August 16, 2023

By Xari Jalil


Shireen Naz was up all night, listening to the sounds of the firecrackers and children playing happily. Young men hooted while riding motorbikes whose silencers had been especially removed for the night of August 13. The cheery sounds were infectious enough for others to join in, but Shireen has not celebrated this national festivity in the last eight years.

Nor has she had the heart to celebrate Eid, or any other happy moments, because happiness it seemed had seeped out of her home ever since her husband Syed Musa had gone missing in 2015. At the time he disappeared, their son had been born. Everything was going as well as it could be.

“The last time I saw my husband was when he was going to pray at Siddiqui mosque near our house,” she says, her voice breaking. “But after he left the house he never returned.”

The minute she got realized her husband was missing, she along with her brother-in-law went together to search for him in a frenzy.

“What we discovered was that some men had pushed him into a car, and taken him along. No one knew who the men were and why they had taken him, but that was all they had seen happen.”

Musa also known as Shahid, was around 26 years old at the time he went missing and was working in a factory. A resident of Landhi – an area where a large chunk of the population is that of Urdu-speaking families – Shireen thinks it was because of the ethnic identity that he was taken.

“My husband was also a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for a long time. However, despite being politically active, I know he was not involved in any suspicious activities.”

Without Musa, life has been difficult for Shireen. And a burgeoning illness like breast cancer has made it even worse. At present, she is undergoing chemotherapy, but all her pains are only hers with no one to share them with.

“MQM takes care of our basic needs and I am thankful for that,” she says. “But of course that does not cover everything. I have had to pull out my children from the good private schools they were attending and send them to government schools. And now with my girls growing up, I am more than worried about their future – no one cares for anyone nowadays. Their father should have been here to protect them at this age.”

Shireen has had enough of even following the legal recourse, or waiting for answers. “Mine is a cold case now it seems. I filed an FIR, but not much came afterwards. There have been several Joint Investigation Committees formed of which I was initially a part. But should I leave behind my children alone at home each time and attend their meetings where they offer me no hope?”

‘Aren’t 10 years enough?’

Like Shireen, Shabnam Naeem, a resident of PIB Colony has also fallen ill over the course of time. Her husband Mohammad Naeem was picked up from a local paan kiosk in 2013 and disappeared without a trace. Now with five growing children and a house on rent, she says she has never been more miserable in her life than she is today.

“I am in so much pain, I cannot even explain,” she cries. “I have lost my eyesight because I have cried so much,” she refers to her loss of vision.

Mohammad Naeem, also a member of MQM’s Sector 58 had gone out to the neighborhood paan kiosk and was standing there talking with three of his friends when according to eyewitnesses an entourage of Rangers came and stopped next to him.

“They told me that four of them were clad in Rangers’ uniforms while the others were in civil clothes,” said Shabnam. “They took all of them and no one has ever seen their faces again.”

Even after her husband was taken, Shabnam says they faced at least two or three more raids at their house. “Rangers burst in each time, they trashed our place and in one of the incidents they saw a picture of my husband, hanging on the wall and instantly asked us questions about him. ‘What is this man’s name and where is her?’ To which I said you yourself have taken him with you.”

Shabnam’s in-laws did not blink an eye before they threw her out of the house afterwards. “They said to me, if our son isnt there, you leave too. When I asked them about my children, they told me, take them with you.”

Although her own family has not rejected her, Shabnam’s only working brother has his own family to look after and cannot pay her, while her other two brothers are disabled. Again the party looks after Shabnam and her children’s basic monthly requirements.

“My children ask me questions and I am unable to answer them,” she weeps. “Even after 10 years, I am unable to give them proper answers as to why their father has been taken.”

She says she was told by someone in a JIT meeting that her husband was not found to be involved in any criminal activities. But she does not understand as why they have no released him if that’s the truth.

“Just let him go…Aren’t 10 years enough to punish him and us both?”

Mohajir Identity

Shireen Naz is certain that Musa was picked up only because of their ‘muhajir’ identity. Although she herself would not technically be a muhajir having been born and raised in Pakistan, she says her parents and relatives all came at different times to Pakistan from India and have suffered a great deal of ethnic discrimination only because they were from a community that spoke Urdu.

MQM’s Rabita Committee member, Hassan Butt says that the discrimination against the Muhajir, or Urdu-speaking community began shortly after 1978 when they began rallying under the banner of the All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization (APMSO) (later to become Muhajir Qaumi Movement).

“In 1992 during the PPP government, there was a massive operation where several families of Muhajir descent were killed, and many of them also forcibly disappeared. We have names of people who were picked up by various security forces and whose fates continue to be unknown to this day. We do not know if they are dead or alive,” he says.

It is not just because of the various crackdowns that have taken place on MQM itself. It is because many of those who spoke Urdu and stood by their ethnic identity were targeted.

“We know it’s not political when a person is picked up after his ID card is checked, and he is taken because of his family name. Or because they target young men who are seen wearing pants and shirts, who are not afraid to raise slogans for their ethnic rights. What’s more, these incidents are still happening.”

He points out some of the latest incidents that have taken place, including the abductions of senior political leader of MQM Ismail Qureshi aka ‘Sitara Bhai’ and of 28-year-old Saud Ahmed Khan, the son of another senior political activist Sabir Chacha aka ‘Muhajir Chacha’. Both of them were abducted from their homes during raids by law enforcement agencies in Karachi.

In the early hours of Tuesday, August 15, former zonal in-charge of MQM Sukkur zone and senior political activist, Naeem Qureshi was forcibly disappeared by Rangers and police after they broke down the doors of his house.

Meanwhile Imaan Zainab Haazir-Mazaari, a human rights lawyer also spoke to on the issue, Imaan Mazari has been speaking out on the issue of missing persons across Pakistan, especially recently during an online campaign that addressed the concerns of missing persons from different ethnic communities including Baloch, Pukhtun, Sindhi, Punjabi and Muhajir (Urdu speaking), as well as those who have been picked up in Kashmir.

“The Muhajir community faces a similar fate as the Baloch community – not just because of enforced disappearances, but also the ‘kill and dump’ policy.”

Abid Abbasi, a member of the MQM who belonged  to the Muhajir community was picked up in 2016 was found dead. Likewise Wasim Akhtar was picked up in 2017 and Irfan Basarat was disappeared in 2018. All of them were picked up in front of their family members. In September 2022, their mutilated corpses were found dumped in Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas and Sanghar.

“It’s a very systematic practice that is continuing,” says Mazari. “Of course, the kill and dump policy started in Balochistan but it has also targeted the Muhajir community.”

Another example is that of Shahid Kaleem who was abducted by the Rangers in 2016. For around years he was in their custody and then in December 2020 they dumped his mutilated corpse.

Those Who Return

There have been very few cases where those who have been picked up have come back to their families, albeit years later and as only a shell of a person. Shaista Riaz says such these are rare happenings but she talked to one of the women whose husband returned. Her own husband Shehzad Khan was taken in 2015.

“I meet a lot of the other wives who also appear on the JIT meetings. There are JITs formed by the SSP Office, and the Sindh Secretariat as well as others so there are several meetings. I have had 22 meetings myself,” she informs. “One of the other women stopped coming so I called to find out and she said her husband had come back home – one day he just walked in the house quietly.”

But, says Shaista, he won’t talk to anyone, especially the press, and he never told them what had happened. “The only thing he had said to her was that they made them pray all the time, but that is all. Nothing else. He had grown a long beard too. Now even the woman doesn’t talk to anyone”

Nine years ago, around five Rangers’ personnel wearing masks, raided her home at 3 am and dragged her husband away with them.

“It wasn’t even a secret – the entire neighborhood saw it,” she says. Even in the evening when Shehzad had been sitting with some friends they had commented about several Rangers cars that could be seen in the vicinity and had told each other to take care.

“My kids are now so much older and they have never seen their father,” she says. “But I keep my hopes up thinking my husband is safe wherever he is and that he will return too. Till then I am waiting.”

Shabnam and Shireen do not really share the same optimism.

“If August 14 means freedom, then free these people too – or bring them to trial for their crimes,” says Shabnam.

And Shireen says, “The state should tell us. Are we widows or we wives?”



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