DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's go now to Pakistan, where hundreds of activists, bloggers, militants and political dissidents have disappeared over the past few years. Some of them never return, and activists say this is getting worse. In Karachi, Pakistan, NPR's Diaa Hadid met a woman in search of her son.
ZARJAN ATTA: (Foreign language spoken).
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Zarjan Atta is tired and grieving. She traveled for days to reach Karachi, where her son Nawaz lived with relatives. They say armed men burst into their flat and took him away. The day I meet Zarjan, she's traveling again, this time from police station to police station. She's trying to file a missing persons report. She's illiterate, so her son's friends help her. They're women. They ask not to be named because they fear being detained themselves. One explains why it's so important to get a police report.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the evidence that we - when we go to higher courts or organization, like Amnesty, we can prove that Nawaz is missing. This is the thing that maybe, maybe, maybe can save the Nawaz's life.
HADID: Nawaz's friends say they're doing what he used to do - beg police to write missing persons reports. We arrive at one station. A cop there says he won't file a report. He says it's the wrong jurisdiction. He directs the women to another station.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: (Foreign language spoken).
HADID: There, an officer berates them. Zarjan's son was an activist. What did they expect? Anyway, he can't file a report. Same excuse - wrong jurisdiction. The women insist. Then they wait for hours. Finally, he agrees to send out a cop to verify if the incident did occur in his jurisdiction.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: (Foreign language spoken).
HADID: The cop reaches a dusty neighborhood. He asks residents if they saw anything. A shopkeeper says nothing happened here. One of Zarjan's friends shames him. And finally he admits, yes, he saw armed men take her son. We return to the station. An officer agrees to write a report. Zarjan's son is now officially missing. It's taken seven hours, and Zarjan's exhausted.
Activists say what happened to Zarjan's son, Nawaz, points to a broader trend. Farhatullah Babar is a leading senator from the main opposition party. He says before, Pakistan's army targeted suspected al-Qaida militants and insurgents from Balochistan, a province where the army is battling separatists.
FARHATULLAH BABAR: But then, over a period of time, the area has expanded in terms of ideological content, if they were the militants. Now the insurgents, the political dissidents and those social media activists - they are also being caught.
HADID: There's no precise numbers, but the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan believes up to 10,000 people were taken over the past decade and around 3,000 are still unaccounted for. Just last year, 730 people were taken. We asked to interview a spokesman from the Pakistani army, but he didn't respond. So we spoke to retired Brigadier Haris Nawaz. He often explains the military's thinking to journalists. He says security forces don't want to report that they've taken people like Nawaz.
HARIS NAWAZ: We have to interrogate for indefinite period.
HADID: Keeping it off the books is important.
NAWAZ: You see, if the family is told, then what will the family do? They will go to the court. Right? What the court will say? OK, produce him. And then intelligence forces are finished.
HADID: If and when people are released, they often fall silent.
AASIM SAEED: Because if they go missing again, they will not be able to speak forever.
HADID: That's Aasim Saeed. Last year he was detained for 21 days. After that, he fled to London, so he can now speak out. During the day, he says...
SAEED: There was a knock on the door.
HADID: Saeed says he was blindfolded, shackled and interrogated about a Facebook page that mocked the army. He says interrogators wanted to know if Pakistan's rival, India, was paying him. He was whipped...
SAEED: With a leather strap or something. I fell down. Somebody was holding my neck in his legs and the other guy was, like, kept on beating on my back.
HADID: The retired brigadier says no Pakistani should ever criticize the army. He also says there's more pressure on the army. A new trade corridor is being built by the Chinese. It could transform Pakistan, but it passes through that restive province where the army and militants are fighting.
NAWAZ: Unless Balochistan is peaceful, our effort will never be successful. I would say this is a very defining moment for Pakistan. We are economically weak. This is our road to economic prosperity.
HADID: He says, now, the army can't let dissent get in the way.
Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Karachi.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAHIM ALHAJ AND AMJAD ALI KAHN'S "RELEASE OF THE DOVE")
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