Muhammed Muheisen, Associated Press
ISLAMABAD — Abdul Hameed last saw his son a year ago, being dragged away from their home by Pakistani intelligence operatives along with an Indonesian al-Qaida suspect who had been staying there. The ailing 59-year-old father now has a simple wish.
"I just want to see the face of my son before I die," said Hameed, who has been bedridden for much of the last year with multiple illnesses. "Just that. I have no enmity with anybody, any agency or any government. If you were in my position, what would you do?"
Kashif, who is a student, is among the ranks of Pakistan's "missing" — people seized by security forces for months or years, never to be brought to trial, their families never informed of their fate. Many of the men are presumed to be suspected Islamist militants, swept up in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, crackdown supported by the United States. Some are alleged to have been killed or tortured in custody.
Pakistan's Supreme Court has now given the families a measure of hope by bringing a landmark case against the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the country's most feared spy network, which is suspected to be behind most of the seizures. The agency, which works closely with the CIA, operates largely outside of the law.
The ISI either refuses to discuss the missing, denies capturing them, or insists they were involved in militancy.
In an unprecedented hearing this month, judges forced the ISI to bring seven ailing suspected militants to the court in Islamabad, where they were reunited with their families. It has ordered the ISI to explain on March 1 what law they were detaining the seven under.
The media, which has largely shied away from reporting about the ISI because of the power it still yields, has taken up the issue with vigor. The military and ISI have suffered a series of humiliations in the past year, including the U.S. raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. The civilian government has also demonstrated a measure of defiance that seems to have put the generals on the defensive.
"The country and the media are saying enough is enough," said Amna Masood Janjua, who heads a human rights group campaigning on behalf of the families. "We need intelligence agencies, but they can't operate above the law." Her husband was seized in 2005, and she believes him to be held by the intelligence agencies.
Sensing a change in momentum, the relatives of about 100 of the missing have set up a camp on a road leading to the parliament, vowing to stay there until the court orders the ISI to produce them all or they are put on trial. They say the intelligence agencies already have released six people because of the pressure.
Handwritten signs around the camp make it clear that much of the anger is directed at the United States because of its close collaboration with the ISI in tracking and capturing al-Qaida suspects in the last 10 years in Pakistan, one of the terrorist group's global hubs.
Former President Pervez Musharraf, who allied Pakistan with Washington after 2001, wrote in his memoir in 2006 that Pakistani security forces had captured 689 terrorists and handed over 369 to the United States, earning the country millions of dollars in bounties.
Many of those ended up at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, and the Red Cross has contacted the relatives of Pakistanis held at the camp.
Some of the activists believe the U.S. could be holding the suspects elsewhere around the world. The CIA, which ran a network of overseas prisons — so-called "black sites" — says it no longer does so. But suspicions persist that the U.S. is holding detainees at Bagram Air Field, a base it runs in neighboring Afghanistan.
Relations between the ISI and CIA has remained in place even as ties between the two countries have plummeted in the last year because of tensions over the war in Afghanistan and the bin Laden raid, officials from both countries say.
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