By Syed Irfan Ashraf –
Muhammad Shahid (name changed for security reasons) has recently shifted to Karachi, fearing a recurrence of kidnapping, the bitter experience he had gone through in 2008-end.
It’s not the first time he has migrated to another location. In the wake of worsening law and order situation, Shahid, an Engineeer by profession, moved from his hometown in Fata to Peshawar in 1992 and established a private business. But shifting to Peshawar did not save him from the consequences of the extremist tendencies prevailing in the country. He was kidnapped from his office in Hayatabad, Peshawar and shifted to North Waziristan Agency (NWA) by Taliban militants.
Reliving his ordeal, the aged Engineer tells that he along with one of his friends was present in the retiring room of his office when he received a call from an anonymous number asking about his availability at the office. “I informed him that I was present in my office, thinking that he would be a client,” he says.
After some time five men forced their entry into his office. Sensing the sensitivity of the situation, Muhammad says, he locked the door from inside and escaped through the rear exit of the room, opening on the other side of the main street. But the kidnappers kept chasing him in a black car and finally took hold of him. The doctor says he entered into a scuffle with them but finally surrendered after being severely hit with butt of the AK-47 rifle on his head.
“I was bundled in the car blindfolded and after a 5-10 minute drive I was shifted to a house [most probably] in the posh Hayatabad town,” he recalls, adding that there they started torturing him. The other day at about 1:00 pm they put him in burqa, blindfolded and handcuffed, and shifted him to Jamrud in a car. “I guess it was Sur Kamar area of Jamrud,” he says and adds he had frequently been to those parts of the tribal areas so that is why he was able to identify the places he was being shifted to.
They spent a night in Sur Kamar and then he was put in a vehicle and shifted to another house after a 15-minute drive. After sometime a clean-shaven man came to that house and showed his resentment about bringing a kidnapped person to his house. Then they moved across the Takhta Baig bridge and requested another person to let them spend a night at his house. He agreed.
The other day they arranged a Suzuki Alto car and four persons sat with him in the car and moved to Wazir Dhand area in Jamrud. This time he was not blindfolded. “It was 9:00 in the morning when we crossed a Khasadar check-post in Jamrud where there was no one on duty,” he says.
On the following day at about 5:00 pm he was ordered to sit in a pick-up and now their destination was Bara while passing through the Takhta Baig area. This time again, they did not blindfold or handcuff him. “But again all the way to Bara I did not find any security personnel on the road,” he says. In Bara he was kept in a washroom-like small cell where he could not even stretch his feet. He was kept there for a night.
The other day they were discussing that Ferozkhel Road was blocked and Mohammad says then he got the clue that he was being shifted to Orakzai Agency. “Before shifting to another location they [kidnappers] would inject him me a sedative. I never fell unconscious because of that but I would pretend to be not in my senses,” he says.
While shifting from Bara he was once again put in a Burqa with two men, also in burqa, sitting on his right and left side in the car. They were not afraid of the presence of security forces while moving from Bara, but they were conscious about the tribesmen of Ferozkhel, as they were against the Taliban militants.
It was about 5:00 pm when they reached Ghaljo village in Orakzai Agency and the kidnappers offered Maghrib prayers there. “There they met some people. One of them pointing to another said that he masterminded the suicide bombing on Marriot Hotel,” the Engineer says.
In Ghaljo they took off Burqa from the kidnapped doctor while the two men in Burqa had taken off theirs after crossing the Ferozkhel area. The kidnappers told the people who came to meet them that they wanted to go to the Punjabiyano Markaz (Punjabis’ centre).
They were accompanied by a teenage boy who guided them to the Punjabis’ centre and they reached there at about 8:30 pm. The Punjabis’ Markaz was at that time not in the control of Punjabis but once it was used by them.
“Now we were in Budhakhel village of Mamozai area of Orakzai Agency,” he said, adding that it was 3-4 kanals enclosed place with two huge rooms. “I was kept in one of the rooms. They untied my hands and the cloth from my eyes. There I came to know that they were Taliban,” he says.
The room was separated by a curtain to use the other side for toilet. About 30-40 armed militants would come to the Markaz every morning and almost everyone used to come to him with covered face. “Then they would disappear, leaving two-three armed men in the Markaz and at night they would again gather there,” he says.
After two days they started threatening him that they were going to behead him if he could not arrange 70 million rupees ransom. “On the third day, their ringleader came to me. His name was Afnan Afridi. He asked me whether I needed anything. I told him that I need medicines as I am diabetic besides requested him to provide me with some water for ablution. He promised me to provide me these things which never materialized,” he says.
After spending 15 days in Budhakhel village he was shifted to a village in central Kurram Agency inhabited by a Sunni tribe, Ali Sherzai, some 7-8 kilometers from Budhakhel. About the reason for shifting him from Budhakhel, he says that one day he heard the sound of a helicopter, triggering panic among the Taliban present at that Markaz. “A teenage boy came to me hurriedly and unchained me and shifted me to a nearby home. According to him, the Markaz was previously attacked by the security forces and they feared that it was going to be hit again,” he says. While coming back to the Markaz from that house the people in the village saw him, which angered the commander of the Taliban. Then he was shifted to central Kurram. Around 20 to 30 armed Taliban would be present at that house round the clock. He spent a couple of weeks in that house. “That place was used for making bombs and testing their affectivity,” he says. Then I was again shifted to Budhakhel. This time not in a car but on foot, forcing him to walk barefooted. “It was a rough track and I could not walk smoothly. Because of this the kidnappers used abusive language against me.”
A couple of days before Eidul Azha at 8-9 pm another man was brought to my room He was a trader kidnapped from Peshawar. The newcomer asked for ablution water. “They provided him with water and when he was praying the man who kidnapped him asked him to offer the Fajr prayers as well, as they did not let him complete the prayers when he was kidnapped from a mosque in Peshawar,” he says. The trader was charged to have provided generators to the American forces operating in Afghanistan. He was initially asked to pay 70 million rupees ransom for his release.
On Eid day they let me come out of the room and one of them offered me his cell-phone to talk to my son, saying that he was skeptical that you have been killed. “But I refused to talk to my son and asked them that just tell my son I have died,” he says.
Later, both the kidnapped persons were shifted to North Waziristan Agency. “We started our journey in vehicle at about 11:00 am and reached Waziristan at about 5:00 pm,” he says. Soon after reaching Waziristan, Afnan Afridi again came to us. He let that trader to talk to his family on phone. During that time I was shifted to another room.
The next day they arranged his telephonic conversation with his wife to inform her that his captors were demanding 20 million rupees and had set a 48-hour deadline. “It was just a short conversation. As soon as my wife inquired about my health, they snatched phone from me,” he says.
After two days when the deadline expired we were moved to another centre blindfolded located on a height. “When I reached there they ordered me to lay down on the ground. I complied with the orders. One of them asked from another about the sharpness of the dagger. He replied him it can easily cut the throats of three persons. Then the main man asked for bringing the video camera [to take the shots of slaughtering]. Then they said: Time has come to slaughter you, do you have any will? I said no. Then asked any advice [you want to give to your heirs]? I said no. Then asked any desire in your heart? I said yes, I want to have an eye-to-eye contact with you while you slaughter me.”
Then they rang up my wife and asked me to talk to her and tell her that they were about to slaughter me. “I talked to my wife and told her the same things. But instead of getting afraid my wife boosted my morale and said things will get better,” he says. The same drama was done with that trader.
They would keep on shifting him in different centres of Taliban in Waziristan. “In Waziristan I was kept in 18 different centres where I came across hardcore militant commanders,” he says.
He says that the Taliban would wake up at 4:00 am and would start exercises on the nearby mountains and then in the night a Maulana would deliver them sermons, eulogizing the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in suicide attacks.
He informs the Herald that he was subjected to both physical and mental torture. “At midnight they would take me out of the room and throw chilling water on me and then start beating me with sticks and electric wires. And then they would ask me to talk to my family,” he says.
The Engineer says he was not given food sometimes for up to five days. “They would also put suicide jacked around my body and say they would kill me detonating it. Once they bundled me in an explosive laden car and said we are going on a suicide mission and you would also be killed in that,” he says.
During this time his health was much deteriorated and finally he took cell-phone from a low-rank militant, requesting him that he wanted to talk to his family. “He first went to the nearby shop and loaded 20 rupees credit in his phone and then let me talk to my wife. By the time I was fed up with all the things and asked my wife to arrange the money as soon as she can or ask my captors to kill me,” he says.
After that the Taliban asked his family to talk to one of his friends who also belonged to Waziristan as a guarantor of the deal. So through him, they contacted a Maulana from Doaba in Hangu district who, according to Hussain, would be collecting the ransom money for Taliban.
After some days, he along with Taliban boarded a car and after 2-3 hours drive he was brought to a place where Afnan Afridi was waiting for him. He asked Muhammad to talk to his wife. “When I talked to her she said she had arranged Rs 3.5 million. I asked him to arrange another 1.5 million rupees. Then I told Afridi that we can arrange 5 million rupees as ransom if it is acceptable to you well and good, otherwise just kill me,” he says. Then he moved back to the same place he was presently kept in.
Later the same day, Afnan Afridi came to him. He was very happy and informed the doctor that the deal had been done on Rs 7 million. Then he phoned my nephew and he talked to me. After that he started getting VIP treatment. Afnan came to me and asked his men to arrange hot water for my bath. I told him I had already taken bath last day with cold water.
But he insisted and then gave me his new clothes to wear. “Some of the Taliban applied scent to my clothes,” he says and adds that then they moved to Azizo Kallay in Alizai area of Kurram Agency where he was released after getting the ransom money. They had also brought a currency-checking machine with them, Muhammad says.