Wednesday, 01 October 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Living a Death

Friday, 04 October 2013 10:45 By Zulfiqar Shah, Truthout | Op-Ed

I am in Delhi undergoing medical treatment, including detoxification and treatment for other damage caused by heavy metal poisoning applied in Kathmandu, Nepal on December 18, 2012. Although I repeatedly forget things due to my associated memory loss, I keep on writing to make myself feel my own existence still counts since I am no longer an activist on the ground in Sindh, Pakistan. In fact, I believe I was given heavy metal poisoning by the Pakistani intelligence agencies Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) with local facilitation in Nepal.  

On February 11, 2013, I disembarked in Delhi for medical treatment after international civil society pressured Pakistani authorities to allow me to travel outside Pakistan for medical treatment. I just stepped out of the airport and was chased again in India. I imagined that it was a usual practice similar to what Pakistani security officials do with Indian citizens in Pakistan, despite the fact that I was a refugee and was granted asylum status by UNCHR – Nepal. Soon, I felt wrong things happening around me. I was followed by people who are apparently Indian, Nepalese, and, somewhat surprisingly, Pakistanis. All of sudden, I felt myself caged in the walls of the paying guesthouse where I live. I cannot and could not leave the place because my resources were depleted, taking food from Parsad stalls sometimes or on the credit from street-restaurants. The water in the Guesthouse I have to imbibe is still toxin-full. Finally, the secret becomes open why my health is not improving - my persecution is still underway as India, most probably due to India-Nepal as well as the SARRC Interior Ministries Treaty, was facilitating Pakistan. I suddenly realized that how I was humiliated and kicked-out by AIMS hospital (the largest public health facility in India) in New Delhi was not accidental. I am not allowed to open my bank account; my Indian friends are not allowed to contact me. My finances are being restricted.

At least one TV Channel and one leading English daily interviewed me long ago; however, none has dared yet to telecast or publish those interviews. The realization of an open jail and a living death is stinging me. I keep on writing short articles to let my inner being know that I am alive.    

Why did I leave Pakistan? How the life of a most vibrant activist concluded. The story is simple:

It was May 2012, I was sent messages through some civil society leaders of Pakistan and journalists on behalf of the ISI and MI that I should immediately quit rights activism, most specifically Minority Rights of Hindus and Christians; Political Rights of ethnic Sindhis; and Land Rights - since most of the resource-rich land in Pakistan is occupied by the military. (In February 2009, I along with my friends, civil society and peasants groups organized a twelve days and nights long walk from Hyderabad to Karachi for the legislation of peasants rights in Sindh. The walk was attended by at least 40000 peasants from across the province.) Besides, I was advised to refrain from  publically airing my secular thoughts, as Pakistan was under external threats from the, as I was told, "so-called secular country of United States of America." They further said that I needed to either close down ISM or convert it into a pure research and academic institute and shift the office location to near my home (the ISM office was situated in a thickly populated settlement of Qasimabad town, a heartland of Sindhi activists). I was finally threatened that, should I not follow their orders, I would have to either leave Pakistan or die.

A few weeks before this threat, a military representative from Islamabad / Rawalpindi visited my house and we dined together. He said the Pakistan Army was in need of me and ISM and I should work in close association with the army. I rejected that idea, saying that if the military was serious about settling things in Pakistan, it should primarily address the federal rights issues and issues like the blasphemy law and the military's occupancy of the land as well as a reduction in the role of military in Pakistan's internal and external affairs. Moreover, they should conclude the military operation in Balochistan and undo the enforced disappearance of activists from Sindh and Balochistan. These acts, I told him, were a pre-requisite for that good intention by the Pakistan Army. I declared that I would not become part of such an oppressive military.

This was following by another meeting with a senior civil society leader from Lahore, Punjab during the time when a military operation was being carried in Liyari town of Karachi. We were vociferously opposing the military actions since a human settlement of five hundred thousand lives was put under curfew without any break, and amid a shutdown of electricity and kitchen fuel supplies. That sudden weeklong confinement to their homes caused the deaths of children and ill men and women. The messenger from Lahore, a good friend of mine, said that it was in the interest of Pakistan to create new provinces, and thus divide Sindh. The military fears that you, he told me, may create trouble for them by mobilizing civil society activists for possible political resistance in Sindh to any act for the division of Sindh. Therefore, I should instead ally with the Army and enjoy a wealthy life. I refused. He said then that he, as a friend, was unable to save my life.

I left for Nepal on May 21, 2012 to seek the support of a Nepali senior journalist-cum-activist for my relocation in Kathmandu, Nepal. When I returned to Pakistan a few days later, I learned that the mutilated dead-body of a Sindhi nationalist leader Muzaffar Bhutto was found on a roadside near Hyderabad city. Bhutto had been abducted from Sindh for the second time by the security agencies in 2011 while he was traveling along with his family. He also was abducted by them in 2007, and was released in 2009. After his second disappearance, I was asked by Sindh Monitor, a USA based Sindh rights forum, to facilitate their "Victim of an Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (VEID)" application. They also sought my support especially in facilitating their contacts with Bhutto's lawyers and family members, as well as providing my opinion on the issue. Later on, in early 2012, I was asked by the Sindh Monitor to facilitate technical support for the visa application - documentation etc. - of Bhutto's wife for her appearance in the Geneva office of UNCHR. Within a couple of days after that telephone conversation with a Sindh Monitor representative from USA, an intelligence agency person, most probably associated with MI, visited my office prohibiting me from supporting Bhutto's family. He told me that should I refuse to follow his instruction, I would face dire consequences. I refused, and conveyed the message to the family. 

In November 2011, three Hindus were killed in the Shikarpur district of Sindh province by some religious terrorist outfits on the pretext of a local feud. Sindh civil society took initiatives and gave a call for public protests. Around five thousand people took to the streets in Hyderabad city, meanwhile the rest of the province held massive protests in almost every district and sub-district headquarters of the province. In December 2011, a journalist from Hyderabad Press Club told me that according to his information I was in a vulnerable position, and might be killed anytime.

 In April 2011, three nationalist political leaders from Sindh province were burned alive. I was asked by the Sindh Chapter of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) to become a member of the fact-finding mission regarding the Sanghar carnage. We actively worked out the assignment and before the publication of the report; I received at least four calls from a "CALLER UNKNOWN." I answered only one of those calls, however and was threatened with consequences if the report pointed to involvement of intelligence agencies. When I submitted the draft report to the HRCP, it declared such involvement. Immediately after, an unfamiliar person visited my home in Hyderabad and asked that I quit rights-based activism and turn our organization, The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan (ISM – Pakistan, of which I was an Executive Director) into a community services provider (microcredit etc). The young officer threatened, "Otherwise leave Pakistan, and live in the West because they are fond of their rights."

In mid-September 2009, peasants' rights activist and lawyerAmarchand, a Hindu from the Mirpurkhas district of Sindh, was kidnapped by Nazir Qaimkhani, one of the largest land-holding feudal lords of Sindh, Pakistan. He was also an uncle of the then in-service Lt. General of Pakistan Army. He was also an uncle to the then- Brigadier Rafiq Qaimkhani, who was commanding officer in Hyderabad Cantonment. Besides, he was a close relative of General (rtd) Yousuf Qaimkhani.

We launched a campaign against Amarchand's abduction. In the speech I gave in the protest rally of more than one thousand peasants, a deadline was issued to authorities for releasing Amarchand or face massive protests. Consequently, a senior military official held a meeting with me in my office located at the Sindh Muslim Society, Hyderabad asking me to stop the campaign or face consequences. During this crisis, the civil society organization I was working with transferred me to Lahore city; however, I kept on advocating Ararchand's release. The USA Embassy in Islamabad and the USA foreign office in Washington were contacted for help in this regard. Finally, after the intervention of US Embassy in Islamabad, Amarchand was freed.

It was 2008. We announced the India – Pakistan peace activity, the Sindh Rajasthan Conference (SRC) in Hyderabad. To promote the event, I visited India and had discussions with some journalists and peace activists. A security official of a Pakistani intelligence agency later on asked me to withdraw the event and threatened me. Unfortunately, the proposed event was canceled due to Bombay mayhem. Similar threats were also made against me in my Hyderabad Office when USA citizens of Indian origin and well-known peace activists' couple, Pritam Rohila and Kundan Rohila of ACHA, stayed in Hyderabad and held meetings as well as gave talks concerning Pakistan-India Peace initiatives.      

The first ever-threatening language I heard from any intelligence agency official was when we launched a first ever civil society and political parties' campaign in Sindh against the enforced disappearances of political and human rights activists from Sindh and Balochistan.

Finally, on May 31, 2012, I, along with my wife Ghulam Fatima, left Pakistan for Nepal; however, much to my astonishment, my Nepali host declined to answer my phone call when I arrived at Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu. It meant I had to manage everything on my own in a country, with which I was unfamiliar. Insecurity and uncertainty about Nepal were the main issues. I chose to freelance again in the meantime, unaware that some of my write-ups would lead me into extreme danger. I kept on writing for the Nepal-and Afghanistan-based newspapers, and India-based websites.    

A few of my articles, including one on Karachi violence, the interface with international law for crimes against humanity in Sindh province, the Hindu exodus from Sindh, Pakistan, and on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations as well as my complaint to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations made me vulnerable. I was oblivious of the reality that all my email communications were being traced and shared with the Pakistan Embassy in Nepal.

In October 2012, I applied for asylum at UNHCR – Nepal. Meanwhile, due to unavailability of resources, I moved out from downtown Jawalakhel area of Lalitpur district and rented a house in the outskirts of Satabado by the mid-November 2012. One midnight of early December, I felt that our house was invaded. Later on, unknown people started renting the portions downstairs. I was subjected to slow poisoning for at least fifteen days, probably by ISI and MI albeit facilitated by locals, and possibly some other countries' security outfits. My recent medical diagnosis report from a USA analysis states that I was given at least five heavy metal toxins, one of which was radioactive and was delivered over a period of at least two years.        

On the evening of December 15, we finally managed to flee the house, and temporarily moved to the Thamel district of Kathmandu for one night, but were also chased there and went to a hotel. On December 16, we went back to the house in Satobado in the daylight, sent emails to some human rights organizations for the help in such a dire situation, and started searching for the safe locations. There was no available option. We moved again to the same old house of Jawalakhel.  

Probably on December 17 or 18, I was called up by UNCHR-Nepal for a meeting. On my way towards UNHCR – Nepal, I was interrupted, chased, and harassed by Pakistani agents in association with their local facilitators. Finally, I entered a media office and requested that someone drop me off at UNCHR. Reaching UNCHR – Nepal, I told them my story. The same day, I was handed a refugee status certificate.  

The night of December 18, I was poisoned in Kathmandu, Nepal. I went to Bir Hospital, where a senior doctor told me that I was poisoned. By the next evening, my reports came and I was admitted at the Himal Hospital, Nepal. On December 24, my family took me back to Pakistan in a severe health crisis. In Pakistan, I was again harassed, threatened, and restricted from writing, and there was interference with my medical treatment.

Before leaving Pakistan, I submitted a complaint against the State of Pakistan at OHRC, UN at Geneva about the poisoning and persecution in Pakistan and Nepal. 

I have come to realize that apparent rivals India and Pakistan are friendly enough that I am being persecuted again in India on  instruction of Pakistan conveyed though Nepal. However, to dismiss such an impression, I am also being invited by the prestigious think tanks in Delhi to speak.

Will India or any other country give me asylum? I do not know at all. I am just writing this, hiding a few more facts that are crucial about my persecution, in a bid to let the activists' and journalists' communities know the basics before my death, disability or complete psychological handicap occurs in India.

This article is a Truthout original.

Zulfiqar Shah

Shah is a Sindhi refugee journalist, activist and analyst currently staying in India. www.zulfiqarshah.com


Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus
GET DAILY TRUTHOUT UPDATES

FOLLOW togtorsstottofb


Living a Death

Friday, 04 October 2013 10:45 By Zulfiqar Shah, Truthout | Op-Ed

I am in Delhi undergoing medical treatment, including detoxification and treatment for other damage caused by heavy metal poisoning applied in Kathmandu, Nepal on December 18, 2012. Although I repeatedly forget things due to my associated memory loss, I keep on writing to make myself feel my own existence still counts since I am no longer an activist on the ground in Sindh, Pakistan. In fact, I believe I was given heavy metal poisoning by the Pakistani intelligence agencies Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) with local facilitation in Nepal.  

On February 11, 2013, I disembarked in Delhi for medical treatment after international civil society pressured Pakistani authorities to allow me to travel outside Pakistan for medical treatment. I just stepped out of the airport and was chased again in India. I imagined that it was a usual practice similar to what Pakistani security officials do with Indian citizens in Pakistan, despite the fact that I was a refugee and was granted asylum status by UNCHR – Nepal. Soon, I felt wrong things happening around me. I was followed by people who are apparently Indian, Nepalese, and, somewhat surprisingly, Pakistanis. All of sudden, I felt myself caged in the walls of the paying guesthouse where I live. I cannot and could not leave the place because my resources were depleted, taking food from Parsad stalls sometimes or on the credit from street-restaurants. The water in the Guesthouse I have to imbibe is still toxin-full. Finally, the secret becomes open why my health is not improving - my persecution is still underway as India, most probably due to India-Nepal as well as the SARRC Interior Ministries Treaty, was facilitating Pakistan. I suddenly realized that how I was humiliated and kicked-out by AIMS hospital (the largest public health facility in India) in New Delhi was not accidental. I am not allowed to open my bank account; my Indian friends are not allowed to contact me. My finances are being restricted.

At least one TV Channel and one leading English daily interviewed me long ago; however, none has dared yet to telecast or publish those interviews. The realization of an open jail and a living death is stinging me. I keep on writing short articles to let my inner being know that I am alive.    

Why did I leave Pakistan? How the life of a most vibrant activist concluded. The story is simple:

It was May 2012, I was sent messages through some civil society leaders of Pakistan and journalists on behalf of the ISI and MI that I should immediately quit rights activism, most specifically Minority Rights of Hindus and Christians; Political Rights of ethnic Sindhis; and Land Rights - since most of the resource-rich land in Pakistan is occupied by the military. (In February 2009, I along with my friends, civil society and peasants groups organized a twelve days and nights long walk from Hyderabad to Karachi for the legislation of peasants rights in Sindh. The walk was attended by at least 40000 peasants from across the province.) Besides, I was advised to refrain from  publically airing my secular thoughts, as Pakistan was under external threats from the, as I was told, "so-called secular country of United States of America." They further said that I needed to either close down ISM or convert it into a pure research and academic institute and shift the office location to near my home (the ISM office was situated in a thickly populated settlement of Qasimabad town, a heartland of Sindhi activists). I was finally threatened that, should I not follow their orders, I would have to either leave Pakistan or die.

A few weeks before this threat, a military representative from Islamabad / Rawalpindi visited my house and we dined together. He said the Pakistan Army was in need of me and ISM and I should work in close association with the army. I rejected that idea, saying that if the military was serious about settling things in Pakistan, it should primarily address the federal rights issues and issues like the blasphemy law and the military's occupancy of the land as well as a reduction in the role of military in Pakistan's internal and external affairs. Moreover, they should conclude the military operation in Balochistan and undo the enforced disappearance of activists from Sindh and Balochistan. These acts, I told him, were a pre-requisite for that good intention by the Pakistan Army. I declared that I would not become part of such an oppressive military.

This was following by another meeting with a senior civil society leader from Lahore, Punjab during the time when a military operation was being carried in Liyari town of Karachi. We were vociferously opposing the military actions since a human settlement of five hundred thousand lives was put under curfew without any break, and amid a shutdown of electricity and kitchen fuel supplies. That sudden weeklong confinement to their homes caused the deaths of children and ill men and women. The messenger from Lahore, a good friend of mine, said that it was in the interest of Pakistan to create new provinces, and thus divide Sindh. The military fears that you, he told me, may create trouble for them by mobilizing civil society activists for possible political resistance in Sindh to any act for the division of Sindh. Therefore, I should instead ally with the Army and enjoy a wealthy life. I refused. He said then that he, as a friend, was unable to save my life.

I left for Nepal on May 21, 2012 to seek the support of a Nepali senior journalist-cum-activist for my relocation in Kathmandu, Nepal. When I returned to Pakistan a few days later, I learned that the mutilated dead-body of a Sindhi nationalist leader Muzaffar Bhutto was found on a roadside near Hyderabad city. Bhutto had been abducted from Sindh for the second time by the security agencies in 2011 while he was traveling along with his family. He also was abducted by them in 2007, and was released in 2009. After his second disappearance, I was asked by Sindh Monitor, a USA based Sindh rights forum, to facilitate their "Victim of an Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (VEID)" application. They also sought my support especially in facilitating their contacts with Bhutto's lawyers and family members, as well as providing my opinion on the issue. Later on, in early 2012, I was asked by the Sindh Monitor to facilitate technical support for the visa application - documentation etc. - of Bhutto's wife for her appearance in the Geneva office of UNCHR. Within a couple of days after that telephone conversation with a Sindh Monitor representative from USA, an intelligence agency person, most probably associated with MI, visited my office prohibiting me from supporting Bhutto's family. He told me that should I refuse to follow his instruction, I would face dire consequences. I refused, and conveyed the message to the family. 

In November 2011, three Hindus were killed in the Shikarpur district of Sindh province by some religious terrorist outfits on the pretext of a local feud. Sindh civil society took initiatives and gave a call for public protests. Around five thousand people took to the streets in Hyderabad city, meanwhile the rest of the province held massive protests in almost every district and sub-district headquarters of the province. In December 2011, a journalist from Hyderabad Press Club told me that according to his information I was in a vulnerable position, and might be killed anytime.

 In April 2011, three nationalist political leaders from Sindh province were burned alive. I was asked by the Sindh Chapter of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) to become a member of the fact-finding mission regarding the Sanghar carnage. We actively worked out the assignment and before the publication of the report; I received at least four calls from a "CALLER UNKNOWN." I answered only one of those calls, however and was threatened with consequences if the report pointed to involvement of intelligence agencies. When I submitted the draft report to the HRCP, it declared such involvement. Immediately after, an unfamiliar person visited my home in Hyderabad and asked that I quit rights-based activism and turn our organization, The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan (ISM – Pakistan, of which I was an Executive Director) into a community services provider (microcredit etc). The young officer threatened, "Otherwise leave Pakistan, and live in the West because they are fond of their rights."

In mid-September 2009, peasants' rights activist and lawyerAmarchand, a Hindu from the Mirpurkhas district of Sindh, was kidnapped by Nazir Qaimkhani, one of the largest land-holding feudal lords of Sindh, Pakistan. He was also an uncle of the then in-service Lt. General of Pakistan Army. He was also an uncle to the then- Brigadier Rafiq Qaimkhani, who was commanding officer in Hyderabad Cantonment. Besides, he was a close relative of General (rtd) Yousuf Qaimkhani.

We launched a campaign against Amarchand's abduction. In the speech I gave in the protest rally of more than one thousand peasants, a deadline was issued to authorities for releasing Amarchand or face massive protests. Consequently, a senior military official held a meeting with me in my office located at the Sindh Muslim Society, Hyderabad asking me to stop the campaign or face consequences. During this crisis, the civil society organization I was working with transferred me to Lahore city; however, I kept on advocating Ararchand's release. The USA Embassy in Islamabad and the USA foreign office in Washington were contacted for help in this regard. Finally, after the intervention of US Embassy in Islamabad, Amarchand was freed.

It was 2008. We announced the India – Pakistan peace activity, the Sindh Rajasthan Conference (SRC) in Hyderabad. To promote the event, I visited India and had discussions with some journalists and peace activists. A security official of a Pakistani intelligence agency later on asked me to withdraw the event and threatened me. Unfortunately, the proposed event was canceled due to Bombay mayhem. Similar threats were also made against me in my Hyderabad Office when USA citizens of Indian origin and well-known peace activists' couple, Pritam Rohila and Kundan Rohila of ACHA, stayed in Hyderabad and held meetings as well as gave talks concerning Pakistan-India Peace initiatives.      

The first ever-threatening language I heard from any intelligence agency official was when we launched a first ever civil society and political parties' campaign in Sindh against the enforced disappearances of political and human rights activists from Sindh and Balochistan.

Finally, on May 31, 2012, I, along with my wife Ghulam Fatima, left Pakistan for Nepal; however, much to my astonishment, my Nepali host declined to answer my phone call when I arrived at Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu. It meant I had to manage everything on my own in a country, with which I was unfamiliar. Insecurity and uncertainty about Nepal were the main issues. I chose to freelance again in the meantime, unaware that some of my write-ups would lead me into extreme danger. I kept on writing for the Nepal-and Afghanistan-based newspapers, and India-based websites.    

A few of my articles, including one on Karachi violence, the interface with international law for crimes against humanity in Sindh province, the Hindu exodus from Sindh, Pakistan, and on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations as well as my complaint to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations made me vulnerable. I was oblivious of the reality that all my email communications were being traced and shared with the Pakistan Embassy in Nepal.

In October 2012, I applied for asylum at UNHCR – Nepal. Meanwhile, due to unavailability of resources, I moved out from downtown Jawalakhel area of Lalitpur district and rented a house in the outskirts of Satabado by the mid-November 2012. One midnight of early December, I felt that our house was invaded. Later on, unknown people started renting the portions downstairs. I was subjected to slow poisoning for at least fifteen days, probably by ISI and MI albeit facilitated by locals, and possibly some other countries' security outfits. My recent medical diagnosis report from a USA analysis states that I was given at least five heavy metal toxins, one of which was radioactive and was delivered over a period of at least two years.        

On the evening of December 15, we finally managed to flee the house, and temporarily moved to the Thamel district of Kathmandu for one night, but were also chased there and went to a hotel. On December 16, we went back to the house in Satobado in the daylight, sent emails to some human rights organizations for the help in such a dire situation, and started searching for the safe locations. There was no available option. We moved again to the same old house of Jawalakhel.  

Probably on December 17 or 18, I was called up by UNCHR-Nepal for a meeting. On my way towards UNHCR – Nepal, I was interrupted, chased, and harassed by Pakistani agents in association with their local facilitators. Finally, I entered a media office and requested that someone drop me off at UNCHR. Reaching UNCHR – Nepal, I told them my story. The same day, I was handed a refugee status certificate.  

The night of December 18, I was poisoned in Kathmandu, Nepal. I went to Bir Hospital, where a senior doctor told me that I was poisoned. By the next evening, my reports came and I was admitted at the Himal Hospital, Nepal. On December 24, my family took me back to Pakistan in a severe health crisis. In Pakistan, I was again harassed, threatened, and restricted from writing, and there was interference with my medical treatment.

Before leaving Pakistan, I submitted a complaint against the State of Pakistan at OHRC, UN at Geneva about the poisoning and persecution in Pakistan and Nepal. 

I have come to realize that apparent rivals India and Pakistan are friendly enough that I am being persecuted again in India on  instruction of Pakistan conveyed though Nepal. However, to dismiss such an impression, I am also being invited by the prestigious think tanks in Delhi to speak.

Will India or any other country give me asylum? I do not know at all. I am just writing this, hiding a few more facts that are crucial about my persecution, in a bid to let the activists' and journalists' communities know the basics before my death, disability or complete psychological handicap occurs in India.

This article is a Truthout original.

Zulfiqar Shah

Shah is a Sindhi refugee journalist, activist and analyst currently staying in India. www.zulfiqarshah.com


Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus