacks: an isolated bombing in the 1940's, the destruction of a few government offices in 2001. The former sparked our entrance into WWII, and there was no doubt as to whether we were on the right side.Why don't we have the same resolve today? It's awfully difficult to fight a war when you know that, back home, your families are rooting for the other side.I wish more Americans could be like this brave woman. God bless her, and may he deliver us all.

Allen, Tx
This was a great, informative video and it is something I had no idea was going on. I couldn't imagine my government turning on me and their people like that. It's such a horrible thing to do and I sincerely hope these families find their loved ones.

Houston, Texas, USA
Freedom is not free. Pervez Musharraf is the Saddam Hussein of Pakistan. If Pakistanis do not remove him out of power then one day USA may have to "liberate Pakistan from the tyrant dictator". Remember, not long ago Saddam Hussein was one of the most trusted American allies. Think well!

Sana Khan - Worland, Wyoming
I think that Pervez should be kicked out of Pakistan and kicked into the White House because he does more for Bush than he does for Pakistan. Pakistan and Pakistani Muslims deserve a better and more pro-Islamic leader!

Brilliant reporting. At least somebody had the courage to show the human element of the abductions. The mental agony of those who are illegaly detained by our government.

It is heart breaking, my prayers to all these people, that they may get their loved ones back. Musharraf is selling his own country men, killing them in thousands. Mr Musharraf, every thing is mortal and some day you also have to die. And I assume you have so much blood on your hands, you should pray for a good death. People of Pakistan love their Chief Justice, Justice Iftikhar, and we will stand with him, till we have power in our soul. Long Live Pakistan.PS: I would really pay my thanks and from all the student body for serving us. We owe you brother, God will give you reward. Our wishes and prayers will be with you. History will always remember you in good words, especially Pakistani peoples!

Gujrat, Punjab
Mush/Bush Era will end soon. If you do wrong, it will bear results. As you sow, so shall you reap...Every action has its opposite reaction. The dictator has to pay.

The name of now ex Law minister is actually Wasi Zafar instead of Wali Zafar as mentioned on this page. But trust me now Pakistani will care because he was one of the biggest shame "Mushi" brought on Pakistani judicial system.

It is hard to believe how come some people can be so heartless to do all this just to hide their own weaknesses, misdeeds OR crimes. A friend of mine is missing from last 4 years. He disappeared on his wedding night. Was a good friend, achieved several scholarships, won gold medal for his master degree and was the only son of his old parents. I hope he will come back some day and everybody in his family will get together again for his wedding.

reno, nevada
Yesterday was Manuel Noriega in Panama, then Saddam Hussein. Today is Pervez Musharraf, this is the American policy. Of course if the U.S. is sending money to support repression, innocent people will be sent to jail and die for no reason.

Katina Temple - concord, CA
When you empower crooks and expect help from them, trusting, and then they took a "U turn" in terms of the policy, one has to remember that they were crooks to begin with, and that is something hard to change.

Ali Jamil - Lahore, Punjab
Musharaf has had the honour to lead the first government who has captured hundreds of its own civilains and handed [some of] them over to the US in the name of 'War on Terror'. Why ? Firstly to please his masters in the US, secondly to get a reward (per captive) from them so then he and his fellow generals can fill their tummies...and thirdly to show to the Pakistan people and instituitions that "I will do what I will" without any checks and accountability. This governement has also had the honour of using its own army to kill its own civilians, to use gunship helicopters to kill to political leaders, to use force and openly defy court orders when a citizen of Pakistan comes back to Pakistan...What can one say, the list is a long one. I wish and pray this era of darkness can end soon, as it is doing a lot of harm to Pakistan. People have come to an open revolt with one of the most cherished insituitions of the country, the army, and until the top brass changes its ways and decides to let go of its lavishness and shoe licking of the US, the gulf between the army and the people will keep on widening. May Allah protect us all from this calamity!

harold mandel mandel - toronto ont. canada, ontario,canada
Which government is more morally bankrupt U.S.A. or Pakistan?

Adeel Bajwa - Rawalpindi, Punjab
I'm so glad that people have learned to show dissent. What "Mushi" is doing is not acceptable to any Pakistani. It's time we all unite hands and kick pro-Musharraf forces out of power in coming elections.

Shash Joshi - Concord, CA
Musharraf is inflicting harm on the people of Pakistan under the name of fighting terrorism. He knows the US is going to turn a blind eye, while he moves forward with is agenda. Well, he is a dictator. Congratulations to the reporter for bringing this up. Great job. Frontline World Rocks!

Abbas Khan - Dallas, TX
Americans demand Pakistan "do more" to fight terrorists, when Pakistanis do that and take tough measures, then Americans complain and condemn Pakistan.
I think Americans needs to realize that fighting suicide terrorism is a tough and dirty business.

Tom Slone - Santa Cruz, Ca
Great video. I look forward to seeing more in-depth work from this reporter on your site.