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Friday, 16 September 2011

The LOC - Raising the people's stake in their homeland

A factual account of a citizen's unlawful arrest, humiliation, detention, kidnap, harassment, intimidation, and torture by the Pakistan army/ISI viz a viz the territory gloriously though highly disingenuously described as Azad (free) Jammu & Kashmir (AJK).

Tanveer Ahmed

Backdrop
Creating problems related to matters of international security are not as easy as some people may assume, solving them are mammoth in proportion however. It's also amazing that most citizens of the globe do not fully grasp the concept of freedom and less so governments, especially the most powerful. Balancing as much as interpreting the relationship between freedom and security is a prominent challenge in today's age. For those familiar with the adage that we are born free and should exist as free citizens in this world should easily identify with the persistent human tragedy infused by the LOC (Line of Control) tinderbox dividing Kashmir. A territory that is less a dispute between two infiltrating sovereign nations viz. India and Pakistan – and more a failure of the world to recognise that each and every citizen from all parts of the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir has an inherent right to map out and determine their political future.

Motivation
As an unfunded civil society activist committed by conviction to the resolution of our 'national question' and the formation of a democratic political structure that ensures 'good governance' in our part of the erstwhile territory, I embarked on an '800km Citizenship Walk along the LOC' on the 20th of August, aiming to interview citizens of AJK by way of a survey form comprising of 10 publicly significant questions, hitherto unexplored. This form is available for download at kashmirone.net and is open to all citizens of AJK including it's diaspora.

Format
The idea is to walk from one end (south) of AJK to the other (north), interacting with civilians who live close to the LOC but west of Pakistani army posts that man it, thus avoiding land-mines as well as incorrect suspicion that I may be attempting to 'infiltrate' into Indian-controlled territory.

Dates and places visited

Day 1 – Saturday 20/08/11
I travelled from Rawalpindi to Sialkot with a view to beginning my journey along the international border (on public transport). Bearing in mind that Jammu is barely 30 kilometres - as the crow flies – from Sialkot, I wanted to give myself a sense of orientation of our State as a whole and the impact of 'borders' on our freedom to move. This took me via Chapraar and Saidpur to the Chenab River and Phagwal before I entered our State at Manawar late in the evening. I put up for the night at a hotel in Mo-il. I had been questioned by the police as well as an army unit near the Chenab River without incident.

Day 2 - 21/08/11
I walked from Mo-il to Chamb and wanted to walk further to Manawar but some locals insisted that I travel with them via motorbike, I reluctantly agreed. When we returned to Chamb I was invited to a prominent local shrine known as Khairowal Durbar. It was an opportunity to interact with many people who had come from far and wide including my own district of Kotli. The spiritual head (Peer Sahaab) suggested that I spend the night there. I accepted his invitation. There was zero interaction with 'authorities' on this day.

Day 3 – 22/08/11
As I bade farewell to the Peer Sahaab in the morning, he instructed one of his disciples to drop me at Mo-il. This is where I begin my walk northwards aiming to reach Deva Batala. A solitary (local) soldier in plain clothes confronted me along the way, though he softened his tone once he understood what I'd set myself out to do. I had a couple of maps (one bought from a Pakistani army shop on Murree Road in 2005, the other was printed by the AJK tourism dept.). I also carried a tourist pamphlet (again courtesy of the AJK tourist department) and GPS on my mobile (which was almost useless as there was little or no network coverage). Thus, I developed a habit of asking each and every person I met along the way to confirm that I'd adopted the correct route. I come across the first army camp of my walk unwittingly and spend about 15 – 20 minutes there. After a series of polite questions and confirmation of my identity, I proceeded with my journey. Before the end of my day's walk at Sariyaala Chapar, I encountered another army camp. Their conduct and approach was similar to the first, cordial though just slightly lengthier. I spent the rest of the day and night in nearby Kot Jamal, interviewing locals.

Day 4 – 23/08/11
I re-started my journey in the morning from Sariyaala Chapar and headed out to Patni. Learning from my experience of the previous day (of unwittingly coming across army camps) I decided to stick to the main road on whatever route I adopted from this point on, though remaining as close to the LOC and west of Pakistani army posts as physically possible. I encountered an army check-post about 5 kilometres before Thub, they questioned me extensively and checked my baggage thoroughly before escorting me (on public transport) to their camp at Thub. I remained in their custody before an army major decided to ring a number on one of my phones to confirm my identity. He was pleasant in manner and politely informed me that he did so without my permission. They allowed me to proceed to Patni. Though I was questioned extensively and repeatedly, matters remained cordial.

Day 5 – 24/08/11
Baghsar was my next destination. It was an uncomplicated though steep road with very little human habitation in between. It wasn't until about 8 kilometres before Baghsar that I encountered my first army camp of the day. They questioned me briefly before escorting me towards their main camp at Baghsar. Incidentally, at each and every army camp/post that I came across, I made it a point of explaining that I had been questioned and cleared previously by their colleagues. I also requested on each occasion that they make a note of my ongoing route and kindly inform subsequent posts that I'm travelling with the aforementioned purpose (i.e. that of surveying the AJK public). I clearly clarified that just as the citizens of AJK who live in the cities have aspirations and grievances, similarly those who lived in what they (Pakistan army and it's agencies) describe as 'border areas' deserved equal attention.

In any case - a few kilometres short of Baghsar – the soldiers escorting me met up with a (pre-agreed) set of soldiers from the army base in Baghsar. At this point, I came across my first experience of humiliation, they tied up my hands and despite my protestation, frog marched me towards their base. As we walked through Baghsar bazaar, the sight of locals staring at me and imagining that I must be a criminal incensed me. I knew that if I was free, I would have interacted with these very people and discussed matters of our homeland. On approach to the army base, they humiliated me further by blindfolding me with a towel.

Once they sat me down in a chair, they began interrogating me with questions that I had repeatedly answered to numerous colleagues of theirs over the past few days. I made it very clear at the outset that under no circumstances was I going to answer a single question while blindfolded. My subsequent silence infuriated them and the young Pathan colonel doing the bulk of questioning threatened to shoot me. Realising that I wouldn't relent, after about half an hour they changed their tone and manner of questioning. I didn't respond until they removed the towel and untied my hands.

At this juncture, I re-emphasised my stance that politeness on their part will generate co-operation on my behalf and I will assist them in allaying whatever fears they may have about me. As they came across my laptop, the young colonel that threatened to shoot me asked for the password. I explained that it wasn't possible for me to give it to him. I was after all - legally speaking - not a citizen of Pakistan and thus under no obligation to divulge personal information. However, with the aim of not giving them a reason to suspect that I had some sort of hidden agenda, I said I could co-operate to the extent of typing the password for them and allow them to look at whatever was in my laptop but in my presence. They reluctantly agreed but broke their pledge by taking it elsewhere after a while. They had to return to me when the power settings prompted re-entry of the password after a short period.

Detailed and repetitive questioning followed up until 11pm. In the meantime, they indicated that they would drive me to Bhimber before releasing me and assist in procuring some sort of 'authority letter' so that I wouldn't encounter any more problems on my subsequent journey. That is not what happened. They shackled me with handcuffs and blindfolded me before embarking on a 3 hour 20 minute journey. At this juncture, I was shifted from one vehicle to another on what seemed a major highway (quite likely the GT road) and taken on another blind journey for a further 1 hour 40 minutes. I had managed to glimpse at the vehicle dashboard time on embarking as well as disembarking the first vehicle.

Day 6 – 25/08/11
It was just past 4:00 am when they removed my blindfold after sitting me down in a window-less room. In a similar manner to earlier in the previous day, I explained that I could not answer any questions with my hands cuffed and will not take kindly to being questioned in the manner of a suspect. Possibly taking the experience of their colleagues with me on board, they readily agreed. However, despite knowing that I had walked over 25 kilometres the previous day, been through many hours of repetitive questioning and a blind 5 hour journey, they considered it appropriate that they continue questioning me in this tired state. I put up with their antics for a while (again for the purpose of ensuring they understood me). I found it out of place that they wanted to know the names, addresses, profession and marital status of each and every member of my family. I found many other questions that they asked to be beyond their concern. I reminded them that I wasn't a citizen of their country and was being questioned under duress. That I was too tired to answer tedious questions and would rather they be specific about what sort of information they were seeking. They even asked me about my relationship with Shafqat Ali Khan (Inqalabi) an activist of Gilgit Baltistan whom they have put on their exit-control list (ECL). Again, a matter with little connection to my 'Citizenship Walk'.

A few questions later and yet more (repetitive) explanation that my laptop password wasn't public property, left me mentally exhausted. They soon brought in a mattress to the hot stuffy window-less room and allowed me to lie-down and 'rest'. Despite the exhaustion, the humidity as well as their repeated disturbance to ask me a query or two, forced me to quit trying to sleep any longer. After a couple of hours of enduring this ridiculous scenario, I stood up and said, “Right! Enough is enough. Either you explain the purpose behind what you're doing to me, arrive at a solid conclusion or release me forthwith!” Going into a fake polite mode, they continued with their rhetoric about how lucky I was to be treated so cordially by them and the problems their country was going through etc. etc. The password issue crept up again and I felt like I was conversing with the dumbest thick-heads that had ever been born. I could not co-operate any further. If they were smart, they could crack the password themselves. Indeed, they stoutly mentioned that they could (of course, they couldn't – yet another bluff on their part). I had given them ample opportunity to browse through the laptop but I could not do it repeatedly and indefinitely, especially as I knew that they themselves did not know what they were looking for. To sift through each and every item would take them at least a week. That's not something I was willing to entertain.

They warned me that I would not be able to endure what they would put me through. In turn, I pointed out that I was made of far stronger stuff than they possibly imagined. I've worked selflessly for the enlightened progress of my people (the citizens of J & K) for the past 6 and a half years with a specific methodology and output in mind. From what I've gathered of them, they were part of a country that was characterised by deep divisions, widespread social injustice and utter confusion about their future. I worked in a transparent and accountable manner, they worked in a manner totally opposite. Everything I do of public interest is published on the web, I repeatedly emphasised that it was pointless interrogating me for information that was already available publicly. They used the sentiment of the noble religion of Islam to garner blind allegiance while promoting fake aims. I wanted to help solve the problems of the people of my territory by relying on our common humanity and adopting a consultative approach. Hence, my survey. Alas, they were too conditioned otherwise to understand.

They believed in muslim vs. muslim oppression for the purpose of ensuring the muslim masses continue to hate people of other religions. What I describe as follows is evidence of that.

They blindfolded (included a blind-fold as well as a black sack over my head – all subsequent blindfolds were in such manner) and hand-cuffed me once again before frog marching me to a cell hardly 4 metres by 6. Removing the blindfold, they ordered me to change into jail clothes which I wasn't going to do. I was in no mood to take up residence, I would rather be tortured and die nobly. I began reciting passages of the Quran from memory quietly as I'd made up my mind to die rather than endure the stupidity of State interrogation. Beginning to realise that I meant everything I said, three of them entered the tiny cell, kept the gate open and forcibly removed my clothes. Now that I was in a naked state, albeit continuing to recite the Quran, they swore at me repeatedly and tried to intimidate me into donning jail cloth. As they had me pinned to the ground, one of them exclaimed that I wasn't circumcised before stepping on my private parts with a view to inflicting pain without doing lasting damage. I continued with my Quranic recitation as they left soon after, further realising that I mean what I say. Leaving me in that naked state for what must have been at least an hour, they returned with my clothes and sheepishly suggested I put them on.

It wasn't till the evening at about 6:15 pm that I was blind-folded and handcuffed once more, before being led out of the cell back to that original stuffy office. On this occasion, they had a Kashmiri who had some media experience to mediate between me and them. Gradually, we managed to obtain some sort of understanding and an agreement was struck at around 10:30 pm. I was to be released after sehri (roughly 24 hours after being brought there) but not before I had to sign and thumb-print a couple of papers that I hadn't been tortured. Not true of course but I had to get out of that hell-hole. Absolving yourself of responsibility as a State cannot possibly be such a simple process.

Day 7 – 26/08/11
I remained blind-folded and hand-cuffed as we left in the morning. The blindfold was taken off at my request just before entering Azad Kashmir at Holaar after I complained of breathing problems, as the morning sun began to make it's intensity felt. The handcuffs were removed just before we entered Sehnsa. I was released at the police station after some minor formalities at around 10:00 am.

Finally, what transpired was a waste of their time as well as mine. Ultimately, ignorance can be dangerous if not fatal and I still maintain a level a sympathy for those who sincerely believe in the Pakistani State. However, I will not tolerate a repetition of what happened to me in the past few days and will seek to take pre-emptive measures before I resume my 'Citizenship Walk' from the very place that I was originally hand-cuffed from. This requires identifying a genuine stake-holder in the Pakistani State with executive power and includes making the difference between Kashmiri and Pakistani citizens amply clear.

Note:
I wish to remind readers that the territory referred to as 'AJK' is de jure an independent entity, legal opinion further suggests that the UNCIP resolutions restricted Pakistan's role to maintain the 'sanctity' of what was then the ceasefire line (LOC post Simla) and not what traditionally has been thought of as 'fulfilling the responsibilities of good governance'. Subsequent Pakistani involvement dictated a gradual deepening de facto control of the territory, not least by repetitive marketing of the 'Kashmiri liberation' dream twinned with the supposed duty of 'Islamic brotherhood'.

Date written: 27/08/2011

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