On Wednesday, August 13, the President will probably wake up and go for a run on the beach in Martha’s Vineyard.
On the same day, somewhere in the hilly region between Pakistan’s cities and the Afghan border, Warren Weinstein will wake up and wait for his captors to tell him when he can go to the bathroom, what he can eat for breakfast, or whether he will live through the day.
Warren is a development worker — not a US government employee or a member of the military. He is one of the thousands of people who decided that their life would be more fulfilling if they dedicated it to helping others. He has spent over 40 years working in places in Africa and South Asia that desperately need people like him.
He hasn’t asked for comfort or for a big salary. Instead, he and his wife Elaine have raised their two daughters while enduring long periods of time when Warren was overseas, often in less than stable places. They compensated for the distance with postcards that Warren would send and by the daily phone call — sometimes more than once a day — when Warren would talk about something, anything, just to let them hear his voice and know that he was alright.
That all changed on August 13, 2011, when gunmen burst into his home in Lahore, Pakistan, and abducted him. He had been in Pakistan for seven years working on economic development projects. His goal was to work with local partners to give them the resources, skills and training to do better for their families and their community.
He was just four days away from his return to the US. But in just a few days, Warren will have been missing for three years. His family has had to forgo holidays, birthdays and anniversaries — even his precious postcards and phone calls. They have only seen him in videos that his captors have produced to show he is still alive, and because of his asthma and heart issues, he does not look good. The family believes he is in North Waziristan — near where the Pakistan Army is conducting a major offensive — but they don’t know for sure.
Instead of spending time with their parents as they transitioned into retirement — Warren turned 73 last month — Warren’s two daughters, along with his wife, have had to learn about Washington the hard way. These are not connected people with money or powerful friendships.
This is a development worker’s family — ordinary people, the kind of people who need a government that knows how to help them when they are most in need. They have had to figure out how one connects with the parts of government that are supposed to help in such circumstances and realized that it does not work the way one might hope. They have had to learn about the geopolitics of the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship, when all they want is their father back.
They have had to find the right ways to speak directly to the American people and to the people of Pakistan. But still, another anniversary is coming up, and Warren is not home. They have had to learn about how to appear in the media, how to walk the halls of Congress, and how to know when a meeting is just a meeting or when it is an opportunity to help their father.
One saving grace has been the support they have gotten from Maryland’s U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and from their congressman, Representative John Delaney. All three have voiced their concern to the Administration, and all three have co-sponsored resolutions in their respective houses of Congress calling on the Administration and the Government of Pakistan to do more. But what is really needed is a cooperative effort between the US and Pakistan to bring this nightmare to an end for the Weinstein family.
When President Obama announced that he was authorizing US military air strikes against the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), he said: “When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action. That is my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief.” As Warren Weinstein prepares for his third year in captivity, we, like him, Mr. President, are holding you to your word.
It’s time to bring Warren home.