Tales from the Dungeon: Dr Naseem Baloch (Part II)

Photo by Haneef Shareef

In the Tales from the Dungeon series of Balochistan Times, former victims of enforced disappearance recount their ordeal. Dr Naseem Baloch was forcibly disappeared twice. He was first whisked away by security forces in 2005 along with Dr Imdad Baloch, Dr Allah Nizar, Dr Yousuf Murad, Ghulam Rasool, Akhtar Nadeem and Ali Nawaz Gohar, all incumbent or former leaders of the the Baloch Students Organization (BSO). In 2010, he was ‘kidnapped’ again. He now lives in France as a political refugee. The first part of his story can be read here.

I carried my medicines in my purse, as I needed them almost all the time. Panic attacks came without warning. That day I was short of them.

After completing my day’s duty and training at the psychiatry ward, I went to the laboratory at around 1:30pm to donate blood for my aunt who was admitted at the hospital for a surgery. I donated blood, attended my aunt and set out for home along with my cousins Ilyas and Yasin.

I stopped by the pharmacy in front of the Bolan Medical College (BMC) to buy my medicines. I was still inside the pharmacy when I heard screeching of brakes. Five or six Frontier Corps (FC) vehicles were parked outside. Two FC personnel entered the pharmacy and asked me to show them my official identity card. “It’s him,” said a soldier with an Islamic beard before I took out my identity card.

They led me outside to my car. “You’re wanted by the Customs authorities for faking your car’s papers,” one said. I knew what was happening. I was being abducted for the second time.

They threw me into the back of a desert camo patterned vehicle and put a blindfold on my eyes. They had already taken hold of my mobile phone.

“He’s our property now,” one soldier remarked.

The vehicle gathered speed. They drove for around 20 minutes and then changed the vehicle. After another five minutes, I was offloaded and escorted to what I thought to an open space. It certainly didn’t feel like a room. I was made to wait there for quite some time.

I was getting thirsty because of the heat, but asking for water was like asking for a beating.  I remained silent. I am not here to party anyway, I thought. Torture is guaranteed, so why not take the beating after getting hydrated.

“I need water,” I said without knowing anyone was nearby to listen. Someone kicked me from the back.

“Bring water for this son of a doctor,” he said haughtily. I received water just the same.

One could never be certain about time at a place like that, but it was around after the maghrib prayers (sunset) that they shifted me to a room. They tied my hands to the ceiling and I could stand only on my toes. I felt that someone else was being tied in the same way beside me.

Two soldier entered the cell after a while. “Remove their shalwars (pants),” one ordered. He was instantly obeyed.  “Cheter,” he ordered again. The other soldier used his cheter on me with all his force. From the cries and screams, I realized my cousin, Ilyas, was also being tied up and beaten.

The beatings were recurring, at intervals of every ten, twenty, or, thirty minutes. During a longer interval, I rubbed my blindfolds aside with my arms. I saw a wall with familiar black and white tiles. A giant searchlight was shooting streams of light into my eyes.

“Water,” I begged. In return, I received four strikes of the cheter along with a bottle of water, hand-fed by a soldier.

“Toilet,” I asked again.

“Tomorrow. Boss isn’t around,” the soldier replied. I knew from my experience in 2005 that it was going to take long.

Hours passed. The guard’s shift changed. Another few hours passed.

“Was it you who wanted to go to toilet,” a soldier touched my shoulders. “Yes,” I said. He untied my hands and led me outside. In the toilet, my blindfolds were removed. One was allowed to relieve himself with eyes open. Such small gestures of kindness make you feel grateful to your captors.

A stinging burning sensation ran across my backbone as if I was lying down on a pile of burning coals.  My shirt was bloodied. Almost all joints of my body had swelled up.

I was brought back to the black-and-white-tiled hall, to be tied and beaten. Day after day. In retrospect, I am left with four strong impressions of those days: beatings, heat, water and toilet.

Ilyas was getting the same treatment. He screamed, and then I screamed.

Days passed. Hours passed. I was semi-unconscious. Everything was blurry. Sleep deprivation and beatings had taken me to an unexplainable state of mind. I felt the pain all the same. There was no escape from the pain.

They untied me one night and took me to another room. I was asked to sit on a chair.

“Just look straight at the laptop. We will kill you if you looked around,” someone warned while removing my blindfolds.

Another soldier was sitting beside me. “Do I look familiar,” he asked. I looked. He was the same bearded soldier who had identified me at the pharmacy. “No,” I replied.

He showed me photos from the laptop. Around 40 photos of all kind, including that of Indian actress Karina Kapoor. “Who’s she,” he asked.

“Karina,” I replied.

“What’s she wearing around her neck,” he asked again.

I could not think straight because of days of sleep deprivation and torture, so I somehow failed to answer the question. I paid heavily for that: electric shock.

I soon found out I was going to get an electric shock no matter if I answered the questions or not. An electric shock on every photo. For 40 photos.

It was a blue machine being operated by the bearded soldier. “It’s at 100 right now,” he said as he pressed one of its buttons. “It can go up to 450 if you don’t cooperate.”

He took pleasure in applying electric shocks on every part of my body. Until I lost consciousness. I do not remember what happened next. In the morning, I was taken to the toilet where I saw blood all over my shirt and pants.

The same treatment continued every night for around a week. Every question was followed by one or another form of torture, or all of them simultaneously. Cheter beatings. Electric shocks. Cuts with a sharp blade. Cigarette burns.

I screamed and heard my cousin scream.

“Leave him be. He’ll die,” I heard my cousin’s torturers say.

Being tortured is a horrendous experience, but what is more horrendous is to witness your loved ones being tortured.

After around seven days, I was presented, blindfolded, before an officer. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’ve come from Islamabad for you. We’ll just talk. No torture,” he said.

He was true to his words. He asked me questions for three days, for three hours a day, without beatings. Most questions were the ones they had asked me already.

One day, he ordered a soldier to open my eyes. He himself stood behind me so that I could not see him. He asked me to draw sketches of trees, maps, addresses.

I was a post-graduate psychiatry student and knew he was trying to extract information from the depths of mind. He also asked me questions as I drew.

“Where are his pants? He’s a doctor, for God’s sake,” he scolded a soldier. “Bring his pants,” he ordered in a show of kindness.

“They’ve no heart,” he turned to me. “They shouldn’t have tortured you. But I’m not like them. No torture anymore. I’ll assign you a different room. Not the one used for beatings.”

I knew the drill. Torture and kindness. Stick and carrot. It was all scripted. Yet, I wanted to ask him a favour. “My medicines are in my purse. If I could get them.”

“No problem. Tell me when you need more,” he said, laughing.

I was not given my medicines, but I was shifted to a new room, with a high ceiling. A small light modestly brightened the room. The presence of a thin, dirty mattress showed that I could catch a wink after days of sleep deprivation. I sat down. But my buttocks and back were too sore for any contact. I had to sleep on my stomach for two days.

The upper thigh of my right leg was burning the most. It felt dry, thick and scaly when I touched it. I found out on the next visit to the toilet that the whole upper thigh skin had been burnt. It was the favourite place for the bearded soldier to apply the electric shocks.

I was blindfolded all the time. Blindfolds were removed only once for two minutes during the toilet visits.

Most questions asked during interrogations were the same I had been asked in 2005. However, this time I was asked more about the Baloch National Movement (BNM), a Baloch political party I had joined after my tenure in the Baloch Students Organization (BSO).

Other questions included:

Q. Who was your informer in the raid on the police weaponry in Awaran?

A. I don’t know.

Q. Your car was used in the attack. How come you don’t know?

A. This incident took place on Eid’s eve. My car was parked at my house that night.

Q. When did you buy the car?

A. It’s been two months.

Q. You changed the old car so that it couldn’t be identified, right?

A. No, sir.

Q. When did you see Allah Nazar last time?

A. In 2006, at the Jail Ward of the Civil Hospital.

Q. How’s Akhtar Nadeem related to you?

A. My grandfather and his father are cousins.

Q. Akhtar Nadeem’s brother, Asif Nadeem, was injured in a blast. You treated him and two other injured. You also gave 1, 00,000 to one of them for treatment in the city. Who was he? Why did you treat them? Why did you give them money?

A. I don’t know. I haven’t treated anyone injured in a blast. I don’t know who they were.

Q. Awaran Bank’s money were being transported from Khuzdar. They were robbed around Jhao. Were you the informer?

A. No, sir.

Q. Was your car used in the robbery?

A. No.

Q. Bodies of three FC personnel have been found in Greshag. They had been kidnapped from Basima. Give us the details.

A. I don’t know, sir.

There was a beating session reserved after every question. It did not matter what answer you gave. You always received a beating. For example, they asked me if I knew how to operate a certain gun (whose name I don’t remember). I expressed my ignorance. I was beaten all the same. If you admitted to committing a crime, you’d be beaten. If you didn’t, you’d be beaten more.

In retrospect, I can think of a number of sarcastic answers I should have given to them for the absurdity of their questions. I could have said yes, all the dead in Mashkay’s graveyard are victims of my killing spree or why aren’t you asking about my role in Abraham Lincoln’s murder. But, under torture, you keep answering every stupid question with all your honesty.

They shifted me to another dungeon. The door of my new cell was of metal strips, so I could hear my neighbours. The old prisoners knew when to talk. I came to know from these conversations that Altaf Bugti and Sami Mengal (both of them are still missing) were in my neighbouring cells.

Sami Mengal was a defiant and stubborn prisoner. He often shouted abuses at the guards and never obeyed them. “What’s this Kalashnikov doing on your shoulder, coward,” he dared the guards. “Why don’t you just kill me with it?” Some days he would refuse to eat in protest.

He told me the dungeon was close to Askari Park. On certain days, I heard the rumbling sound of a passing train. I figured it was the Chaman-bound train which passed through the Askari Park area once or twice a week.

Sami Mengal also told me that my cell was lucky. “I’ve seen many prisoners released from this cell. Hai Kamal, an old Bugti, two mullahs from Machh,” he said.

The toilet was just across my cell. The bathroom was a little away. One day I was allowed to take a bath. My blindfolds had been removed for the bath and there was no guard around, so I sneaked a glance outside. I saw a young man sitting in his cell, blindfolded. I happened to know him.

“Ilyas,” I called out.

“I’m fine, doctor. Don’t talk,” he replied.

In the middle of the night of July 9 and 10, they shifted me to a different cell. They removed my handcuffs, blindfolds and fetters. “You’re getting released today,” a guard informed me in broken Balochi. I asked him about Ilyas. He said he did not know anything about him. On my refusal to be released without Ilyas, he phoned someone and said I was asking about my cousin.

“His case officer is on leave,” he informed me after the call. “He’ll come after a week, and your cousin will be released then.”

I insisted we should be released together.

“You don’t have a choice,” he said.

They blindfolded me again and put me in a car. After 10 minutes of drive, the driver gave me some money and my identity card. “Stay at a hotel. Don’t tell anyone. I’ll bring your cousin and car in two days,” he said.

“Alright,” I replied.

“Which hotel will you be staying?”

“Qasar Gulnaz, Saleem Complex.”

“Now you’re going to stay at VIP hotels, huh?

“Yes.”

He dropped me at Science College Chowk in Quetta and warned me not to look back. I feared I might be killed and dumped like others. But I was spared. They drove away.

The office of daily Intekhab was nearby. I went straight into the newspaper’s office. Some staff members recognized me, and took me to my home.

My parents and the aunt whom I had donated blood were there. My aunt passed out on seeing me. I stood there confused, trying to recall my medical knowledge about giving first aid to an unconscious person.