Stories From ‘Azaad Kashmir’

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My name is Adeel. I am from Indian Occupied Kashmir. I am as religious as any other Kashmiri person. I joined a religious militant group [name withheld] in the 1990s not because I believed in a religious struggle but because it was the most effective platform to fight for the freedom of Kashmiris from the racist violent bastards that call themselves Indians. My sisters were sixteen and seventeen. The [Indian] army came looking for the men of our family. They did not find us so they raped and killed my younger sister. They took away the older one. Probably they raped and killed her too but we never found the body so who knows? They killed our men. They raped our women. They usurped our rights and they still do. We thought Pakistanis would help us. We were wrong. So much has happened since that all this seems like many nightmares ago.

I crossed over to the Pakistani side with others in my group. Shahid here [name changed] and I have known each other since then. I did many operations from here into my part of Kashmir. I have killed Indian police and I am proud of that. I would still kill Rashtriya Rifles [Indian army] bastards if I could.

But over a few months I noticed that we were ordered to attack our own people [fellow militants] in order to claim unofficial compensation from the Pakistani government that would be pocketed by our so-called leaders and Pakistani soldiers. Still I carried on. The cause was too important. But then we had to go on an operation where we killed our own people in order to keep the anger alive, we were told by the ISI. My anger came from the killing and rape of my family, my people. It was and is alive. It made no sense to me to try and keep it alive by killing my own people. I had an argument with my commander. When we returned to this side [Azad Kashmir], we were summoned for debriefing by the ISI.

Five of us had raised objections. Shahid and Wahid [names changed] are here with me; you can see. They are also from the real Kashmir. Two others, Sameer and Kaleem [names changed] are dead—they died not in a freedom operation but most probably as the result of the ‘love’ provided by the ISI The ‘debriefing’ was more of a violent interrogation. About six or seven soldiers led by a major ran the proceedings, which lasted for about five days. The soldiers kept changing and ‘worked’ us in shifts. They started by making us do push-ups and sit-ups for hours, then beat us with rods and belts when we collapsed in exhaustion. They kept saying that we must admit that we had become ‘double agents,’ that we had crossed over to the Indian side because we were ‘Hindu lovers,’ that we were ‘shameless bastards who wanted to be raped by the rapists of our sisters and mothers.’

Initially, I and the others argued, told them they were wrong and what they were doing was wrong. But when you are beaten and bloodied, barely conscious, nothing really matters beyond a point. They decided to make a particular example of Sameer [name changed] who was the most vocal of us. In front of us, he was stripped naked and chillies were shoved up his rectum. He screamed and screamed and the more he screamed the more they beat him with batons and belts, kicked him, punched him. They would beat him unconscious, bring him back and then beat him unconscious again. He did not die in front of us. But it has been eight years and we never saw him again after those five days together so I think he is dead. He has to be. After what they did to him, it would be better for him too.

After the five days of what they called debriefing, we were locked together in the interrogation cells. These are small windowless rooms. They are unventilated and they stink. We were given daal [lentils] and roti [bread] to eat once a day and two glasses of water. Once a day we were taken one by one to the latrine at the end of the corridor. We were told that if we wanted to piss or shit at any other time, we could do it in the cell and live with it. I am ashamed to admit that we did that. The cell was cleaned once a month. This is when we were taken out for exercise, which consisted of being made to run by laughing soldiers. When we could not run, we would be kicked and laughed at by the soldiers.

During this period, we were summoned by a senior army commander only once. He told us that we were traitors to the Kashmir cause and would spend the rest of our lives in the cells. ‘Even your families will forget you existed,’ he said. There were the three of us in that one cell. There were others in other cells. The cells were in a row and there must have been about ten I think. We spent seven years in there. Then I don’t know what happened. The three of us and these four others were released and settled in this camp here. We were told that we were not to move from the camp or speak to anyone or we will be killed. Some of our former militant colleagues are in charge of getting food across to us. We are not allowed to move from here and we are told we are under surveillance all the time. Wahid [name changed], as you can see, is not really sane, poor fellow. Maybe Adeel [name changed] and I are mad too. We must be to tell you all this.

Such treatment by Pakistani security forces is not limited to errant former militants from Jammu and Kashmir only. Zamir, a resident of Azad Kashmir, described his experience:

I am a believer in the Kashmir cause. The liberation of Kashmir is a sacred duty for every Kashmiri. But what are we liberating Kashmir for? For the Kashmiris I think. Not for Pakistan. And that is all I said. But I guess I said it to the wrong person and at the wrong time. I belonged to a large militant organization—a very rich militant organization and one that made a lot of money from the ISI as well. When you are closely involved and your comrades start dying for no reason and there is money to be claimed for each corpse, you can add things up gradually.

I felt that some of the boys we had trained for operations in occupied Kashmir had died in very mysterious circumstances. There were rumors that they had been killed at point-blank range by their own comrades. That they had been killed before they had crossed over [to the Indian side] and it had been said that they had become martyrs [shaheed] at the hands of Indian troops. And worst, the compensation that was the due of their families had not reached them or in some cases less than half the money had got to the families. Had our boys been martyred in an operation? Had they been killed for the price of their corpses? These were some of the questions I raised.

Because I raised these questions, I spent five years in a cell. I was kept there by the ISI, the army. Overnight, our allies turned into our tormentors. I was beaten every day for a month. Once a week for a few months. And once a month or so after that. I was always beaten by intelligence or army people. And my sin, as they told me themselves, was that I was a traitor. That I had questioned the jihad and I had tried to damage the cause.

How was I beaten? Initially the beatings were more severe. I was hung upside down, beaten with a stick, kicked and punched and threatened with death. For hours at a time. Then over the months the frequency and intensity of the beatings became less severe. I was just kept in the cell and let out to use the toilet etc. They kept telling me that my sin was grave and my punishment was that I spend the rest of my days in the detention center. Then I was let go with these people. My family know I have been released. They know where I am. But they have not been to see me. I don’t want them to either. My children are five years older. I want them to keep growing and not see me in this state.

Shakir, another Azad Kashmir resident who claims never to have been involved in militancy, told Human Rights Watch:

I have never belonged to any militant organization. The truth is that I was not really interested in the struggle. I supported it but never felt the need to fight for it. I felt that it was the job of those under occupation to liberate themselves. If we were good hosts to them that was good enough. As my home was conveniently located, I played host to liberation parties traveling across to the other side. They were accompanied often by our army people who helped them. I grew to know many of these people. But one day in the late 90s, a fight broke out between two members of a militant group and their military minder. Before I knew it, one of the militants had been shot dead in my house. We had to dispose of his body.

After this incident, I told the army people I did not want to perform this service anymore. They should find some other house. But they responded by throwing my belongings and my family, including the womenfolk, out of our house. I was very angered by this and threatened to go public with everything I knew if my home was not returned to me. Of course, as I told them many times afterwards, I did not mean it. The army is very powerful. There is nothing someone like me can do against it, even if it takes away my home. I just said what I said in anger. But it was too late. Three soldiers and one officer, a captain I think, took me to their detention center. There, they tied me up and whipped me until my skin tore and I was bleeding all over and then I passed out. They must have whipped me for a few hours before I passed out. I don’t really know. I woke up in a dark cell. I kept calling for water but no one came. I passed out again. When I woke up again, a soldier was there who gave me water. He was kind to me and gave me daal and roti to eat.

The next day, I was brought out and I saw the soldiers with whom I had the altercation. They saw me and kicked, punched and beat me again. Afterwards, I was put in the cell. I was kept in the cell for three years. I was beaten only occasionally after the first few months when I was beaten often. I was released and brought here [name of place withheld] and told that I was being watched and if I tried to leave I would be re-arrested. I have not seen my family, have no news of them. They probably think I am dead.

Ilyas, who described himself as a former “clerk in the Azad Kashmir government” would not tell Human Rights Watch what had led to his detention and continued monitoring:

I am more lucky than the others you have met here as I was released after only six months. I have now been living here for about a year and I have been told that I may be allowed to leave in a few more months. I cannot spoil that by allowing you to tell the details of why I was picked up. Let us say, they felt I had become unreliable and may reveal information I know. The suspicion was enough for me to be scarred for life. See, I have scars all over my back from the whippings that went on for a month. The thing with whipping is that you can withstand quite a lot the first time. But after that when your wounds are raw, just one lash is enough to get you bleeding again and screaming in agony. Perhaps I am weak. But I have learnt my lesson. I just want to go home. And Inshallah I will and I will go with the blessings of my jailers. That is my aim and what I pray for.

Excerpts from Human Rights Watch: With Friends Like These… (Click to read the full report)

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