Faces From The Frontier: Mushtaq Ayyub, A Loan That Cost Him His Freedom
Mushtaq Ayyub, a Karachi labourer, went to Afghanistan to collect money from his father’s old business partner. While in Afghanistan, he was arrested and spent the next nine years in Bagram prison.
The detainees have returned but the trauma of the dark days haunts them even today. That, if they are lucky enough to be alive. Three former detainees, Salim Khan, Hanif Ali and Yousuf Hamid died only sometime after they returned from Bagram, succumbing to chronic illness, mental health complications, and infirmity.
Those who are alive are treated like outcasts – whether due to societal pressure or their Fourth Schedule Status, which requires them to report their presence every week to a specified police station and to remain in a defined vicinity. Many of them are unable to find steady work due to their deteriorating health conditions.
Shakil, a former prisoner who returned to Pakistan in 2014, maintains he is unable to keep a stable job due to severe back pain issues – He tried working as a driver, a cashier, and a consignment in-charge. He was only 16 years old, when prison officials broke his ribs during an interrogation session. Now 21, Shakil cannot sit for long periods of time and is bed-bound at times when the pain gets worse.
In its report ‘Faces from the Frontier; Stories of Bagram Returnees and their Families’ that releases on September 25, 2019, Justice Project Pakistan details how these prisoners were kept in extrajudicial detainment for several years by the US forces and were treated as collateral damage by the Pakistani government. Moreover, the report documents the stories of these citizens, spanning their experiences of abduction, imprisonment, and return.
Below is the story of Mushtaq Ayyub, excerpted from the report. It underlines his traumatic experiences within jail and his burdensome life after his return.
Mushtaq Ayub worked as a labourer in Karachi. His father ran a cloth shop in Benares, a locality in the city’s Orangi area known for its Indian namesake’s silk textiles. When Mushtaq was about 24 or 25 years old, the family was confronted with severe financial difficulties. His father, the main income earner of the family, fell ill and was confined to bed. He thus asked Mushtaq to travel to Afghanistan to collect an old debt from his former business partner. Narrating the circumstances that led to his capture, Mushtaq said, “The business partner hadn’t paid my father [back] so my father sent me to retrieve his money — about 1-2 lakh rupees. My father gave me the address on a piece of paper. But when I reached Afghanistan, this man went into hiding. I later found him; he told me that I should go back and that he would bring my father his money himself.”
On his return journey, Mushtaq said he was stopped at a checkpoint near an area close to Kabul and upon failure to produce a passport, the police took him (and a 15-year-old Afghan boy travelling with him) into custody.
Mushtaq suspected his father’s old business partner complained to the Afghan authorities, suggesting Mushtaq had terrorist links to avoid repaying his debt. “I was innocent, but I was behind bars from 2005 to 2014. My father passed away in 2007. I had even forgotten my family’s faces,” said Mushtaq.
Upon repatriation in 2014, Mushtaq was jailed for three months in Karachi. In 2015, we met Mushtaq again, in the far north of the city, in a locality called Kati Pahari. The area was extremely crowded and appeared to be a warzone with broken roads, barricaded on either side. “I was delighted to be back,” Mushtaq said, “but it was no longer the same. My life after Bagram will never be normal. The Red Cross promised me medical treatment for 6 months and did nothing. They promised me that they would set up a business for me, but nothing of the sort ever happened. They were all lies — all the promises that they made in Bagram. And till now agencies still kidnap me. I still feel that I am not free.”
In 2019, we met Mushtaq again and he told us that his Fourth Schedule status was making it very difficult for him to travel freely in Karachi. For one, he must remain in the vicinity of a specified police station to report his presence on a weekly basis. If he needs to travel outside of the city or area that is not in the jurisdiction of his police station, he first must inform the said station.
Mushtaq told us, “Last year, my mother became ill due to asthma. Someone informed me there is a healer in Quetta who has a special medicine.” Mushtaq managed to secure permission to travel to Quetta, but on his return journey, he was arrested by “some agency people”. Kept in custody in an unknown location for 40 days, he suffered seizures. He explained that he was tried in court under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism act in a trial that took six months to conclude, and that fortunately he was released.
Mushtaq lamented suffering from both physical and mental health issues, including back pain, stomach ulcers, and continued seizures. He believed these problems began after the news of his father’s death. He was also unable to work for long due to these ongoing health problems. He borrowed a rickshaw from his friend for a few months and tried to make some money, but soon suffered severe back pain and had to quit. Instead, he sold his only bike as he was in urgent need of money, to cover expenses such as the 5,000 rupees monthly rent. To look for a more affordable place in a different area of the city is impossible since he cannot shift due to the inclusion of his name in the Fourth Schedule.
“What did you miss the most in Bagram?” we asked.
“I missed my freedom,” said Mushtaq.
The above is an excerpt from Justice Project Pakistan’s report titled ‘Faces from the Frontier; Stories of Bagram Returnees and their Families’.
Nida Jaffery is a communications and policy professional working in the field of development and human rights.