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Tales from the dungeon: Dr Yousuf Murad Baloch (Part II)

This is the the second and final part of Dr Yousuf Murad’s tale. The first part can be read here. The tales from the dungeon is a project initiated by Balochistan Times in which former victims of enforced disappearances recount their ordeals.

 

My bruises were getting better and I no longer passed red urine. Akhter remained in my cell probably for two days. There was finally someone I could talk to without the fear of being tortured for what I say.

It was common knowledge in Balochistan that Gwadar was being taken over by the Pakistani establishment for military and economic reasons. Gwadar was the pivotal and emotional core and the rallying point of our politics. We saw it as a means of further subjugation and exploitation. I lamented with Akhter over failing to fulfil my parent’s dream of being a doctor and my dream of visiting Gwadar before my death.

Akhter consoled me. “Well, your death as a martyr might make them prouder than you being a doctor. And for the fact that you have not seen Gwadar I will depict Gwadar for you.” Whatever time we had together we spent it by talking about every aspect and shade of Gwadar.

I did not have Akhter’s company for long as they shifted me to another cell. I was all alone again, daydreaming about freedom and, at other instants, contemplating about committing suicide. No object present in the cell could be used to commit suicide — not the plastic bottle nor the elastic rubber band in our pyjamas. I tried smashing my head against the wall but the guard would intervene within seconds. It only gave me head pain and additional thrashing by the guard with his truncheon. It was impractical, I knew. Yet, I kept trying it like so many other idiocies one can only try in a torture cell. Sometimes I would count all the visible spots on the walls and ceiling and then recount them to compare with the previous counting.

After some days, I was shifted to another cell which, fortunately, was near the toilet and the corridor had another cell’s door facing my door directly. Inside was a suspected al Qaeda member. He taught me a technique: using recitation of the Quran to talk. He would recite the Quran in a loud voice and in between verses insert some Urdu words so that I may join all the Urdu words to form a coherent sentence. This technique would be our primary source of conversation throughout the detention. The guards had no objection to such recitations.

Also, the guards had grown laxer and some would occasionally talk to us when their superintendent was not around.

I requested for a copy of the Quran and was provided with a Barelvi translation with pleasure. I learned from the guards that the American investigators, who visited this facility at times, prohibited any other translation of the Quran to be given to the prisoners. The guards were not pleased with this and considered it as a meddling in their religion.

The suspected al Qaeda member was released after a few days and Naseem was brought in his place. We both would recite the Quran and sometimes speak complete sentences in Balochi in a recital manner and the guards would not notice.

Most prisoners came from al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. They enjoyed especial moral authority over the guards and the officers. Unlike us, they were not always beaten into silence. Except for a Sindhi guard, all others favoured the Islamist prisoners over us.

The Islamic militants would receive a fruit once a day. They would also be taken into the sun thrice a week. They would shout back angrily at the guards when they were not given enough time in the toilet, always getting away without being beaten. They would also be allowed more frequent showers. Some of them were in good terms with the guards and at times were smuggled cigarettes at a hiding place in the toilet. Often, officers discovered the cigarettes during regular night searches. They would confiscate any more than three cigarette sticks.

The Sindhi guard would occasionally talk desultorily with us in absence of his superiors. He would passionately narrate the love story of Sassi and Punno and tell us how the Baloch and Sindhis were historically interrelated and both oppressed by the dominant Punjabis. He would complain that there was discrimination even in the army. He would allow me to talk to Naseem in the opposite cell for a few minutes.

The Sindhi guard once told me I and he both were prisoners. “I am also tortured when I beat you,” he said. It was, I guess, his way of consoling me. Yet, the beatings did not hurt any less. On another occasion, he indicated to me in very subtle words that there were widespread protests going on for our release. This did help me receive the beatings with a braver face.

A Punjabi guard, who was in his late sixties and had a shaven moustache and white beard, suffered from constant head and neck pain. Upon discovering that we were medical students, he asked us about a cure for his pain. We advised him to get his eyesight tested which he did. After a few days, he showed us his new eyeglasses and claimed his headache had been healed. That led to his opening up to me, and he kind of half-heartedly regretted for his harsh dealings with us during the first few weeks. At first, I thought it might be a trick to extract information. But, in front of his superiors, he would hit me, trying to demonstrate to them that he was doing his job professionally. Once the officers were gone he would apologize again. “It’s my job. I don’t want to do that,” he would say.

He had only a few months left to his retirement. He would often boast about his days in the army. He claimed he was a former SSG commando and that he, in his youth, could run eighty kilometres with a 20 kilo backpack. He said he was always the first choice to guard important political prisoners. “Like you people.”

He said he had guarded Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Shareef, adding that Bhutto was very brave just like the many Baloch prisoners he had seen. “He would never cry for mercy.” According to him, he was there during his last night at the jail when one particular army officer asked Bhutto to sign a paper which he refused. The officer kicked him to death. Then they had to hang Bhutto’s body the next day.

He also claimed that when Nawaz Shareef was arrested he got a diarrhoea which could not be cured by any medicine. The diarrhoea was so severe that he could not eat anything except for espahgol (Ispaghula Husk). He asked his family members to bring bags full of money to be distributed among guards as kherat (offering) to God for his sins.

There was another fat Punjabi sobedar who seemed to be a sadist. He derived pleasure by pulling our hair every time he saw us. He knew every person from Mashkay, the hometown of Allah Nizar, Naseem and Akhtar Nadeem. He had served there for quite some time. We used to refer to him as “Mashkay wala” meaning someone from Mashkay.

One day, after lunch, my door clanged open and some guards came. I was blindfolded, hooded and walked into the interrogation chamber. This time the interrogating voices were different but the questions were all the same. The interrogation was similar in technique but a sense of desperation and frustration prevailed in their voices. I could say that their notion of covertly killing us was all in ruins ever since the protests had started. They did not want to create martyrs and heroes. All the while they were torturing me I could not figure what they wanted me to confess. It was as if they knew I was hiding something in my heart and mind but they did not know what precisely it was. “Aur batao (tell us more),” they would yell in frustration.

In between the questions, they ordered beating, often discrediting my answers by claiming that either I had said something else in the previous interrogations or my colleague had said something contradictory. I heard one of them yelling “es ko jehaz bana dou (make him into an aeroplane)”.

My head was then bent against the wall towards the floor and told to stretch my hands like aeroplane wings. I felt blood rushing to my head with some light pain at the beginning, but gradually the pain started to flow through my leg and arm muscles as a guard kept pushing my buttocks until my back felt like splitting. The beatings on the buttocks continued in intervals. I screamed in pain. I was told it was the last day of my life and they will give me maximum pain before killing me.

By now, I was certain that even if I did not leave the dungeon alive I would die as a celebrated martyr of the Baloch cause. After days of disillusion, I had once again started to believe in the nobility of my convictions. The knowledge that people were protesting for us boosted my morale. I was ever more ready to die as death was the only escape to torture.

At one moment I heard myself screaming and begging to be killed, and right at that instance Jameel, who had been silent most of the time, intervened in a concerned voice. He told me that he can not only help me get rid of the pain but also save my life. And then without saying anything else he ordered the guards to stop the torture.

I was made to stand and handcuffed. Jameel told me they were aware of my preparations for the ISSB test (a test for the selection of applicants for officer commissions in Pakistan’s armed forces) before getting admission in the Bolan Medical College. “Why didn’t you take the test?” he asked me. I answered that in my view I could serve my nation better as a doctor. It goes without saying all my sentence began with sir. Often, they ended with it too. ”Will you work for the army now, if you get a chance,” he asked. “I cannot do it, sir,” I responded without thinking.

It was one reckless moment when my tongue had inadvertently slipped causing an unintended insult to the Pakistan army. To them it looked I had always known they would offer me such a deal and I had, in my subconscious, decided to reject it. To me, confessing to the crimes I had not committed under torture was not a betrayal of my beliefs but agreeing to work with the same people who humiliated and dehumanized a whole nation to the lowest extent was a betrayal to my very honour and integrity. Nobody would trust you to act brave in a torture cell. But, unwittingly, you do, and you pay for it.

I thought I will get an instant beating. But Jameel first wanted to know why I was not willing to work for them. To repair the damage my tongue had caused, I tried to be as diplomatic and apologetic this time as I could. “Sir, I want to work as a doctor and serve the people of our country,” I said.

“Look, boy. The way you answered without thinking shows you believe to be on the right path and consider us as exploiters. But I tell you that you are wrong. You never learn. So be ready, we are sending you to Jahannam (hell).” Then he yelled: “Kill him.”

My hands were tied with my legs on the back and the soles of my feet were beaten with a stick. I, convinced they were beating me to death, continuously read aloud the Shahada. The guards took turn with the chetter and stick until I lost consciousness.

When I came back to senses I was in my cell. I was alive; my urine was once again red with blood. The pain in muscles was so intense and stinging that I had to lie down for days. When I was able to stand and see through the bars of the cell door, I saw Naseem in the opposite cell. The Sindhi guard was on duty and that meant we could talk for a few minutes. Naseem inquired me about the interrogation.

I had grown a beard by now and my lice-infested hair had not been combed for weeks and they were scattered all over my face. Naseem tried to console me by telling me my facial looks resembled that of Hameed Baloch. I remembered, with mixed feelings, the interrogator’s words that it had been a mistake to publicly hang Hameed and make him a martyr. At that time the Baloch had not many martyrs. Hameed’s face was an image of reverential envy for me and for most of the Baloch youth. I asked the “Mashkay wala” guard to shave my hair as we had a lice problem. The head shave saved me from lice, frequent pullings of hair and thoughts of Hameed.

In a few days, the pain subsided. My cell was again changed and I was put with Naseem. It was a delight to be with someone again. We both lay on the floor and talked for most of the day. We did not have the energy to get up. When the pain and soreness got unbearable we would press each other’s legs and arms to help with the pain. We both were awaiting death but amidst all the fear of death and pain we often talked of life. We visualized a free Balochistan where no one would have to suffer what we were suffering. This hope which rises in the darkness of dungeons and resonates in society is the revenge that one can return to his torturers.

An al Qaeda member of Kashmiri origin had been brought in my previous cell. He told us that he was the son of a former diplomat and had lived in many European countries. His name was Adeel and his code name was Shakir. He had been captured three years ago for facilitating the bombing of French engineers in Karachi. According to him, he was taken to a US-operated safe house in Karachi and interrogated by the FBI. All his co-accused except one named Sabir had been shifted to either Bagram in Afghanistan or Guantanamo. The US had asked for his extradition to Guantanamo but refused as his family had close contacts with General Pervaiz Musharraf and the ISI. He was treated like a family member, allowed to go in the sun every day. A daily phone call was facilitated to his family. Despite all his powerful connections he had to languish in the dungeon for years.

He told us he had seen the outside of the dungeon as he was not blindfolded when taken outside. As per his saying, it was located just behind the CMH hospital Malir, Karachi. He boasted that certain ISI bosses were involved in his case and that he would be released as soon as American interest in him dwindled.

Things were settling down. We would be occasionally brought to the interrogation room and be interrogated with supplementary questions to the already asked questions. The beatings were now reserved only when we gave pat answers or seemed to be not cooperating. In the course of interrogation, they would boast how the army had built roads in Balochistan and how a Baloch General Abdul Qadir had been promoted by Musharraf on various occasions. They would also claim to be wanting to change our destiny for the better. The interrogations now seemed to be more of brainwashing sessions and I had to mostly keep on saying yes sir. There was a feeling in the air that the interrogations were winding up.

Ali Nawaz Gohar was brought in the cell next to us while Ghulam Rasool was in the other cell next to him. We would mostly talk in the Quranic recital manner. One night Ghulam Rasool had a severe stomach pain. He was vomiting and groaning with pain. A doctor was brought and it was revealed that he had gastric ulcer. His breakfast was changed to milk and sliced bread instead of tea and paratha.

One day, after breakfast, we were given our own clothes to wear. We were blindfolded, hands tied on the back and walked out of the dungeon. It was after forty five days that we were feeling the sun, just for a few seconds before we were thrown into the back of a pickup truck, one on another. In the Quranic recital manner, someone asked who else was in the pickup. Each of us made a noise to inform the others of their presence. Akhter Nadeem, Naseem, Gulam Rasool and I were in the same vehicle, while Ali Nawaz, Allah Nizar and Imdad were not with us.

We were driven to an airfield about three minutes from the dungeon. A man, who introduced himself as a Sindhi captain in the army, spoke to us before putting us on the waiting plane to Quetta which he referred to as “your city”. He was supposedly not being allowed to talk to us about what is going on, but defying the rules, he was doing us a favour.

He explained in mixed Urdu and Sindhi that the ISI had a marking system, marking suspects as white, grey or black. Those marked as white are eventually released, while those marked as black are detained indefinitely. Those marked as grey, like us, had not committed any crime or terror activity but since their politics was damaging to Pakistan they must get a clean chit from a Joint Investigation Team for being released.

He further warned us that any divergence from our previous statements to the ISI would not only lead to indefinite detention and severe torture but the ISI would get involved again. We understood that he was implying any additional confession from our side with the JIT would prove ISI incompetent. They saw their reputation being at stake in case other intelligence agencies extracted any information from us that we did not give to the ISI. They had brought the Sindhi man to convey us this message considering our sympathetic relation with Sindhis.

We were made to sit and wait in the vehicle, with the FM radio broadcasting melodious Urdu songs. The songs stopped unexpectedly and a coarse voice announced that it was 10 o clock and the date is May 8, 2005. The voice reminded the listeners that it was Mother’s Day. My thoughts diverted from my situation to my mother. I recalled her pale white old face. I wondered would she ever be able to see me alive, or, in some other thoughts, would she be able to receive my body. I felt I had failed to fulfil my responsibilities as a son, and when the world was honouring mothers, I was a source of grief and misery to mine.

My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a voice coming from the wireless set of one of our guards. We were then walked to the plane. We were not blindfolded but a black hood was put on our head which was removed once the plane was in the air. Our hands were handcuffed with the seats. The plane had only a few seats and the rest of the area was empty. Unlike the commercial planes that I had travelled, its ceiling was higher. From the conversations of the guards, I figured it was a Pakistani Air Force C130. The people accompanying us were also in air force uniforms.

We were flown to the Samungali air base in Quetta. Before leading us out of the plane, the hoods were placed again on our head. I had managed to bite multiple miniature holes on the black hood while we were waiting for the plane; at times when the holes were at level with my eyes, I could see outside.

There was a strange feeling being back to our own city. I was put in the back seat of a Hilux double door pick-up and two men sat on both my sides. From the tiny holes, I could see that the Hilux was being driven through the Samungali road. It took a turn near the Serena Hotel Quetta. Just before entering the new dungeon, I saw the Quetta Garrison Golf Club. I knew this area quite well as I had visited the FG school multiple times to get my younger brother admitted.

It is said that the notorious Kulli camp is located about ten minutes’ drive from the golf club, and it was after about the same time from the golf club that our vehicle stopped. Kulli camp was built during the British era and has served as a place of torture since then.

In the new dungeon, there was no light directly in front of our cells, which were old and cold. One army wool blanket was provided to me which was not warm enough at nights. Our hands were chained to a big nail in the ground and eyes blindfolded. They would remove the handcuffs and blindfolds only during the meals. We were ordered to face the wall while eating.

We were now in the custody of Military Intelligence.

After three days, I was taken to an interrogation room. The questions were the same. I tried to stick with my previous answers knowing that any deviation could lead to death. They used the previous interrogation tricks. One particular question of concern to them was why the BLF and BLA lacked a written constitution. I too wondered why. I knew the BSO had a written constitution which I mentioned to them.

In Quetta, I was subjected to only one intensive interrogation session at the end of which I was told that they would throw me into some dark cell to die my own death.

Unlike Karachi, the guards here always wore military uniform. One guard with a gun guarded our cell at nights like a statue.

I and Naseem were in the same cell. The food was mostly flat bread with daal, and a cup of tea in the morning.

About a week after my last interrogation I and Naseem were bundled into a Toyota Hilux pick-up. We were driven and then walked into a building where we could hear many different voices. Voices of children playing, women and men talking. The handcuffs were put on one of my hands and a long chain was attached to it. The other end of the chain was held by a guard who used it to walk me along.

It was the CMH hospital Quetta and we were seated in a waiting room filled with people. Everyone behaved as if the scene of two young men in handcuffs being dragged around was something usual and normal. They were probably family members of army officers and had come for a doctor’s visit. I yearned to see a Baloch who could deliver a message to my family that we were alive.

The guard took me to a toilet to collect my urine as the doctor needed it for some tests. The toilet had a mirror; it was the first time since being arrested that I was seeing my face. My skin had grown pale white, cheekbones protruding from the thick beard that I had grown on my skeleton-like face. My eyes seemed to be bewildered at my own sight. The doctor carefully observed me for any sign of torture and bruises. All the bruises had healed except the black spots on my ankle bones caused by the fetters.

The next morning we were hooded once again and taken by an airplane to an airbase which I later confirmed was in Multan, as I saw a signboard through a tiny hole in my hood. We were put in a cell and given lunch. Knowing that we were again in the hands of the ISI, fear and uncertainty gripped me. I could not eat the daal and roti.

Soon I was put in the back seat of a pickup and driven for hours. The roads were under construction at some places and the vehicles had to travel slowly. At about late afternoon the pickup stopped. I was dragged from the back seat and was thrown like a bag on the back of another pickup truck. I fell on two other people. Before I could balance myself and sit properly someone else was flung over me. From the voices, I figured that Imdad, Naseem and Ghulam Rasool were with me in the same truck.

Someone removed our handcuffs but not the hoods. They had lost the key to Naseem’s handcuffs. Our new captors, the police, were in a panic, shouting and abusing each other in Seraiki, cursing the handcuffs for causing them this trouble. They argued among themselves against leaving the handcuffs on as it would confirm that we had been previously arrested.

Among us Imdad could understand Seraiki better than the others. I asked him what the problem was and about what the captors were talking. He, in a confident oratorical tone, said, “Comrades, they are going to do what they threatened us in the torture cells. We might have been weak under torture but this is our last moment. They are going to kill us in a fake encounter and since they have lost the keys, they do not want to leave the handcuffs as proof. We have time until they find the key. Let us be brave and for God’s sake do not shout and cry. Do not run if they ask you to. We will show them how a Baloch embraces death.”

A policeman removed the hoods. It was the first time that we were without the fetters, handcuffs and the hood, except for Naseem. ISI personnel waited in a brand new Toyota Hilux with tinted windows to receive their handcuffs. We tried to be calm and talk to each other and it surprised us to see that the policemen did not get violent. They just asked not to talk, but we kept talking. We were under the impression that the ISI had handed us to the police to be killed in a fake encounter. There were not too many guards around and it was near the Dera Ghazi Khan airport. We were then driven to the Sakhi Sarwar police station.

As we reached the police station, I noticed a Prado jeep with a VIP number plate 5555 following us to the station. The jeep’s windows were tinted dark. We were all put in the lock-up. Another prisoner named Ashraf was already there. The local landlord had asked the Station House Officer (SHO) to lock him up for a day, but the old SHO had been transferred and the new SHO joined his new post on the day we were handed over to them. In all this hustle and bustle, Ashraf had been forgotten.

Dera Ghazi khan, though in Punjab, is a Baloch district, but most of its population could not speak Balochi except the Buzdar and Mazari tribes. The SHO was also an ethnic Baloch and could not speak Balochi. He bought us good food and soft drinks which surprised Ashraf. The SHO told us that he was especially transferred to the Sakhi Sarwar police station for our case as he was a trusted man of our previous captors.

Later that evening, when they succeeded to unlock Naseem’s handcuffs, we were taken to the police headquarters where we were photographed. We were driven back to the Sakhi Sarwar police station.

At night, a journalist from the BBC visited us. He was aware of our case. We confirmed to him that we were the same people who had been forcibly disappeared by the ISI from Karachi.

The next day, in the evening, we were presented before a judge at his house. We did not know what the Judge and the SHO discussed but I believe everything was part of a script given to them by the ISI.

We were shifted to another police station as journalists had come to know about our whereabouts.

As expected, we were once again presented to a judge one morning where we learnet that we were suspects in a robbery case.

We were officially ordered to be released. Our family members had come to receive us, but the ISI was reluctant to hand us to them. ISI personnel drove us to Rakhni where they photographed us with our family members. After giving us a final warning, which was not substantially different from the previous ones, we were put in a local van. The van driver was told not to stop until we reached Loralai. We had already arranged with our family members that they will hire another van and follow us. About a few kilometres we asked our van driver to stop and drop us on the road. Within minutes our family members arrived as they had been speeding up to catch us. When we reached Loralai, I was given slippers to wear.

Our families had filed a Habeas Corpus petition at the Sindh High Court through lawyer Hafeez Lakho, implicating ISI in our abduction. We went to Karachi, this time to seek justice. We presented ourselves to the court as witnesses and gave detailed account of our enforced disappearance. One of the judges asked what we wanted now that we were out. We requested that our captors be brought to justice. Not pleased, he shook his head in disapproval. “But why do you want to create further problems for both of us?” he asked.

My problems never ended though. Once tortured is forever tortured. The torture and solitary confinement have an everlasting effect on both the human body and mind. It is intergenerational; it can be witnessed in the quietness of my children. They know from experience that any loud voice can trigger irrational behaviour in their father.

About Yousuf Murad Baloch

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