July 28, 2023
By Xari Jalil
When Saliah’s phone beeped with a new message, she instantly knew what it was – anywhere he traveled her husband always sent her a photo of his. She tapped open her inbox and saw him sitting on a spacious, beige business-class seat, the trace of a soft smile on his aging face. At once she missed his jovial and light-hearted presence at home. “He was a complete family man…a loving father, so lively,” she says, a hint of sadness punctuating her voice.
Mir Taj Mohammad Sarparah, a Pakistan and Dubai-based businessman, was traveling to Karachi from Dubai so he could catch a flight to Turkey.
But it was July 2020, the peak of the COVID scare, and his flight plans had to change drastically. Now he would have to fly to Karachi, to get a connecting flight but he decided to stay a while in Karachi first. and later catch a flight back.
Except that he never reached the airport.
Saliah Taj – also known among many by her maiden name Salia Marri – claims that at around 2:10 a.m., on the night of July 19, 2020, Taj was abducted along with his driver, Mohammad Javed in the Baloch Colony area while on is way to the Karachi airport. And while Javed did surface months later, there are no traces of Taj.
“We were talking on the phone when it happened,” explains Saliah, her strong and calm voice speaking of the courage she has mustered to face this. “He had been staying in Karachi for some time and was calling en route to the Karachi airport when his call ended abruptly. When we tried to call back, his phone was off. We called the driver, but couldn’t reach him either.”
For someone who had always stayed in touch with his family, it was odd that he was suddenly out of touch. Still, the family gave the situation some time thinking he would call back. Yet three years later they continue to wait. Their phones have not buzzed even once with his call or any news about him.
“I was panic-stricken. I made frantic calls to everyone in Pakistan,” says Saliah, who is the niece of the late Khair Bux Marri. “I called my family then, who have links within the political circle in Sindh, and asked them to help me trace him. Five, six, seven hours passed by and no one knew anything.”
At first, the police refused to file an FIR.
“We had to go through political sources to have the FIR lodged,” she told Voicepk in her exclusive interview. After a week when we got the CCTV footage of my husband, we saw that he was apprehended by the intelligence agencies. My Sindh government sources confirmed the same. However, the Sindh police told us that their hands were tied and they could not provide us that part of the CCTV footage.”
A week after his abduction, Saliah says, she also got a call from a private number.
“The caller said that my husband was with them (ISI) and that they would kill him if she did not come to Karachi. But my political sources expressly told me not to come to Karachi, that it would be better for me if I did not. They told me they would abduct me as well. They never gave any reason for his abduction nor about his release.”
Then a few months after the abduction, she was informed that her house in Karachi was raided and ransacked by men in plain clothes, who placed two bullets on the floor in her bedroom to threaten her.
“I was informed by my brother-in-law and later political sources confirmed that ISI agents were behind all this. My two watchmen were also forcibly abducted for three months and allege that they were severely tortured during this disappearance.
“They told me how they used to be tortured in the middle of the night through water-boarding in ice cold water,” she says. They were interrogated endlessly, about the family’s whereabouts and details. Then before they ordered them to leave Karachi, they said, ‘Tell Madam not to return’.
“I remember he had become mentally very disturbed after that incident and he left instantly for his village,” she said. “It made me think about the condition my husband must be in. He is a 61-year-old diabetic patient who also has high blood pressure – how can he survive a torture cell?”
‘Do you want your children to become orphans?’ was one of their messages to her.
Saliah was also threatened while living in Dubai. It seemed that whoever had abducted her husband had tentacles there as well. “I was followed and threatened; once a car chased me for a long time, and almost hit me from one side. I had to leave Dubai and I moved to the UK.”
‘NO IDEA WHY’
As a businessman who has strong political links, it is uncommon that someone like Taj Sarparah was abducted like this.
“Maybe it’s because of the fact that we have a Baloch background,” says Marri. “Hundreds of Baloch are disappeared every year…that’s not surprising. But I still have no idea why he was abducted.”
It is also thought that Sarparah may have been picked up because of Salia’s own connection with Khair Bux Marri, who was known to be a fierce separatist leader. They are all theories.
It is also true that despite so many of these families constantly protesting and pleading for the release of their loved ones, very few have returned home, and those too in precarious conditions. Not trusting the judiciary and the legal recourse in Pakistan, Salia also raised the matter internationally at the UN Working Group of Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, and in August 2021 the Working Group transmitted 37 cases to the Government including that of Sarparah.
3 years ago Mir Taj Muhammad Sarparah was abducted by intelligence agencies without any legal process. He remains missing without any trace. This is extremely painful for his family and friends. This injustice/illegality end now.#ReleaseTajMuhammadSarparah https://t.co/JLna1faLxK
— Afrasiab Khattak (@a_siab) July 19, 2023
In April 2023, Amnesty International also sent a letter to the Interior Minister asking him to immediately disclose Sarparah’s whereabouts, release him or see he is brought before a judge in a civilian court; accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and without making any reservation, recognize the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or other states parties. The letter also said that the government must ensure that enforced disappearances must be criminalized in domestic law, by ensuring that any amendment of the law is aligned with international human rights standards.
Three years ago today Taj Muhammad Sarparah was kidnapped from Karachi, still missing & disappeared
Urge powers that be to safely recover Sarparah & all enforcedly disappeared
Fair trial is not bounty of the state, it is basic right of everyone #ReleaseTajMuhammadSarparah
— Farhatullah Babar (@FarhatullahB) July 19, 2023
Three years have passed since the enforced disappearance of Mir Taj Muhammad Sarparah. @Saliamarri_ is still waiting for him.@Europarl_EN why don’t you discuss these countless enforced disappearances?
Thankyou @FarhatullahB for raising your voice . #ReleaseTajMuhammadSarparah pic.twitter.com/HksuHBRwkB
— Sajeda Akhtar (@Sajeda_Akhtar) July 19, 2023
While enforced disappearances are a crime under international law, and even though the Pakistan Penal Code does see abduction as a crime, there is no legislation concerning enforced disappearances. This is despite the fact that the acts of enforced disappearances violate Pakistan’s Constitution, including freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to a judicial overview of detention and to human dignity, and the prohibition of torture, as well as constituting criminal offences.
LIVING UNDER THREAT
While there are no statistics about the exact number of those who have been disappeared forcibly, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons gives a figure of 472 enforced disappearances reported in 2021 alone. The COIOED (Commission of Inquiry of Enforced Disappearances) on the other hand records around 8701 cases across Pakistan for the year 2021.
Taj Muhammad Sarparah was abducted from Karachi in July 2020. His family has no idea about his fate or whereabouts.#ReleaseTajMuhammadSarparah#BalochMissingPersonsDay #EndEnforcedDisappearances pic.twitter.com/zajGOv0GeI
— Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir (@ImaanZHazir) June 8, 2023
Among these is Sarparah’s case (No. 8082 –S), received on July 9, 2021 on the reference of the UN Working Group. However, the status of the case says that it is still under investigation. During one of the court appearances, Salia was surprised to know that Sarparah’s driver Muhammad Javed was produced in court – months after they had been abducted. However he knew nothing about the fate of Sarparah, and he himself looked visibly distressed.
Each day that Salia raises her voice, she feels the danger that surrounds her and the fate of her husband. But she carries on undeterred.
“Life is meaningless without him,” she says. “I want him back home. He was an angel for us – so full of life and love. I will continue to raise my voice for him till my last breath.”