Pakistan’s ISI and the army agencies are known for their sinister activities within and outside the country. They do not hesitate to quell the voices by force if raised against the government without their clandestine support.
This is Ahmed Mustafa Kanjoo’s harrowing story of injustice which stole the best years of his youth. He described when he was 44, and had gone under constant mental and physical torture for 14 months in high-security jails and interrogation centers, meant for hardened criminals and terrorists in Pakistan. Ahmed Mustafa Kanjoo lovingly called Guddu in his family and friends circles. His only crime was that he, being a spokesperson of SNP (Seraiki National Party) had launched a strong campaign against the disappearance of youth in Pakistan and suppression of human and fundamental rights.
The devastating days for Guddu began on his landing at 13:45 on January 5, 2019, at Lahore from Bangkok via Colombo by Sri Lankan airline. He boarded a bus at about 16:00 for his home town Rahim Yar Khan, which is about 600 km from Lahore. During the journey, he kept himself busy on his cell phone. The battery ran out just before the bus reached Multan. He reached Rahim Yar Khan at about 2:30 am, and he decided to cover about the one-kilometer distance from the bus terminal to home on foot. It was an extremely cold night when he reached the last turn of the street to his home and saw special police (elite force) pick-up vehicle parked at the corner. The two security officials in plain clothes with weapons were guarding outside the vehicle, while 3 or 4 were sitting inside were chatting with each other. A rucksack on Guddu’s back passed through police and army men standing at the location, greeted them. But they showed cold shoulders towards Guddu and did not even look at him. When he walked further he saw another vehicle parked at the other end of the street at the corner, about 100 – 110 meters away from his home. “I entered my home at around 3 :15 a.m and spent the day with my mother and kids. At about 23:00 – 23:30 (the intervening night of January 6 and 7) about 30 to 40 persons raided my home by jumping over the front wall. My mother in her room was still awake when these sleuths first broke open the door of my mother’s room. All of them were equipped with automatic weapons, half of them wearing Elite Force uniform, on which ‘No Fear’ was printed on the back of their jackets, and the other half were in plain clothes, but all of them were wearing masks to conceal their identity. They immediately started searching the room. And then came to my room, broke open the door too, where my kids and my wife were sleeping. Before we could say anything, three of them held me firmly from my shoulders and neck and ordered me to take my laptop and cell phone along. It happened so fast that not even neighbors noticed. They dragged me through the hallway to the courtyard. My mother stood frozen, while I was being crudely dragged out surrounded by about 40 odd police and army men. Outside the street, I noticed about 10 to 12 vehicles covering the street, and the men keeping their hands on triggers. The situation was created in such a way to look like some international terrorist was captured. They pushed me into the black SUV parked right in front of the gate. I guess it was a Toyota Land cruiser. I was bundled in the middle at the back seat, while two armed men were sitting by my side. They immediately blindfolded my eyes and put on a black hood to cover my face and head. They locked my hands behind my back with handcuffs, and after 5 to 7 minutes of driving, changed the vehicle. One of their men sitting at the front seat, made a phone call probably to get further orders from superiors. They wanted to inject me with sedatives, but they did not”
After traveling for about 15 to 20 minutes the vehicle and Guddu were pushed into one of the houses, which he could sense was the Abbasia Town (a suburb in Rahim Yar Khan). Here, Guddu passed through the corridor leading to the investigation room, where 5 to 7 men were talking in ‘Pashto’. They started bombarding question after question on Guddu of his credentials. And, finally asked, was Guddu a Muslim. In response to Guddu’s reply
yes, they asked him to recite the 6 ‘kalmias’. “I said I do not remember all the 6 kalmias by heart, I had not yet finished when they repeatedly showered batons and lashes on my hips, legs cursing me verbally when I started crying due to unbearable pain. They stopped for a while, and an officer in his Pashto accent asked me if I was a Muslim. Why the hell did I take a bath in the Ganges, paying respect to a goddess at Haridwar? I replied that such rituals have nothing to do with religion. My visit to such historical places was not related to any belief, but just as an explorer interested in history. I had not yet finished when two people started hitting something very hard on my face, since I was unable to see anything. It was a very severe hit. It started bleeding from my left ear, nostrils, my lips were torn open, and one of the front teeth on the front left broke off. This was my second day of torture at the hands of ISI.”
From Abbasia Town interrogation centre, Guddu was shifted to ISI’s Bahawalpur Cantonment jail. There were 12 cells at Bahawalpur jail, 6 on both sides, divided by a high wall so that no one could see the cell on the opposite side. The watchmen used to keep on walking for two hours with a vigilant eye on the activities of lodged prisoners inside, despite the CCTV cameras. The prisoners in a standing position locked behind the grills are ordered to offer an extra prayer called ‘Tahajud”, (also known as the "night prayer", a voluntary prayer performed by followers of Islam. It is not one of the five obligatory prayers required of all Muslims.) Guddu was also instructed to follow other jail inmates. But Guddu declined with the request said “I have never done that before, but they insisted to perform as it was just like normal prayers.” Here, everyone in the morning was woken up for prayer, and given copies of the Koran to read. On this issue, Guddu requested “I am not versed with Arabic and cannot read the Koran, the watchman believed that I was telling a lie to avoid reading, while other inmates in cells were loudly reciting.”
Guddu remained in ISI’s Bahawalpur jail till April 14. Here, the interrogation lasted for 7 to 8 weeks. There was no physical torture but the worst kind of verbal abuse. On the 9th or 10th day, they demanded to share his passwords of mailbox and Face Book accounts. “I insisted, it is my digital right not to share it with anyone. But, I thought if I don’t share they mayprolong my case for years together. So in the next few days, I shared my passwords, and the whole scenario changed.” The case which was initially based on negating the ideology of Pakistan was now turned into apostasy against Guddu.
After two months under a consistent questioning session, an A4 size page draft was flashed before Guddu in his cell and asked him to put his thumbs and fingers impression on it. He stayed over a month at Bahawalpur and was not informedwhat the charges against him were. What was happening outside the cell with his family, Guddu was not aware of the day, date, or time. There used to be arrivals of prisoners every day, who used to remain 6 to 8 days and later transferred to other locations, mostly Pashto speaking, related to terrorism. “Few were Seraiki speaking, who were involved in selling Indian whiskey, crossing the border illegally, and bringing Indian liquor into Pakistan. I heard in jail that one serving army man was in the same jail for 16 years. He was charged with sharing some information with Indian contacts on What Apps, about the military installation in Pakistan. Another one I noticed was a teenager Waqas Soomro’, who was arrested for sending SMS to some TTP members to offer himself for suicide/jihad etc”
On the morning of April 14, 2019, Guddu was first taken to a military hospital in Bahawalpur from his cell along with other prisoners under tight security, for a medical checkup. He was brought back to his cell to spend a couple of hours, and at 14:30 in a similar approach drove him to Multan, from there he was transported in a different vehicle to Okara. “I reached Okara at about 10:00 PM.” The cells in Okara were fallacious. The size of a cell here is about 6 x 8 ft, with 2 ft of width and an iron grilled door on the side. But the door does not open straight on the corridor, like in Bahawalpur. There is an extra room/anteroom of the same size as the cell, separating the prisoner’s cell and corridor. The purpose of this is to keep the prisoners under strict watch. There is a wall-mounting fan and very high voltage bulbs installed in the cell burning 24/7 until October, and the fan is switched off. The menu for the meals was the same as Bahawalpur .
The uniform for prisoners in Okara was of the same design, but of heavy fabric, in light green colour. “I remember the brand-tag of the tailor attached to pajamas ‘Berendsen’. In the winters, the uniform was changed once a week, in summers once in three days. But if someone had a wet dream, there were strict instructions, whether it was an extremely cold night, one must immediately inform the watchmen, to take an obligatory ‘Islamic’ bath and change the uniform, so one has to be clean before the time of the 5 obligatory prayers. I was not investigated for the first 2 days after arriving in Okara. On the third day, a similar question and answer started, and perhaps the officer was already aware that I am only comfortable in Seraiki and English, so he talked in English.
Guddu described the Okara jail scene: The investigation room in Okara was different than Bahawalpur. Here, both the investigation rooms were fitted with air conditioners. It had an iron table and iron chair for the prisoners to sit on; both the table and chair were welded in the ground. Unlike in Bahawalpur, here in Okara the prisoners were taken out in the sun for 12 to 15 minutes for sunbathing and guided walk. The hands would remain cuffed, an extra length of chain would be attached with the handcuffs, which would be held by one of the warders to pull like a domestic animal, and the second warder would be holding the prisoners by his neck and then would make them walk for 5 to 7 minutes at an open area. The rest of the time the prisoners without shirts were allowed to sit in the sun, but their eyes would be covered with thick black cloth and masked on faces. Each cell had one ‘lota’ that would remain inside the cells, while everything else i.e. the soap, the plate, plastic glass, prayer carpet, copy of the Quran, would all be put outside the cell, and would be handed back to prisoners at the time of need. One may not take a bath at his will. Always the permission was needed from their supervisors and soap was issued for a month. Once in a month, the barber with an electric trimmer would shorten hair to razor level. Similarly, the warders with clippers would visit twice a month and reach the cell. The prisoners would pull out their hands through the grill and get nails cut in the presence of the warder.
In July, Guddu got an inkling from the investigation officer that he would be deported to Thailand instead of being released in Pakistan. But Guddu contested “I would come back. I would take a flight to Kabul and then enter Pakistan through the Torkham land border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which does not have any check”.
Later, they stopped calling him or the investigation room. “I then demanded books to read. They gave me books after discussion, one at a time. But all the books which I got were on ‘Islamic’ studies or fake Pakistani history. All those books were reprinted by Izharsons Printers Lahore, mentioned on the back covers of the books, for (SBC) Services Book Club, GHQ Rawalpindi. In December they stopped issuing me books, and started to call me back again to the investigation room and repeated the same exercise of question and answer shifts.” During this period Guddu lost her mother after her long wait and helplessness for her son.
“I once requested one of the officers to permit me to write my biography. In the first week of December, they allowed me to write, so I was given blank papers, ballpoint …
Before his release on March 6, 2020, Guddu had written about 900 pages, which were taken away from him, and promised that jail authority will send his bunch of pages to GHQ for approval, and will email it to him in a month.
On March 5, 2020, fortune smiled on Guddu. “I did not know that I was going to be released. At midnight, I wonder if I should note the strange and unusual attitude of officers. On that day I was kept in the investigation room for about 5 to 6 hours. And before that, I was also taken to the hospital, for medical examination but masked, handcuffed, and guided to the investigation room. Here, surprisingly I was draped in an Afghani ladies burqa, socks, and ladies sandal. I was warned not to speak a word while in hospital. I was confirmed that I was still in Okara as someone in the doctor's was speaking on phone in Punjabi that he was in Okara. Anyway, a doctor checked my pulse, heart, etc, and questioned a few things. Once I was brought back, I was immediately taken to my cell and advised to finish my lunch as fast as I could, and then again back at the investigation room, and here today (on the last day) they were arguing in a new tone and tenor with me.” They asked, how Guddu will plan the rest of his life if freed a free man. The reply was bitter from Guddu and said “ I intend to go straight to court, would raise my voice against them at every forum i.e Human Rights, United Nations, Amnesty etc,”. They were already ready with a reply that all his exercise would be futile in all respects. They offered a piece of the deal to Guddu that they will release him today on the condition that he will not disclose any information about them to any court or media. “ I declined, then at about 8:00 PM I was given a break again and taken back to my cell for supper. After that for the first time, I met an officer who introduced himself as the head (station in-charge) very politely, in the beginning, advised me not to reveal any of the inside information, that what I was eating, wearing, what kind of questions and answers, etc., and handed me a printed government stamped paper, with my name, that I would not reveal any information, and that I was treated well during my captivity, and that all my belongings are being returned to me. After letting me read that paper, he offered me that if I comply with that and signed that document willingly, he would release me immediately. I asked if he can make some amendments, and I shall be allowed to go to judicial court against this entire episode, to which he did not agree. Since I could judge that freedom was knocking at my door after about 14months. I gave up and signed the document. He then told me that if I violated what I have signed, next time they would not arrest me, but just a single shot would be spent on me. I said I would abide by the text.”
At midnight 12:01 Guddu was brought to Okara by-pass road. They came in 2 vehicles and stopped at one of the deserted roads about 2 to 3 kilometers away from Okara city, they dropped him there. Two of the guys guided him to walk about 30 meters away from the vehicle, they first removed his handcuffs, handed a plastic bag in his left hand, and told him that all his belongings were in that bag.., and not removed his mask and eye covers,. But was told not to look back, otherwise, shoot him. “I did as commanded, and walked in a straight direction, and then about 2 minutes later, I heard vehiclesjust flew in the opposite directions. Then I looked back, they were gone, I then took the wristwatch out of my belongings, it was 1:36 AM, March 6, 2020. It was the very first time after 14 months to see the sky above and I was finally found as a free man at last.”
Guddu after his release remained in psychological trauma for over one year. Eventually, Guddu escaped from Pakistan apprehending his killing at the hands of ISI, like Senator Usman Kakar in Pakistan Karima Baloch murdered in Canada, and Sajid Hussain in Europe who raised his voice against the atrocities of ISI or Pak army.