It was almost 3:30 am and time for Sahoor in Karachi . I was anxiously waiting for the call from one of MQM workers who recently got released by the authorities after almost nine months of captivity. It was just like yesterday when I spoke to him nine months ago but used to get information in pieces as to how he survived this ordeal unlike many who don’t and are generally found in a gunny bag in the outskirts of Karachi with gunshot wounds generally on the back of their head ; their bodies shouting the agony that they had to go through during their capture perhaps telling the story it’s better that they were relieved of their misery in a moment. He was supposed to call me that night as he wanted me to write his story and tell it to the world . He was late and I was anxious and worried at the same time if all was ok that he didn’t call.
A few days ago when I received his message that he is out . I could not feel but elated and had tears in my eyes knowing that he came back safe . In my as much age in the city of Karachi I have seen many die for their political belief.
Karachi is the urban center of Pakistan. Some say its population is 20.0 Million perhaps they want to show it low as the conspiracy theory goes that they want to restrict the resources routed to Karachi by showing its lesser population . Unofficially many feel that the city has already pushed 30.0 Million in the current state and its climbing. The city which is majorly dominated Muhajir population comprising of the posterity of those who have migrated from India in 1947 and later in 1971 . They were generally known as Hindustanis until in 1978 ; Altaf Hussein a young dynamic Muhajir leader after facing persecution in his university was forced to form All Pakistan Muhajir Student Organization (APMSO) . The concept or the need to have Muhajir representation already began a decade or more ago when the Muhajirs or Hindustanis as they were called supported Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah (Sister of Founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah) who stood against at the dictator of that time Gen Ayub Khan . Muhajirs came in good numbers to support the sister of the founder of the nation . Only to be retaliated by the dictator’s son ; the graves of the martyrs still exist in the center of the city in the area of Lalukhet or Liaquatabad. Fatima Jinnah was branded as Traitor at that time or famously branded as RAW agent though the agency was in its own formative years.
This background needs to be told as this MQM’s workers misery like thousands is linked to the same. Later APMSO matured into MQM (Muhajir Quomi Movement) and adopted a wider role. In 1992 ; it was the second time that the state machinery in its short history unleashed its power on the populace branding them as RAW or agents of India . The first time this happened when Agartala Conspiracy case was leveled against Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman the leader of Bengalis and we all know what happened after an operation was unleashed in East Pakistan at that time. Today we call it as Bangladesh. Like Mujeeb who was instrumental in Pakistan movement . Muhajirs were also descendents of those who strived and sacrificed for Pakistan in 1947 . They faced the same fate at the hands of Pakistan Army and its intelligence arm ISI where thousands of its workers over the next few years were extra judicially killed or vanished. Many are still missing. Some say they are buried in the Margalla Hills near the state’s capital. The leader of MQM Mr. Altaf Hussein was forced into exile when establishment’s favorite proxy that is Islamic Radicals tried to assassinate him with suicide bombings which luckily he survived. Mr. Hussein currently resides in United Kingdom under asylum which was forced onto him .
Some say that Mr. Hussein’s life is under threat therefore he has to be kept under close security watch. We know from history that political assassinations have happened in the past in UK and lately of Mr. Hussein’s close confidant Mr. Imran Farooq . If you add one plus one ; you would realize that the possibility strongly exist that Pakistan’s states forces may have had a hand in this assassination as well otherwise it would not take ages to close a simple case as per the nation’s Interior Minister. I am sure UK investigative forces are not like Pakistan’s and they will apprehend the real culprits unlike in Pakistan where justice mocked every now and then.
The same MQM which was accused of being RAW was part of the federal government under another Military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf ; seemingly these accusations had no bearing or impetus perhaps the policy of convenience as Military junta needed MQM or Muhajirs support in Sindh Urban to keep their government in the center relevant. Hence MQM was not only an ally but a key component of the federal government.
Things for MQM started going South in my opinion when a media onslaught against the party as during the PPP government 2008 onwards when Gen Musharraf was unceremoniously exited. Killings in Karachi went on the rise and MQM which had a good control on the governance of Sindh Urban started seeing its powers diluted as corrupt PPP ministers started to take back control handed over to the City government. This resulted in a long period of strife where we again saw target or ethnic killings gaining steam in good numbers. Suddenly by 2015 MQM again was the enemy of the state. Than the nation suffered its worst tragedy when 123 APS School kids got massacred . The nation in a shock gave authority to the state’s Army to take down such Islamic radicals. But the state’s Army insisted that they wanted to start an across the board operation. Today, when you see Mullah Mansoor being openly interviewed on TV the same Taliban spokesperson who took responsibility of the massacre of these 123 kids . You realize that perhaps across the board was included as they wanted to flex muscles against MQM, Muhajirs and especially its leader Mr. Altaf Hussein.
The operation started on strong footings against political forces in Karachi especially against MQM whereas radicals were given a free hand. Slowly the state machinery started dismantling MQM’s juggernaut perhaps out of their ego than as a need as radicals operated freely collecting charities. Then it was time to introduce Option one that is a new GHQ brewed party called PSP (Pak Sarzameen Party) ; a party generated out of ousted criminal element of MQM. This strategy followed the same planning by earlier masterminds like Hamid Gul and Co who introduced MQM Haqiqi only to see it struggle day in till date. PSP came and crashed with a bang though got a lot of media , cash and logistical support and it still try to find its ground. Seeing this that they can’t be seen as a failure the state continued now harassing many of MQM’s workers to join PSP to ensure that this time their formula works. Only this time they also had a Plan B.
This is where my friend’s story begins in June of 2016. The above background was necessary to make readers understand the context under which my friend who I will name as “Ali” ( a pseudo used to protect him though he was insistent that his name is used) . Suddenly ; Ali started getting a lot of pressure to let PSP make an entry in his area. Ali was a diehard MQM and an Altaf Hussein’s supporter resisted not only going the other side but to allow PSP making a forced entry or presence in the area of which he was in charge of . This was his political right to defend his political infrastructure in the area. The pressure mounted on many fronts ; threatening calls and messages, false Police reports arguments etc . Ali decided to leave Pakistan to avoid this pressure as he felt that he would be forced to change his loyalty to PSP. Only to be picked up a few days later before he could have left in civil dresses by half a dozen men who claimed to be part of some “Agency” . The first words he remembered as he was shoved in and face covered “Were you planning to leave without meeting us?” . I asked Ali , whether he would like to continue his story . His argument was that he needs the world to know what he has gone through for his political belief only. So that he may save a few more from the same destiny.
As per Ali he was taken to a holding facility run by a Paramilitary force near Karachi Airport. This is where the severe interrogation began. Within a few hours he was severely beaten that his foot soles became useless and he started getting blood in his urine. There were three or four men beating him some of whom were in uniform . On his asking the reason . No clear answer was given. Infact he was being asked on his political activities in his assigned area. By early morning or Fajar prayers they let him rest perhaps seeing that he is already bruised into a bad shape.
Next day and for the many other days the same routine continued where he would be beaten up severely until numb. Same questions were asked whether he had any knowledge of arms and ammunition or murders or other criminal activities. Again and again his argument remained the same that he is just a political worker and had nothing to do with these accusations. But these were not enough. His mobile phone which was captured had conversations with MQM’s international secretariat which invited more ire and beating as the captors checked his Social Media activity where he criticized the state for oppression against his Muhajir community and in support of his leader Mr. Altaf Hussein. They stated that all of this “Anti State” and continued treating him the same way almost every day. They gave food perhaps to only keep him alive to go for the next round.
Than August 22nd happened. MQM’s leader Mr. Altaf Hussein frustrated at the state’s hypocrisy towards providing justice to Muhajirs who were being killed extrajudically and were missing speaking to a Hunger Strike tried to drive reference that he can’t chant slogans in favor of a radicalized Pakistan which has become bane of the curse of radicalization where radicals are given more respect than genuine political workers chanted anti Pakistan slogan against this type of Pakistan out of his frustration (for which he immediately asked for forgiveness the next day) . The state unleashed a big operation against MQM and its leadership and immediately declared MQM as RAW agent .
The next day Ali was again taken for interrogation As per him the intensity of his beating was far worse than earlier. He was informed that he is being meted out by such fury because he is a RAW agent . When he asked that but I have been in your custody for almost month or more how can I be responsible for something happening outside . He was meted by more kicks , punches and other forms of torture including electric shocks etc. Further , he was informed that MQM and its chapter is over as they have shut down all their operations. The next few days after August 22nd was quiet tough for Ali so much so he fell sick badly and requested for medical assistance. A few days after Eid in September he was awakened and informed that we are taking you for a medical checkup. They handcuffed him the blind folds which were there throughout his initial captivity remained . He was put in a car and as per him driven for 30-45 minutes from the Airport location (Malir Cantonment).
After a while he was offloaded into a new facility. He was taken to a doctor who checked his vitals and started abusing him as per his statement . On his asking that he thought that he was being brought to a hospital for treatment of blood coming in his urine. He was informed by the kind doctor just wait and see that from where now more blood will come out of your body. After initial smacking he was shoved into a small cell which as per him was 6 x 10 ft . At a time two arrested were kept with one inside the cell harnessed by a long chain and one outside at each time.
He was given Orange overall to wear like he said was given to Gitmo inmates . At each time there was a camera in the room which he can peak through from small gaps of the blind fold . If at any time it used to come loose or off . They were beaten up. As per him the attendance to washroom was assisted and as he recall hearing from one care taker who were all in Civvies unlike the first facility “ Hurry through the Washroom ; there are 300 other people who need to use this” . As per him it was a very regimental life with fixed time for breakfast , supper and dinner. He recalls having Tea and Paratha couple of times for breakfast and as per him Punjabi Biryani on Fridays (with Chick peas in it) . The accents of course were not of Karachi as he told me enough for making me and readers understand as to what he meant.
The interrogation room here as he told me was supposedly a sound proof room where unlike the first facility you can hear the loud cries of those being interrogated. Here it was not the case. They had a “System” for interrogation where there were pullies attached to hang the inmate upside down for interrogation purposes as they were beaten up to blue. Ironically, the carpet of the interrogation room was also “Blue” and a doctor present at each time to attend if someone passes out to bring the inmate back into consciousness and give pain relief medication only to be beaten again. The questions were the same with an added flavor of accusation of being RAW.
“Yes they looked arrogant and seemed proud of what they were doing and on my asking that why are you treating us Gitmo prisoners as I am a political worker ; the response of the officer was …” (can’t be explained here) . As per him during his over two months stay at this location . He may have been interrogated at least 30 times. He was informed proudly by some of those imparting the interrogation that some of MQM leaders have been through this place and he is of small consequence.
The hatred of Mr. Altaf Hussein who could not be named and is being code named as “Kala” (means Black) was clear as he was being reminded again and again that this is all happening to him as he supports him in his area and on Social media. On my asking that who do you think these guys were . He mentioned a bigger agency but perhaps not the elite one.
A few days later he was asked to change his Orange Overall to a Blue Overall and was taken into a separate complex within the facility . This apparently was governed by Pakistan’s elite agency. Here there was one officer only asking questions. The procedure of interrogation the same. Here as per him he was only kept for a week and then sent back to the earlier quarter and asked to change back in the Orange overall. The need of these dress coding in my opinion signifies the need to distinguish various inmates by category or sector. One thing is clear the facility has to be big in order to . have these kind of basics. As per him as he gathered not all those held in this facility were political prisoners but some were of other elements as well which he was not sure of.
As his ordeal continued. One day he fell very sick and had to be hospitalized . There was a hospital ward within the facility as well with female nursing staff who were all in civvies. He got treated and shifted back to his cell. Only a few days later to be informed that he is being shifted again. Out of energy and hope he feared whether there can be a bigger hell than what he has gone through. He hoped that his misery should end as he could not take it anymore. It was more painful that as a patriotic Pakistani he was being treated as a Prisoner of war in his own country for raising his political voice. He was brought to a vehicle and handed over to a member of a paramilitary force who after verification of his details boarded him in the vehicle.
He was afraid at the same time as he faced a few days ago where he was blindfolded and taken to a quiet place. He felt that there was another inmate with him. They were taken and made to sit on the floor. He overheard someone asking the other inmate to recite “Kalima” and after that he heard shots fired. There was an eerie quietness after that. After that the same man turned to him loaded his gun and put to his head and asked him to recite “Kalima” ; he thought it was all over but perhaps happy that his misery end here . But nothing happened and he heard “You will be let go today” . He felt like traveling back to the holding cell alone. On my asking if he is sure if he was alone. He said quite so because he did not hear or feel the presence of the other inmate . Let’s not forget he was wearing a blind fold all the time. It may have been a mock exercise to play with the nerves as well or may be an execution. Only time will tell.
Finally , he was handed over back to the same facility where it all started. He remember one of the care takers telling him “ You are lucky to come back from that facility. Many don’t. We will soon hand you over to your family” . He asked them that he hopes it’s not going to be like as he was told earlier that he was being taken to a hospital for check up and landed at the hellish facility. “ No no you have come clean and cleared the test . You get to go”. He was handed over after almost more than three months to a local police station where the PSP guys who as per him were the main reason for his sojourn kept on forcing him to join them. He refused as the only thing he wanted to look after was his family.
Yes , when the paramilitary forces handed him over. They returned all his cash, belongings and his mobile phone to the police station without anything being short. That’s the other thing that the dishonest police kept it all . After that he moved to the Central Prison and came out on a Bail.
Ali is one of the lucky ones in my opinion. He came back alive. Will he be the same or recover from what he went through both physically and mentally only time will tell. He is still a patriotic Pakistani like he always was but still determined to get rights for his Muhajir community under the constitution of Pakistan.
But here I will ask a question. If the constitution of Pakistan holds any value. Does the treatment meted to Ali is per the same under his given rights being a political prisoner? And if he was a Prisoner of War than was it under Geneva Convention ? Ali , hopes to settle in life and make up for the losses he and his family has borne during this ordeal. He is proud that he did not switch sides though suggested when he was at the first facility and later in the Police custody whereas per him PSP workers seemed to have full access and control. Of course we all know under what conditions these kind of controls occur.
Since I heard his ordeal of an innocent faced boy . I am forced to ask a question that whether having a political belief against the ideology of the country is a crime. The only mistake which Altaf Hussein makes it that he challenges the National narrative which has more accommodation for its sons of the soil and radicals who still many in our cadres think are our first line of defence.
Thousands faced this fate in the past. Thousand still. They have been accused and persecuted like criminals only to be let go having no evidence later. What will become of these ? Will anyone in the state or civil society take notice or will they all feel satisfied that Muhajirs are being shown their worth in Pakistan. As per Ali each time Mr. Altaf Hussein makes a strong speech criticizing the state. His supporters are tortured the same time. He hopes that we find a middle ground to the situation. The question is there still a middle ground left ?
Wishing the best for Ali and praying for the thousands still languishing, missing or killed and hoping that justice will prevail and that Political prisoners will be treated as Political prisoners not as Prisoners of War. Hoping that Pakistan come out of this dogma of prejudice and become a mature political and a democratic state not a Dictatorship hijacked by a few.