WE know, to our lasting shame, how our overlords, dazzled by American power, and afraid of God knows what, handed over the ex-Taliban ambassador, Mullah Abdus Salam Zaeef, to the Americans in January 2002 — in violation of every last comma of international law.
But until now we have not been privy to the details: how exactly did the handing-over take place? Now to satisfy our curiosity, and perhaps outrage our feelings, comes Mullah Zaeef’s own account, published in Pashto and parts of which have been translated into Urdu by the Express newspaper.
To say that the account is eye-opening would be an understatement. It is harrowing and mind-blowing. Can anyone bend so low as our government did? And can behaviour be as wretched as that displayed by American military personnel into whose custody Zaeef was given?
On the morning of January 2, 2002, three officials of a secret agency arrived at Zaeef’s house in Islamabad with this message: “Your Excellency, you are no more excellency.” One of them said, no one can resist American power, or words to that effect. “America wants to question you. We are going to hand you over to the Americans so that their purpose is served and Pakistan is saved from a big danger.”
Zaeef could have been forgiven for feeling stunned. From the “guardians of Islam” this was the last thing that he expected, that for the sake of a few “coins” (his words) he would be delivered as a “gift” to the Americans.
Under heavy escort he was taken to Peshawar, kept there for a few days and then pushed into his nightmare. Blindfolded and handcuffed, he was driven to a place where a helicopter was waiting, its engines running. Someone said, “Khuda hafiz” (God preserve you).
There were some people speaking in English. “Suddenly I was pounced upon and flung on the ground, kicked and pummelled from all sides. So sudden was the attack that I was dumbfounded... My blindfold slipping, I saw a line of Pakistani soldiers to one side and some vehicles including one with a flag...My clothes were stripped from my body and I was naked but ‘my former friends’ kept watching the spectacle. The locks on their lips I can never forget... The (Pakistani) officers present there could at least have said he is our guest, in our presence don’t treat him like this. Even in my grave I will not be able to forget that scene.”
Zaeef suffered unspeakable tortures at the hands of his American captors. He was kept in Bagram, then taken to Kandahar and from there flown eventually to Guantanamo. He was released from Guantanomo and flown to Kabul in September 2005, charged with nothing, nothing having been proven against him. He remained in American captivity for close to four years.
I have read accounts of KGB prisons but to the best of my knowledge the KGB, while no collection of innocents, did not keep prisoners in metal containers and metal cages. This seems to be a method perfected by our American friends.
In the Second World War the German army confined itself to fighting, leaving the dirty work of prisoner detention, abuse and torture to the Gestapo and SS. But in Afghanistan and Iraq it is the American military involved in the most despicable acts of torture. Abu Ghraib was an American military facility as is the prison system in Guantanomo Bay. In Basra soldiers of the British army have been involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
These are the standard-bearers of human rights and freedom from whom we are supposed to take lessons in democracy. Why does the Bush administration and its acolytes in Britain so loath President Ahmedinejad of Iran and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela? Because they look America in the eye and are not afraid of speaking the truth.
It is hard to fault Hugo Chavez when before the UN General Assembly he calls Bush a devil and the Bush administration the greatest threat to world peace. From the shores of the Mediterranean to the Hindukush mountains on our western border this entire region is in strife, all because of the evil — there is no other word for it — flowing from the US. The ‘evil empire’ is very much here and its capital is Washington.
The Nazis dabbled in lies as a matter of policy. They said — Goebbels being the prime exemplar — that the bigger the lie and the more it was repeated, the more it would be taken as the truth. But the Nazis did not prevaricate. They were bold enough to call their lies lies. The Yanks and the Brits are less honest. They want us to applaud their lies as the truth.
The US covered itself in a garb of hurt innocence when the Sep 11, 2001, attacks took place. But using those attacks as a pretext, it has done so much harm around the world, especially in the Middle East and our region, that its hands are covered in blood.
We can only thank our stars that American aggression has not gone unchecked. If Iraq had been a cakewalk, if the US had not met its second Vietnam in the killing fields of Iraq, there is no telling what the Bush war administration would have done, what further conquests it would have embarked upon. Redrawing the map of the Middle East would not have remained a mere slogan. It might actually have happened.
Complementing Iraq is the developing situation in Afghanistan where the anti-American resistance is gaining strength and growing stronger by the day. In Lebanon Israeli designs have received a severe check. Iran is defiant and standing up to pressure. In Latin America Chavez looks set to don the mantle of Castro.
What a dramatic change has been wrought in a mere five years. The US was unassailable at the beginning of this period. But thanks principally to the Iraq fiasco, it looks less invincible now. Its material power has not diminished but its moral worth stands degraded. It remains a colossus but with feet of clay.
This is not the end of history. This looks very much like the beginning of a new history. The free-market model American-style is not the crowning achievement of human existence.
Indeed, if we are at all interested in sustainable development, we’ll have to think of something better and less destructive than unbridled capitalism. And something less arrogant than the new imperialism to which our region is being exposed.
Spare a thought for our military rulers who take such pride in supping with the devil. Indeed, closeness to the Bush administration is the ultimate yardstick by which they like to judge themselves. Whatever the mess in domestic affairs, it means nothing if their equation with Washington remains strong.
Did the Pakistani officers present at the scene of Zaeef’s humiliation feel nothing when the Americans were laying into him? Did the thought not cross their minds that more than Zaeef’s humiliation it was their humiliation?
And who was the senior officer, with a flag on his jeep? My course-mate Ehsan — 41st PMA — was then heading ISI, the organization in overall command of such sensitive matters. Maybe he throws some light on this incident if he sits down to write his memoirs.
There is no shortage of sages who, in relation to Pakistan’s post-Sep 11 capitulation before the US, still ask: what would you have done? They miss the point altogether. From cravenness and appeasement no good can come, none whatsoever. And a country which proves itself to be craven in one sphere can do nothing right or bold in any other sphere.
If toadyism is to be our second nature, we will be swayed this way and that by every shifting wind. Our national endeavours will lack conviction and purpose and democracy and the rule of law will remain distant dreams. We will have to master our fears and our perennial tendency to vacillation before we can hope to master anything else.