Kidnapping, extortion, torture, rape ... Can the CIA, under the Jam-Marwat combine, get away with anything?
Under its new beefed-up security brief, the Crime Investigation Agency, already infamous for its special brand of interrogation, has surfaced as Sindh's most dreaded arm of the law. Instead of operating as a crack security force that enforces the law of the land, the new-imago CIA, with more power than ever before, is functioning as a parallel police force that is accountable to no-one but its chief political patrons.
As reports of its highly controversial operations begin to filter out into broad daylight, the CIA'S role as an instrument for widespread political victimisation and criminal abuse of unlimited powers is beginning to raise eyebrows across the country.
The notorious Crime Investigation Agency, whose very name has long sent shudders down the spine, has emerged in recent months as Sindh's most feared and powerful law enforcing agency. With its powers massively increased, the agency is currently functioning as a parallel police force, patronised by figures so powerful now that it seems to be beyond any accountability.
This political patronage has not merely allowed the CIA to become an instrument for sweeping political victimisation. It has also permitted the agency to get away with a whole range of grisly crimes under the blanket of its new mandate. Worse still, there is evidence suggesting that some extremely influential persons are deriving personal benefits from the CIA's crimes and its reputation for brutality.
The key to this sordid new shift in the CIA'S fortunes ties in the emergence of the new strong-arm government in Sindh, following the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto's government in August 1990. The administration, led by Jam Sadiq Ali, in close tandem with his powerful home affairs advisor lrfanullah Marwat, set about clamping down with an iron hand against its opponents, mainly the PPP and the ubiquitous Al-Zulfikar activists.
The unprecedented crackdown required unprecedented powers, and the CIA seemed to be the ideal instrument to deliver the goods. What was always an agency with a reputation for brutality was suddenly transformed into an institution that seemed omnipotent.
It appears that immediately after lrfanullah Marwat took charge of the home department in his capacity as advisor (he is not an elected member of the Sindh Assembly), his attention focused on the CIA. Gradually, Jam Sadiq's powerful right-hand man started pampering the organisation, and weaning it away from the established structure in which the CIA was under the DIG of Karachi.
In the atmosphere of ethnic polarisation prevalent in Sindh, this shift too began to be seen in ethnic terms. The fact that DIG Police Aftab Nabi happens to be the brother of the MQM-nominated federal minister, Islam Nabi, fuelled speculation in certain quarters that he was under the influence of the Markaz – the MQM's Azizabad headquarters.
Marwat, meanwhile; was a former stalwart of the Punjabi-Pakhtun Ittehad, which was not only formed as an anti-MQM organisation but one that sought to defend the interests of the Punjabi and Pakhtun police force, which was once the target of the MQM's ire.
The task of reorganising the CIA was taken in hand in June this year. A comprehensive proposal was moved, incorporating details about how the CIA would function in the future. The proposal was approved on June 16, 1991, by Irfanullah Marwat. That order, circulated immediately by the Inspector General of Police, brought into existence an organisation which had all the powers hitherto enjoyed by the police force, and much more over and above that.
Initially, the reorganization was meant to cover only CIA Karachi, but subsequently another standing order was issued to bring the entire province within its ambit. Today, the chief of the CIA is almost as powerful as the Inspector General of the Sindh Police. According to its victims, it is also more dreaded, corrupt and brutal than ever before.
Initially, there were reports among informed circles that police officials transferred or punished by the normal police were posted, patronised and promoted by the CIA. Officials were also transferred from other police ranges and posted in Karachi, and in many cases, promoted out of turn.
These manoeuvrings were clearly aimed at creating a force which was more loyal to its mentor than to the state. The ideal head for such a force also had to be someone extremely loyal — and Samiullah Marwat, the current DIG CIA, fit the bill both ethnically and temperamentally.
Marwat had served the police in the interior of Sindh in a number of capacities. He was once transferred following protests by religious groups over some of his activities. He was last posted as SP Nawabshah, just before the last general election. Samiullah was already heading the CIA as SSP when the decision to restructure it was taken. Under the new structure, it is headed by a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG).
Today, it has become common knowledge among political observers in Sindh that the CIA enjoys a virtually free hand in picking up anybody on any charge
However, the police rules clearly lay down that if any post occurs or falls vacant, the senior-most official will hold it until a suitable person is available or gets promoted. Samiullah now heads the new CIA as its DIG, although there are a number of officials who are senior to him in the force. This promotion only adds to the suspicion that the reorganisation of the CIA is an attempt to create a parallel – and loyal – force that carries out its activities at the behest of Sindh’s current ruling coterie.
Even prior to his out of turn elevation to the position of DIG, Samiullah Marwat had a reputation for acting independently, though he was supposed to be two tiers below the chief of the Sindh police. The reason was that he was very close to the home advisor, to whom he was directly reporting.
The CIA had always been an organisation that had a reputation for terror, something out of a gory horror film. Since its job was to investigate heinous crimes, the interrogation of accused persons formed part of its duties. Like the rest of the police in this country, the CIA has always employed medieval tactics, the old third-degree methods, to extract confessions. The list of those who have been killed in CIA custody, or maimed for life, is as long as it is horrifying.
Since the present set-up was imposed on Sindh, the consensus amongst the provincial bureaucracy, however, is that the CIA's methods have become even more brutal and arbitrary.
With all checks and balances removed from the path of the CIA, and reinforced by the full-backing of the ruling clique, the agency's officials have now stalled abusing the powers that the statute book had bestowed on them — even inventing powers which are not written down in any book.
Today, it has become common knowledge among political observers in Sindh that the CIA enjoys a virtually free hand in picking up anybody on any charge. This unprecedented level of power to arrest anyone on suspicion has provided the CIA with the perfect shelter under which it indulges in criminal activities.
"With all its machinery in place, the beefed-up new CIA has now begun to round up people more arbitrarily than ever before," says a political worker who has been in and out of its dreaded prison cells over the last six months.
Interviews with several CIA victims, in fact, all confirm that almost all political detainees, irrespective of the charges whether they are real or fabricated, or even nonexistent, are grilled exhaustively before being released. Worse still, many detainees are picked up and subsequently released and not simply for lack of evidence. Numerous allegations of cases where the extortion of money has preceded the detainees’ release, which includes some big businessmen, are already doing the rounds in Karachi's power circles.
A local businessman describes the CIA as an institution that is becoming notorious for a whole new range of criminal activities. “What had started off as a super task force that was meant to crack down on political opponents and ‘terrorists’, has now ended up as an institution that uses its fearful reputation to extort money from its victims."
As part of its new mandate, the CIA has also been given the prime responsibility of dealing with cases of kidnapping for ransom. Disturbingly, however, there are charges from well-informed quarters that the CIA sleuths themselves have been indulging in a bizarre version of this crime.
Under the cover of picking up terrorists, the CIA is also believed to have been entrapping prostitutes for the entertainment of senior figures.
One case in point is that of Ayub, a launch owner. He was picked up on July 8, 1991, from Keamari by two men posing as Major Saghir and Captain Ayub of the Coast Guards, who took him to the CIA Centre. In his petition to the president and the prime minister, Ayub claims that he was beaten up and threatened by his interrogators that he would be booked on charges of smuggling heroin and arms unless a sum of 20 lakh rupees was paid.
Ayub was, however, eventually released after he allegedly paid six lakh rupees. His appeal has even been recently published in some newspapers. "The question remains, that if he was really a smuggler, why was he released?" argues a senior police officer, who feels that the 'new-image' CIA might be giving other security forces a bad name. Speaking about Ayub's case, he maintains that if indeed Ayub was not a smuggler, then does his 'kidnapping' by the CIA not fall under the purview of section 365-A of the Pakistan Penal Code — a crime punishable by death?
Alarmingly, this is not the only case of its kind. In two stories published in September in an English language newspaper, The News, a number of incidents were reported which, by their very nature, fall under the category of kidnapping for ransom.
On August 16, 1991, for instance, Mian Ejaz Siddique, owner of Toyo Nasic, was arrested on charges of kidnapping. Three days later, he was released. Insiders say that Siddique was picked up on the behest of a leading family to prevent him from marrying the daughter of a very famous singer.
Then there was the reported case of the 'arrests' of businessmen Sikandar Haleem, Tufail Sheikh, Fauzi Ali Kazmi, (the recently acquitted friend of Asif Ali Zardari) and Amjad Husain, former Managing Director of Pakistan State Oil. All of them were later released, allegedly after deals were struck. The same fate apparently befell the owner of a travel agency situated in Mehran Hotel. In an interesting development, however, Tufail Sheikh was released on the intervention of Senator Bostan Ali Hoti and Islamuddin Sheikh. The catalogue of the CIA's horrors doesn't end here, though.
Under the cover of picking up terrorists, the CIA is also believed to have been entrapping prostitutes for the entertainment of senior figures. According to intelligence agencies, Fazal Din, the father of a well-known call girl, was picked up in July on charges of alleged connections with Al-Zulfikar and for gun-running. His daughter, Sumera, is said to have been made a victim of senior CIA officers, who forced her to do as they asked in order to get her father released. Fazal Din was released later, on the grounds that the case against him could not be proved.
“The use of certain newspapers has also become part of an identifiable pattern in the CIA’s modus operandum,” says another police officer who has been watching this supra-agency's operations for some time now. “They raid certain dens, round up the women, release the photographs to their chosen newspapers and later release the women after striking a deal of sorts," he added.
One such incident was reported on June 24, 1991, when the photo of the girls with their clients was published by some of the tabloids. The photographs were released by the CIA. But no case was registered against any of the women or their clients, and so far, nothing is on record on the CIA's books.
“But why should they take any action? It’s not as if they were doing it as part of an effort to bust the crime underworld of the city. Their purpose has been served once the photographs have been published,” added another police officer.
The CIA had always been an organisation that had a reputation for terror, something out of a gory horror film.
Reports gathered by a federal intelligence agency also reveal that the CIA frequently raids prostitution dens in order to please their bosses. The women are confined at CIA Base One in Saddar. After some of them are selected by the high-ups, they are transported to their jeeps, parked at another pre-arranged venue.
Three inspectors in particular form part of a clique that is close to the top, since they are stated to be very active and helpful in this respect. From being sub-inspectors, they have since been promoted, out of turn, to the rank of inspectors.
A number of other sordid incidents of this nature have also come to light, revealing the extent to which the agency's officers are willing to go in an effort to please their superiors.
About 15 days before the promotion of the present DIG, some prostitutes were brought from Napier Road to an apartment opposite the Risala Police Station. Apparently, when one senior official of the CIA went "too far" with one of the women, she began to resist and kicked up a massive row.
The neighbours, on hearing the screams, reported the matter to the Risala Police Station. A mobile arrived on the scene and broke open the door, only to catch the senior officer and other top figures in the act. The SHO Napier was immediately summoned, and he threatened and succeeded in pacifying the women. The whole sordid episode was hushed up and no report was lodged anywhere.
Following the restructuring of the CIA, and the pat that it has been given on the back by those who matter in the provincial machinery, a tug-of-war of sorts has developed between the district police and the CIA. Since the tasks of the two agencies now clearly overlap, there is fierce competition between them, and desperate attempts to take credit for solving crime form part of the tussle over each other's turf.
“If the police busts a gang of car snatchers, the CIA is usually not far behind in making claims about having clamped down on another such gang,” says a police officer, who has been on the car theft beat for over eight months.
Since no proper records are maintained and the CIA is reluctant to supply the chassis and engine numbers of recovered cars, in many cases the same cars are shown as having been recovered over and over again. Whether all of them are actually delivered to their rightful owners, however, is another story.
The tension between the two arms of the force responsible for maintaining law and order, in fact, has erupted to the surface on more than one occasion.
Recently, for instance, the CIA arrested a police inspector on the charge of being involved in a rape. However, the officer was eventually released, which itself leaves many questions unanswered. “If he was actually involved in a rape case, why was he not punished?” asks a colleague of his in the police. According to the latter, the victimised official's only crime was that he had fallen out with the CIA and its mentors.
There have also reportedly been serious upheavals within the CIA in recent months. Most of the cases have involved officers who refused to comply with controversial dictates from above. Two recent examples are that of Choudhry Hameed and Mohammad Khan, both of whom used to be extremely powerful figures in the CIA before their fall from grace.
Meanwhile, no explanation has so far been given for the double demotion of former superintendent, Choudhry Hameed, now an inspector posted at the DIG Karachi's office. Mystery also shrouds the removal of one of the CIA's veteran strong-men, Inspector Mohammed Khan. From the government's point of view, both men had to their credit the investigation of important political cases. The firing on the MQM camps and the Ghulam Husain Unar case were being handled by these officers.
The recently murdered inspector Malik Ehsan was also a prominent figure in the CIA before he was transferred to the interior of Sindh. After his murder in Karachi, his widow was forcibly prevented from addressing a press conference where she was believed to be ready to make sensational disclosures about her husband's death. She is still being held incommunicado, with guards posted outside her home. It is believed that Mohammad Khan's removal was linked to the fact that he was helping Malik Ehsan’s widow in her attempts to uncover the truth behind her husband's death.
The events surrounding Malik Ehsan's fall from favour, and his subsequent murder, are perhaps the most sinister events that have taken place under the CIA's new order. While the government promptly darned Al-Zulfikar terrorists, there have been rumblings about the actual reasons for Malik Ehsan’s death among senior police circles. Some of them even believe that his murder might have been a part of a sensational cover-up, involving some very senior figures close to the CIA.
Insiders in the CIA say that Malik Ehsan had gathered some information surrounding the mysterious death of Saeed Mighty, a notorious criminal and a political activist. Mighty was once an activist of the Punjabi-Pakhtun Ittehad, which allegedly had connections at the top in the Home Department. But he was reported to have fallen out with his associates some time before the chance encounter with the city police, in which he was wounded.
For mysterious reasons, the CIA, according to investigations by certain intelligence agencies, had standing instructions to get rid of Mighty. That perhaps explains why the agency rushed to take over the case, as well as custody of the wounded Mighty. Within days of being taken under the CIA's custody, Mighty died in Jinnah Hospital under mysterious circumstances. Doctors at the hospital say that he was well a day before his death, had eaten his meals and had even entertained visitors. Despite the circumstances under which Mighty died, and in flagrant contravention of rules and regulations, the police did not conduct a post-mortem of the accused.
Reliable sources in the police, as well as in the intelligence agencies which conducted enquiries into Mighty's death, believe that he was murdered. According to another account, he was simply administered some poison. That his dextrose drip was removed is also no secret.
Sources maintain that Malik Ehsan happened to know the circumstances of Mighty's death, as well as his confessional statement naming a very influential person for whom he had once worked in the past.
If Mighty had in fact been silenced because of fears that he would make sensational disclosures, Malik Ehsan too could not be allowed to roam free and eventually spill the beans. These circles suspect that this is one reason for the murder of Malik Ehsan. Ehsan’s murder is still an unsolved riddle for the police and the CIA, but an autopsy of Mighty could still be conducted to discover the cause of his death.
There is also mystery surrounding the cars with fake number plates recovered from Mighty's hideout. Intriguingly, his alleged accomplice, Qaiser Khan, who was also arrested with much fanfare the CIA, was later released under mysterious circumstances. "One of the problems is that very little information trickles out from behind the closed doors of the CIA bases. Those who are hand in glove with the agency are not expected to speak. Others, for fear of reprisals from the dreaded organisation, keep their mouths shut," says a police officer who has been transferred from a crucial post to a less sensitive one in the recent reshuffle.
It is difficult then to piece together anything but a somewhat incomplete, but still alarming, picture from victims, aggrieved officials, and a handful of honest people who are still in the CIA. What is clear is that much more remains to be investigated.
“Only an incisive investigation by a federal agency, away from the influence of the provincial setup,” one senior police official said, “can expose the gory and ugly drama that goes on behind the scenes.” Sources say that some federal agencies have reportedly already carried out such inquiries. But, since no action seems to have been taken, it appears that the reports have been quietly and conveniently disregarded.
Of course, one cannot be certain about the outcome of the reported investigations carried out by any federal agency. But some of the CIA's victims, like Ayub, have actually sent petitions to the president and the prime minister.
Whether they, in turn, have ordered any secret inquiry into the matter is not known; a public one has obviously not been commissioned by the authorities. Certainly not by the president, who seems to have forgotten his self-appointed role as political taskmaster, for all sorts of accountability exercises, nor by the prime minister, who untiringly continues to promise justice to all.
“Other than restoring some of the eroded credibility of the president, with Irfanullah Marwat being the president's son-in-law, a real and thorough inquiry”, according to an official who closely monitors the CIA's deeds and misdeeds, “would also help to improve the actual working of the CIA.” Only once its own image is untarnished — or the agency is cleared of the personnel who compromise its image — can the CIA hope to actually address the problem of crime in the province.
This article was originally published in the Herald's September 1991 issue under the headline 'Inside the CIA'. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.