Dr. Naseem Baloch is a France-based Baloch nationalist activist, affiliated with the Baloch National Movement (BNM). He was abducted twice by the Pakistan military during his activism in Balochistan. Years later, he wrote his painful memories of torture cells. Sajid Hussain has translated them from Balochi.
Nauman Avenue Apartments, Gulistan e Jauhar, Karachi. The door-bell rang at around 3am on March 25, 2005. I woke up, opened the door and saw around 20 people in police and paramilitary uniforms while some were wearing civilian clothes.
“What’s happening, sir,” I asked. In response, someone hit me with the butt of his AK-47 — once on my head and once on my neck, making me collapse on the ground. They handcuffed my hands on my back. I was blindfolded. Only my ears were suggesting that my other friends were also being beaten and handcuffed.
We were thrown into a vehicle, blindfolded and barefoot.
They didn’t let us sleep for three nights. We were hanging, hands tied upwards. It was a huge hall with black and white tiles. A giant search light was on my eyes. A soldier was on the duty of beating me every once in a while so that I wouldn’t fall asleep. He was good at his work. He had a leather-strip, which he used with both his hands on every part of my body. When it hit my body, it would stick there, followed by streams of blood. Hands had been tied upside in such a way that if I tried to keep my feet on the ground, my wrists would feel the pressure and blood would start oozing out. My head had been covered with a plastic bag which made it difficult to breathe. The knee, wrist and back joints had been burnt with cigarette butts.
These were the happenings of the first few days. Later, I was shifted to a tiny room where I could only stretch my legs. The searing heat of Karachi, mosquitoes, a suffocating small cell, eyes shut with a black piece of cloth and feet chained. Sleeping was not an option in anyway, but an officer would visit at any time of night. If he found one sleeping, there was a punishment – electric current on thighs.
The first three days were meant for sleep deprivation and instilling fear. Then began the investigation. Sleep deprivation and fear make you talk.
During the investigation, eyes were closed, an officer was asking questions from the front and a soldier standing behind with a leather strip or a stick. I guess when the officer signaled, the soldier would start beating. They rubbed something on my feet which felt like a stick, and asked: “Do you’ve any idea what it is?” I didn’t know. “You’ll know when we’ll use it.” I don’t know if they ever used it or not.
After 45 days of investigation in Karachi, I was shifted to Quetta. The same torture techniques and the same questions there. A total of two months had passed in similar conditions.
On May 25, I was released with Dr. Imdad, Dr. Yousuf and Ghulam Rasool. The other friends picked up with us were still missing.
In June, I, Dr. Imdad, Dr. Yousuf and Ghulam Rasool went to the Sindh High Court to record our witness accounts that Dr. Allah Nazar, Akhtar Nadeem and Ali Nawaz Gauhar had been picked up along with us. We were handed over to the Dera Ghazi Khan police on May 18 but the others were still with the military. The court listened to our accounts through our lawyer Hafeez Lakho. I think Dr. Imdad also spoke in front of the court. The current Foreign Secretary of the Balcoh National Movement, Hammal Haider, was accompanying us. A Jamhoori Watan Party leader, Saleem Baloch, was also present.
My father, Dr. Imdad’s late father Mr. Noor Jan, Ghulam Rasool’s cousin Dr. Iqbal, Hammal Haider and Dr. Yousuf’s cousin Maqbool Shambay Zai had come to Dera Ghazi Khan to receive us.
Friends say I am good with remembering dates and events. Maybe it was true in the past. But, after being picked up by the military on March 25 and spending excruciating time in dark cells, my memory has become weak. My mind has become weak. Later, I could pass the medical final examinations with great hardship. I remember, a hundred times a day, those people who have been missing in torture cells for years.
There, we tried to remember the days and dates by guess work. Keeping the track of days was easy as on Fridays a Kashmiri mullah would shout: “Today is Jummah (Friday), everyone should offer the Jummah prayers.” He had been arrested for helping the Sheraton Hotel suicide bomber.
One day, I was removed from my cell, but not to be taken for torture. They took me to a comparatively distant place, and put on to a vehicle. Eyes were shut and hands chained. But I figured from random whispers that Ghulam Rasool, Dr. Yousuf and Akhtar Nadeem were also there. The soldiers warned us from whispering. Every word was punished with prolonged beating sessions. Keeping that in mind, we all fell silent out of fear. The vehicle started moving. Someone tuned a radio channel. The DJ was saying it was a Karachi FM channel and so and so. Then he said it was International Mother’s Day.
I remembered my mother. She is an illiterate woman and doesn’t know of Mother’s Day or Children’s Day. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the fear that my mother was dead by now. I had been missing for two months and nobody knew about my whereabouts.
I was in the Baloch Students Organization and I was jailed for a minor issue at the Bolan Medical College. My mother sent my cousin from Mashkay, my home village, saying: “He’s my only son. If he remained further in jail, I’d die.” Therefore, in that vehicle on Mother’s Day, I feared my mothered must have died in these hard times.
She’s still worried about me, but thankfully she’s still alive.
“You guys don’t have a brother so take good care of yourself,” Dr. Allah Nazar used to joke about some of us. While crossing a road, he would tell us jokingly to be on the safer side. I, Dr. Shams, Ghulam Rasool, Ata ur Rahman and Dr. Imdad belonged to this club – being the only son of our mothers.
Anyway, I was talking about Karachi and the court. After the hearing, human rights activist Salim Akhtar took us to a psychiatrist. He called us one by one, asked questions and prescribed some medicines. I remember one tablet: Tofranil. I used it for a long time and it helped me leave behind the painful memories of the night of March 25 and the torture I went through in its aftermath. A year later, I got tired of using the medicines and quit them. One day in 2007, I became very restless. I bought some Tofranil but it didn’t help.
I wasn’t liking any place. I had left my favourite place – the hostel of Bolan Medical College in Quetta – and was staying at my uncle’s. But the night of March 25 and its aftermath were on a repeat mode, like a movie, in my head.
I had borrowed the motorbike of a friend, Qaisar Rakhshani (not his real name), but didn’t know where I was riding to. That day, I was just wandering. A bicycle was not giving me way, so I hit it on the side. It fell down with its rider. I felt happiness. Such things made me feel good.
I knew those medicines were no longer helpful and that I needed new ones. But I was hiding my condition, trying to look normal. But how I could I look normal! I called a friend, Farhad, who was staying at the hostel, to take me to Dr. Ghulam Rasool (a renowned psychiatrist in Quetta). He started laughing. “Have you gone crazy,” he asked. “No. But I need help,” I replied. I drove to the hostel on that borrowed motorbike. He was waiting for me at the hostel’s main black gate. When I neared him, I suddenly thought that Dr. Ghulam Rasool had treated Hasan Khan and he had been healed; so, I’ll be healed too, but before getting healed let’s hit the hostel’s gate. And I did it. I felt I was not myself. But now I have realized that I did some of those crazy things knowingly just to feel good.
We went to Dr. Ghulam Rasool’s clinic, and told him all the story. He said I had post-traumatic stress disorder. He was right. I dreaded military boots, the colour of military uniform and vehicles that looked like those used by the army. He prescribed me Paroxetine and sleeping pills. “It’s good that you came, otherwise this disorder would have worsened,” he said, asking me to visit him once in every month.
I kept using those medicines. I felt some relief for around three months. The stress had subsidized and I could sleep peacefully. But the feeling of fear was still there. Some people’s voice or the opening and closing of doors and windows would freak me out. The noise of keys bunched together in a keychain was a torture. In the torture cell, every time the guy with the keys came, someone would be taken for a thrashing. Hearing the sound of the keys, every prisoner would think it was his turn. The thrashing happened once a day, but the fear was a worse form of torture. The soldier with the bunch of keys would visit the cells every once in a while. He wouldn’t necessarily take out a prisoner for beating on every visit. I believe it was just another means of mental torture.
I was visiting Dr. Ghulam Rasool every month and he advised me to keep using the medicines. The Paroxetine was adding to my weight and my paranoia was not going away. So the doctor replaced it with Sertraline 50mg after a year. It was 2008. In 2009, he prescribed me Sertraline 100mg. I was still a medical student and couldn’t afford the extra expenses of the medicines from my pocket money. I didn’t want to inform my family about my mental disorder, as it would have worried them. Dr. Ghulam Rasool was kind enough to give me sample medicines that he received from pharmaceutical companies.
In the month of February the same year, I completed my house job. I passed the service commission exams for the post of a medical officer. In February 2010, I got admission in MCPS (Psychiatry) and my posting was shifted to the Bolan Medical College Hospital. I had chosen psychiatry to know my illness, to treat myself.
February, March and April passed in study and training. Then came May 25.
To be continued…
Courtesy: Balochistan Times