“Even the Nazis would not have kept their enemy soldiers during the Second World War in such inhumane conditions as the captors of my son, Babar Jamali, have done,” says Ghulam Hussain Jamali, a 60-year-old farmer in Badin. “Have you ever heard of a man being kept blindfolded, even while he uses the toilet, with no exposure to daylight for five months?” he adds that this is how his son was treated in captivity. This could happen only in our ‘dear homeland’, Ghulam Hussain Jamali says with anger.
Babar Jamali returned home in May 2012. He was detained at an unknown location. But while his family ran from the pillar to post, trying to work towards his recovery, his younger brother Ayaz also went missing in April 2012, and was released three months later. Jamali says that although he knew the names of the police officials who had taken Babar into custody, he was unable to register a case against them — let alone ensure that they were arrested or tried.
The struggle for his son’s release is as harrowing as it is revealing of how intelligence agencies are creating enemies of the state when it comes to ordinary citizens. “ On December 8, 2011, I was returning to Badin in a car, with my family, after visiting a relative in Hyderabad. Babar was driving. As we left a gas station in Hyderabad, a police mobile van forced us to stop. About a dozen men, some in civilian clothes with their faces covered, came out of the official vehicle, then they ordered Babar out of our car, bundled him into their van and sped away,” is how Jamali narrates the details. Without wasting any time, he rushed to a nearby police station, along with his lawyer, to lodge a report. But the police refused to register the case.
The next five months were very trying. “I would visit the police offices every week. They would make me sit in their air-conditioned rooms, offering me tea and refreshments, but would not register the kidnapping case,” says Jamali. During a visit, he learnt that one of the officials, Zulfiqar Araeen, who was responsible for arresting and detaining his son, was the head of a police station in Kotri. He wrote an application for a First Information Report (FIR) nominating Araeen and two other police officials in the case and followed it up with a constitutional petition at the Sindh High Court’s Hyderabad circuit bench, requesting to information on the whereabouts of his son.
Before there was any progress on this case, Jamali’s other son Ayaz was taken away on April 17, 2012. Ayaz was visiting a lawyer in Hyderabad when two men in civilian clothes asked him to accompany them to a nearby police office. They told him that his father was waiting for him at the police station. “It was only when they pushed me onto a side street that I became suspicious. But before I could put up any resistance, they bundled me into the backseat of a car and blindfolded me,”Ayaz says. “With my sons gone, I almost lost my senses and created a huge scene at the high court, narrowly escaping conviction for contempt of court,” Jamali says.
When he had lost all hopes of recovering both sons, the unexpected happened. On May 17, 2012 at about 3 am he received a call on his cell phone from an unknown number. “On the other side was Babar: he was calling from a phone he had borrowed from someone at a roadside tea stall near Hyderabad. He had been left blindfolded in a deserted location,” says Jamali. Babar had a beard several inches long – apparently his captors never allowed him to shave. Less than a month later, Ayaz too came back home.
Babar told his father that his captors would interrogate him about those involved in bomb blasts, urging him to confess that he was also involved. Jamali tells the Herald that his son was a member of the Jeay Sindh Students Federation during his years at college but he never joined any political party. “Babar’s crime appears to be his active participation in protests, which were held to demand the release of his friend, Bashir Arisar, who was kidnapped by intelligence agencies from Hyderabad,” says Jamali. Babar is said to have joined the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PMLF) to avoid further persecution.
While Babar returned home without any injuries, Arisar came home broken and bruised. When he was released after months in detention, he was in a critical condition: he could have easily been seen as dead. His upper and lower jaw were dislocated and his nose was broken. While in custody, he was subjected to severe torture, and was reportedly admitted to a military hospital in Karachi for treatment before his release. He was abducted from a road near Kotri while he was travelling towards Jamshoro on a motorcycle.
Mohammad Khan, Arisar’s father, does not want a journalist to talk to his son about his ordeal. “He is still being chased by people from the security agencies, therefore I cannot allow you to see him,” is how he responded to the Herald’s request to talk to Arisar. After having undergone multiple surgeries, he can hardly talk.
Afzal Panhwar, a student of biochemistry at Sindh University in Jamshoro, spent an entire year in detention. Belonging to a remote village, Khalid Panhwar, in district Dadu, he was in Hyderabad for an internship interview when he was picked up from a bus stand on June 26, 2011. After his release, Panhwar told the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that he was interrogated by agency personnel in uniform as well as civilian clothes about bomb blasts that had taken place on railway tracks and at electricity pylons as well as about alleged death threats to the vice chancellor of Sindh University. During his detention, Panhwar developed tuberculosis and kidney problems because his captors would not provide him anything to eat or drink for two to three consecutive days.
Zakir Hussain Bozdar, a college student in Ghotki and the district general secretary of the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), was picked up while he was taking his examination on April 9, 2012. He remains missing even though his family, friends and party colleagues are running a vociferous campaign for his release.
Ali Nawaz Leghari, a primary school teacher in Badin was picked up by the police and other security agency officials while he was traveling. “My father and I were going to Hyderabad from Tando Muhammad Khan on a bus on June 24, 2012 when four official vans blocked the road, singled out my father and took him away,” says his son, Ayaz Hussain. When he went to a local police station to lodge a complaint about his father’s kidnapping, the police abused him and kicked him out refusing to register his case. Leghari was arrested in 2001 on charges of involvement in a bomb blast and an anti-terrorism court awarded him death sentence but the Sindh High Court later acquitted him. Also in 2006, the police charged him with involvement in eight bomb blast cases but again the courts acquitted him.
Similar tales of horror are common across much of Sindh. According to figures compiled by the HRCP, 67 people were reported missing in Sindh between January and June 20 this year. While 37 of them have either been traced or released, the whereabouts of another 30 are still unknown.