VI. Torture and Other Forms of Mistreatment

Security force personnel continued to torture persons in custody throughout the country. Human rights organizations reported that methods included beating; burning with cigarettes, whipping the soles of the feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep, hanging upside down, and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters.
—U.S. State Department’s 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Pakistan75

Human Rights Watch and others have long reported on the routine use of torture by the authorities in Pakistan, both in common criminal cases and against alleged political opponents. Politically motivated torture is typically used to compel politicians, political activists and journalists critical of the government to change their views or at least silence them.76

Documenting torture, particularly that perpetrated by the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies, can be particularly challenging in Azad Kashmir. However, Azad Kashmir is no exception to the pattern of torture and mistreatment by Pakistani authorities documented in the rest of the country. Civilian law enforcement and the military and its intelligence agencies commit torture and other mistreatment with impunity. Most incidents of politically motivated torture recorded by Human Rights Watch involved the ISI, or the police acting on the military’s behalf.

Very few of those who allege torture accuse the Azad Kashmir government of being responsible.  To the contrary, some individuals reported ineffectual attempts by local politicians and the bureaucracy to intercede to bring the torture to an end. In one incident, the victims also described attempts by the then prime minister to intercede with the army on their behalf.

Given the climate of fear that pervades the territory, only a fraction of those who described experiences of torture or ill-treatment to Human Rights Watch were willing to place them on the record. Only politically active Kashmiri nationalists and 1991 refugees from Jammu and Kashmir state were willing to be quoted.     

Human Rights Watch has learned that there are large numbers of Kashmiri detainees being held for long periods by the Pakistani military in secret detention facilities in Azad Kashmir and in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch interviewed two groups, comprising dozens of individuals, who allege that they had been severely tortured, illegally detained for several years, and then released in designated clusters under continuing surveillance and told they were not allowed to return home or to their communities. Many of these men are or were militants, while others have no apparent connection to militant groups.

Human Rights Watch was only able to interview these individuals in secret under cover of darkness in the secluded and difficult to access residential camps where they were sent upon their release from illegal and secret detention facilities. The names and other specifics of the individuals who spoke to us have been withheld or altered in the testimony provided below in order to protect their identities and to prevent their further persecution by Pakistani security agencies.   

One man, Adeel, explained to Human Rights Watch what happened to him and his militant friends:

I am from the Indian side [name of town withheld]. 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.77

Shahidexplained what happened next:

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.78 

Such treatment by Pakistani security forces is not limited to errant former militants from Jammu and Kashmir state. 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.79    

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.80        

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.81 

Non-militant political actors frequently experience or are threatened with torture and mistreatment. The experiences of various opposition activists arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated ahead of the 2001 elections are recounted above (see Chapter V). In another example, Aurangzeb Al-Maroof, who is affiliated with the Jammu and Kashmir National Students’ Federation (JKNSF), described to Human Rights Watch his mistreatment by the ISI in mid-September 2003: 

It was morning. My brother was driving and an ISI major on a motorbike swore at him. There was an altercation. I do not know the details as I was not there myself but I can assure you that my brother would not have dared get physical with the man.  

At 2:30 in the afternoon, eight to ten ISI personnel came to my house in a Land Cruiser. They were armed and barged in, and started breaking our household goods. They found me and blindfolded me. Then, they started beating me with iron rods– they beat me and dragged me to the Land Cruiser and continued beating me with iron rods. They took me someplace—I don’t know where—and continued beating me. They kept telling me, ‘You are anti-Pakistan. If you want money, tell us, but don’t talk of independence.’ After about three hours, I lost consciousness. The next day [as I discovered later], they dumped me at Neelum Bridge [in Muzaffarabad] where a rickshaw driver found me and took me to CMH [military hospital].

I realized later that they only dumped me because our political colleagues took out a protest demonstration—that was the only reason they released me. I tried to lodge an FIR [First Information Report] but the City Police Station refused to register the FIR. The deputy commissioner, Dr. Mahmoodul Hassan said, ‘find a compromise.’ I refused. I said that I wanted to know why I had been kidnapped and beaten by the Pakistan army like this. We [JKNSF] demonstrated all over AJK, especially in Rawalakot. But the FIR was never registered.

I do have my application to the police and they gave me a number, but they refused to register an FIR, stating that ‘they will pick you up and you will never be seen again.’ They [the ISI] use code names so we don’t exactly know who the people [perpetrators of the beating] are.82

A JKNSF activist who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal described an incident involving the ruling Muslim Conference apparently using the authorities to persecute their political opponents:

On July 25, 2005, the Muslim Conference held a rally [jalsa] in Khowra area of  Muzaffarabad. One of their boys was murdered in a firing incident. They blamed us as we had formed a unit there. We think the government itself is responsible for the firing in order to create tension to win votes. We are not violent and we are in no position to engage in such activity. They accused Raja Kashif (twenty-two years old), a JKNSF member, of the murder. Raja Kashif fled. Consequently, the Muzaffarabad police arrested his father, his brother and other JKNSF members—around ten or twelve. We were sent messages that unless he surrendered and took the blame, they would all be tortured. 

Raja Kashif gave himself up, because he did not want his brother, father and friends tortured. As of now, nobody, including his father, brother or other JKNSF members have been released. This sort of incident is commonplace. It was reported in the newspapers.83

Torture is also routinely used to extract confessions in common criminal cases in Azad Kashmir. Shahid Aziz, a laborer and resident of Muzaffarabad, described his experience to Human Rights Watch:

I was arrested in January 2004 for stealing jewelry from a house. This was a ridiculous charge as I was in Bagh at the time…. The police came to my area and picked me up from the market. I was taken to the city police station where three constables took me to the interrogation room. I was there for seven hours—from about eight in the evening to three in the morning. During this time, they punched me, kicked me and beat me with bamboo sticks. Finally, because my family arrived, they let me go. I was bruised all over, my skin was torn in many places and I had two broken teeth. I meet the policemen who did this around the city from time to time. If they are in the mood, they remind me of the night. They expect me to fear them. I do. I don’t want this to happen again.84          

Another man, Mohammad Adil Butt, told Human Rights Watch about his experience of an apparently entirely arbitrary beating:

I was picked up by the police on March 19, 2005, at 6 p.m. from my home in Muzaffarabad. When I asked the police why I was being taken, they said I should wait to get to the thana [police station] to find out. When we arrived there, they told me that I was a troublemaker who did not show the police enough respect. I was really confused as I have always been very respectful to the police and all other superiors. I asked them to explain how I had been disrespectful. The policemen got very angry at this. They started beating me. They used their fists and kicked me and beat me for at least two hours until I fainted. Then they threw me outside the station where I lay moaning until a stranger helped me get home. The strange thing is that I have no idea why this happened. They never told me why. I don’t dare ask them.  But I do know it can happen again.85   

75 U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2005: Pakistan,” March 8, 2006, [online] (retrieved August 24, 2006).

76 “Torture is routinely used in Pakistan… against political opponents.… [A]cts of torture by military agencies primarily serve the purpose of ‘punishing’ an errant politician, political activist or journalist. Torture by the military usually takes place after the victim has been abducted; the purpose is to frighten the victim into changing his political stance or loyalties or at the very least to stop him from being critical of the military authorities. The victim is often let go on the understanding that if he fails to behave, another further abduction and mistreatment will follow. In this manner, the victim can be kept in a state of fear often for several years.”  Human Rights Watch letter to President Pervez Musharraf, October 10, 2003, [online]

77 Human Rights Watch interview with Adeel (pseudonym), date and place withheld.

78 Human Rights Watch interview with Shahid (pseudonym), date and place withheld.

79 Human Rights Watch interview with Zamir (pseudonym), date and place withheld.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with Shakir (pseudonym), date and place withheld.

81 Human Rights Watch interview with Ilyas (pseudonym), date and place withheld.

82 Human Rights Watch interview with Aurangzeb Al Maroof, Muzaffarabad, July 26, 2005.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with JKNSF activist, Muzaffarabad, July 27, 2005.

84 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Shahid Aziz , January 17, 2006.

85 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Adil Butt, January 27, 2006.