by Ted Manna
American Reportter Correspondent
August 21, 2008
WARY OF PROTESTS, DEMOCRATS PAY FOR A JAIL
WASHINGTON,D.C., Aug. 20, 2008 -- He was forced to live like a blind man in a dark dungeon for eight months, so completely denied daylight that he could not know if it was day or night, after Pakistan's Military Intelligence secretly abducted him on suspicion of promoting U.S. interests.
"I literally lived like a blind man," says Sohrab Sarki, 43, bursting into tears. A motel business owner from Yuba City, Calif., he recalls the horror he felt when he first saw his face in the mirror after 20 months of army torture. "I never cried as much [in my life]. I could not recognize my face. I thought I was looking at the skeleton of my father," he said, after he was allowed to shave and provided with a mirror.
"The major question they asked was what is the agenda of the USA," he said. Sarki, a naturalized American, said he told his tormentors the U.S. was a friend of Pakistan and had poured billions of dollars into the country's coffers - Pakistan got upwards of $12 billion in U.S. assistance, mostly military aid, since 9/11 - and what made them think the U.S. would be pushing a secret agenda?
"On the table we do one thing, under the table we do another," the investigating officer responded, implying that in spite of the best diplomatic relations the two countries now were estranged bedfellows. Sarki's 27-month ordeal began on Feb. 24, 2008, when more than two dozen armed members of Pakistan's Military Intelligence raided his home in Karachi. Whe he asked army officers to show him their warrant, one responded, "We never show any warrants."
Soon he was blindfolded and whisked away to an interrogation unit of Military Intelligence in downtown Karachi, near the army corps commander's office.
"I was made to stand in a three-by-three-foot cell for many days. Once my feet got swollen, they struck it with rods, which hurt in the extreme," he recalls.
Sarki's narrative shows that Pakistan's generals are extremely suspicious of the U.S. role in the troubled southwest Asia region.
"How are your brothers in the Baluchistan mountains doing?" Sarki said he was asked as interrogators grilled him about his links with two prominent slain leaders from Baluchistan - former chief minister and governor of Baluchistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who was assassinated on August 26, 2008, and provincial assembly member Nawabzada Balach Marri, who was killed in November, 2007.
Sarki was also questioned about his ties with Sardar Ataullah Mengal, another former chief minister of Baluchistan. Pakistani intelligence killed Mengal's son, Asadullah Mengal, in the mid-1970s and as in the case of Nawab Bugti, his remains were never returned to his family. To this day, no one knows where Mengal was buried.
When Sarki went missing in Pakistan, members of Congress asked Islamabad about his whereabouts. "In a written response, Pakistan's government lied to the U.S. Congress that they do not know Sarki's whereabouts," said Iqbal Tareen, chief coordinator of Forum for Justice and Democracy in Pakistan.
Bush Administration officials have become wary of Pakistan's support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and in recent months have demanded that Islamabad do more to fight extremist Islamic terrorism. Afghanistan, India and the CIA have accused Pakistan of secretly helping the Taliban.
According to a recent report in the Frontier Post, a U.S. online military newspaper, U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen suggested to Pakistani officials in a July meeting they should carry out a referendum in Baluchistan and frontier provinces if they are unable to quell Islamic terrorism on their own.
Many analysts believe Baluchi and Pashtun nationalism are the best antidotes against extremism.
The Texas-sized Pakistani state of Baluchistan has been the scene of a bloody insurgency, which the Baluch call the Fifth War of Liberation. They say their native land was forcibly annexed by Pakistan in March 1948, more than seven months after the British granted the Baluchis independence separately from Pakistan and India.
Baluchi rebels accuse Islamabad of stealing their national wealth at the point of a gun. Under the de jure ruler of Baluchistan, the Khan of Kalat Beglar Begi ["The Prince among Princes"], Suleman Daud Ahmedzai, Baluchis are now knocking at the doors of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
Before the start of Operation Enduring Freedom - launched by the U.S. to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan - Pakistan often tortured political activists after charging them with promoting India's political agenda. Sarki said he was himself surprised the line of questioning had changed and asked one of the Military Intelligence officers about it. "You are of a higher level," the colonel responded in what he presumed was an oblique reference to Sarki's U.S. nationality.
"I am indebted to Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for bringing people like me out of these graves [military torture cells]," Sarki said. Chaudhry was sacked by ex-President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for his judicial activism in spring lat year, but he was restored by the Supreme Court of Pakistan the following fall. Musharraf sent him and the other judges back home one more time after imposing a state of emergency in November, but Musharraf has now resigned and Chaudry's reinstatement has been urged by some in the country's transition government.
The judge is still opposed by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the senior member of the coalition of parties currently ruling Pakistan. The issue threatened to undermine the entire coalition after the other main opposition leader, former presidential candidate Nawaz Sharif, delivered an ultimatum to the PPP demanding Chaudry's reinstatement within 72 hours, and then walked out on coalition talks.
"I also believe it was the sacrifice of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto that put the army on the back foot," Sarki said. Though the C.I.A. named Baitullah Mehsud, a shadowy Taliban warrior from Southern Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as Bhutto's killer, most Pakistanis accuse the Punjabi and Mohajir generals and the country's secret services of being responsible for Bhutto's death.
Before her death, Bhutto had accused Musharraf's alleged henchman, retired Brig. General Ejaz Shah, chief of the Intelligence Bureau and a former I.S.I. official, of being the main person behind plots to have her killed. Shah remains untouched because, as Pakistan newspapers said, he is close to the present Home Minister, Rahman Malik.
A U.N inquiry is also underway that may lay bare the facts about Bhutto's assassination. Sarki also credited Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Ill.), Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for helping him win freedom and returing to America in one piece.
Sarki met here U.S. Department of State officials, whom he said told him they were sorry they could not do more for him while he was enduring torture in Pakistan.
"I saw adults wiping away tears from their eyes when he related his story of torture and the agony that he suffered at the hands of Pakistani intelligence services," said Khalid Hashmani, a Sindhi activist and intellectual who lives in McClean, Va.
Sarki believes a point of no return has reached in Pakistan's relationship with the rebellious Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, where nationalist sentiments run high over the alleged plunder of their resources by dominant Punjabis and Mohajirs.
"One's death will be the life of the other," he said, expressing Baluch and Sindhi fury against Islamabad. He said he had told his tormentors that Pakistan was an unnatural country and that a solution lies in freedom for the federating units.
Some constitutional experts say Pakistan's 1973 Constitution grants full autonomy to the four federal units, but two military regimes that lasted two decades since 1977 have rendered the country's constitution into something less reliable than than toilet paper, they say.
"Pakistan is now under a cloud. The world has realized Pakistan is the problem [with regard to terrorism]," Sarki said.
Sarki was one of the founders of the World Sindhi Congress, which is active in the U.S. and U.K., in securing the rights of the Sindhi people and other minorities in Pakistan. He lives in Yuba City with his wife and two sons.
Ahmed Mustikhan is a Pakistan Baluchi in exile. He lives in Washington, D.C.