A life of waiting

November is a difficult month in our family. It is a reminder that another year has gone by that Papa cannot be with us. It is also a reminder that he will once again be alone on his birthday. All we can do on the 19th of November since the past three years is think of him and pray that on the next one, we are together.

My father, Idris Khattak was first subject to enforced disappearance, then kept in solitary confinement for two years and one month, and finally sent to prison after a secret military court sentenced him to 14 years in prison.

In December 2021, Papa was transferred to Adiala Central Jail – which is the smallest of mercies. Now we can meet him and talk to him and tell him how much we miss him. At least we know where he is.

But things were not how we thought they would be. There are around 30-40 people meeting their loved ones in a single room where the bars and grates are so thick you can hardly even see the person standing behind them. I have to sometimes even stand on the benches just to try and talk to him. For the first four months he was in a high security prison – as if he posed a danger to anyone.

Every meeting left me with a bittersweet feeling. I was still glad that I could at least meet him, but it was a reminder of the trauma that he had been through and was still going through. I could not relate to my friends in university anymore as I felt like we were living in different worlds. My sister could not meet him at all as she could not go to the overcrowded meeting room with her children.

He was later moved from high security prison to a C-class prison, but he was still not given a lot of facilities, like phone calls to his lawyer and his family. I would visit him every single Saturday after he was moved, where it was crowded but not as much as before. He once told me that every time we met and he went back to his room, he used to tell his friend in prison, “Six more days left.” His friend would ask, “For what?” and Papa would reply, “Until I can meet my family again.”

That was also his answer when I asked him what he did all day in prison. He would say wait for you guys to come meet me again.

It broke my heart to see him waiting and see him get more and more anxious when the case was not moving forward. He tells me he is in high spirits and that he will keep fighting until he is with us, but I see him feel helpless sometimes – when every time he asks me whether there are any updates regarding the case and my answer is always the same. I hate to be the one giving him no news and disappointing him.

While Papa’s life has come to a pause – has become a life of waiting, our lives still went on without him. I graduated university, but for the graduation ceremony my guest list was empty – Papa was not there. When my nephew was born, when he turned one, Papa could not meet him. When I got my first salary at my first job, I couldn’t have a celebration with my father. I was alone in my room wishing he was with us.   

Things have changed a lot for our family – we have had to go through things that we never even imagined anyone would have to go through.

We do consider ourselves lucky however that his fate was made known to us, and at least we can meet him and talk to him and tell him how much we miss him. Papa is the most selfless person I know, and he would never do anything to hurt anyone. All his life, he has only ever tried to help those around him.  I only pray and hope for all missing persons to be reunited with their families.


Idris Khattak was deprived of his liberty and subject to enforced disappearance on 13 November 2019 on his way home from Islamabad near the Swabi Interchange of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Seven months later, the Ministry of Defence finally admitted that they had Idris Khattak in their custody. Despite being a civilian, Idris was tried by a military court and charged with espionage under Pakistan’s Official Secrets Act. In December 2021, there were reports that he had been sentenced to 14 years in prison but his family is yet to receive any official notification. An appeal has been filed in the Islamabad High Court. 

In Pakistan, enforced disappearance has been used as a tool to muzzle dissent and criticism of the state. Efforts to criminalize the practice and bring perpetrators to justice have stalled, and the practice continues.