This essay was written as an introduction to my earliest attempts to produce a photographic work on the victims of America’s wars. Focusing on the communities living on the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) or Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) as it is today called, it was a small attempt to speak out against the wars we had manufactured, and the millions of lives we were destroying. It was my first photographic dissent against what was unfolding. Written in the fall of 2011, it accompanied a few grant proposals I put together for this work. And whereas those attempts failed, this work, these communities, remain a part of my more recent and broader project in Pakistan tentatively titled Justice In Pakistan for which I did finally secure some much needed funding.
The video is grainy, and difficult to view on the small mobile phone screen its being played on. There is a man being interviewed by a BBC correspondent – she is questioning him about Osama Bin Ladin and about Al-Qaeda. I can’t make out the details of the interview, and I can’t see the man’s face – he is turned away from the camera but I can see his bearded profile. “That is my father” Abubabakar Hayat says pointing to bearded figure in the screen. I continue to watch closely – the scene in the video cuts to one where a group of men, handcuffed and blindfolded, are being loaded into the back of a Pakistan Police vehicle. As the last man is pushed in – wearing an orange blindfold, dressed in a dark brown shalwar kameez, Abubakar’s excited voice cuts in..”There – that is my father Shokat Hayat. This is the last view I have of him.” The other children are sitting quietly around me, looking at me. I am not sure how many times they have seen this video before, but clearly they are more interested in my reactions. Their father disappeared on 15th March 2009, picked up by the Pakistani ISI and the Police, and was never heard from again. Now, this poor quality video, is there only evidence of him alive. I want to ask questions about his involvement with the conflicts in Afghanistan, with the regime of the Taliban or whether he was involved in activities against the American presence in the country. I have been told that he was involved with groups speaking out against the Musharraf regime and the American war in Afghanistan. That he had been in Afghanistan and collaborated with the Taliban regime. But I stop myself. It’s not his guilt that I have come to establish, but the legality of his disappearance and the unconstitutionality of his arrest. I remind myself that whether he is gulty of crimes or not, or whether he is religiously fundamentalist or not, the issue here is of law and the right to due process. It is the fact that Pakistani citizen’s rights – a commodity of no importance to the very people responsible for upholding then, were violated. There is nothing more to say.
In July and August 2013, I am bringing bringing this work to the USA. The campaign for the release of the 33 men still imprisoned – without charge and without due process, at the Bagram / Parawan prison in Afghanistan, goes to major cities in Pakistan, and onto Washington D.C. and New York. I will be traveling and proudly speaking on behalf and in support of men who are considered ‘terrorists’ without any evidence, or without recourse to a meaningful legal process where they can defend themselves against these charges. They were rendered to the Americans by the British, Pakistanis and the Afghans, and have been waiting for a fair trial. Many have been there for over 11 years. Some have been released, and we believe more will be if we maintain the pressure, and keep insisting.
I am in the midst of this work now, traveling across Pakistan and into remote villages and urban slums, to collect as many stories as I can. Or am permitted to. Conservative, jaded and left without hope, many of the families no longer believe that any amount of effort can help release their sons, fathers and husbands from the black hole of American imprisonment they have fallen into. I believe otherwise and so do members of The Justice Project Pakistan, whose inspiring leader, lawyer Sarah Belal, has been fighting cases on their behalf. Our goal is to launch the work in late July, and bring the exhibitions to the USA in July and August. There will be a dedicated website for this work and I will post updates once that is ready.
In the mean time, below is the essay I wrote in one sitting, one quiet, late night in Stockholm. I remember I was on the phone with a friend, and after many days of struggling to figure out what to write, this simply fell out in less than a couple of hours. I have since left it unchanged. Details »