Ashgabat, 28 September 2016 (nCa) — When the decisions are made by the outsiders intoxicated by power and blinded by arrogance, we get Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya – and the list promises to keep growing.
We can be insiders to just one culture, that of our own. That is what these dumbos, thick on muscle, wafer-thin on brains, will never understand. They are itching to open more fronts without knowing and caring for their own interests. They are like the rooster I once saw that had fallen into an open pit toilet. The pit was huge, and nearly full with tons of human excrement. The chicken was sinking slowly, irretrievably into sh*t but was oblivious of its fate. It was calmly looking right and left and pecking at the excrement. Only when the sh*t reached its eyes did it panic and that hastened its doom.
I am being deliberately offensive at the start of this series. If you decide to stop reading right here, it will be helpful for you to classify yourself. Goodluck in all the other wars you drag yourself and your countrymen into. This sh*t could reach your eyes within the next war or two.
For those who have the patience to continue reading, I apologize for the offensive language.
In this series I will try to fashion a corrective lens for looking at Afghanistan, and in doing so I hope to provide some insight into how things can be done in a better way.
First, the premise: In order to put together and impose a solution, the foremost requirement is to understand the problem, in all of its details, with all of its nuances. Another requirement, equally important, is that you cannot simultaneously be a part of the problem and a part of the solution. The third requirement, in case you are going into a situation with only your self-interest in mind, is that you should know what your interests are and how to best protect them.
If any thought has gone into meeting these prerequisites in Afghan conundrum, there is no evidence to make a case in that direction.
The stories and the fragments of stories in this series are all true incidents and encounters, based on my own experience. Taken separately, they may make little sense. Nonetheless, please just let the ‘impression’ of these stories accumulates in a designated corner of your mind; it will hopefully germinate some new ideas and may possibly bring to light the flaws in the tactics and strategies used futilely so far in Afghanistan.
As just said, these stories and encounters are true and I am a participant in all of them. However, I will not mention the names of people or locations – mainly because I don’t want to burn some important bridges and I would also like to live to the natural end of my life.
There is one exception. The first story gives the real names of everyone. In all other stories I will mask the identities but keep everything else intact.
* * *
Bilal Sheikh was the chief bodyguard of Asif Zardari, the former president of Pakistan. Bilal was murdered while Zardari was still the president. PPP, the political party headed by Zardari declared three days of official mourning.
The case of Bilal Sheikh is an example of how the politicians and crime syndicates – and sometimes there is no dividing line between the two – use and discard the people. The case of Bilal shows the ruthless use of ideology, any ideology, for dishonest goals. People like Bilal are useful but expendable. In fact, their ultimate liquidation, by whatever means, is part of their usefulness. Spilled blood is a convincing argument.
Bilal Sheikh murdered a school friend when he was in grade 6, which means he was just 12 at that time. Those were pre-Internet days but the murder attracted lot of media attention because of its gruesome details. Bilal overpowered the friend and slaughtered him like a goat. It was premeditated murder – the knife, more like a dagger, had been sharpened thoroughly and the friend was lured to a secluded spot early evening.
His case came for trial to the court of Ms. Suraya Pai, a motherly judge with a degree in psychology and a doctorate in juvenile law. In the first few hearings she tried to determine the state of mind of Bilal. Convinced that instead of showing any remorse he was rather proud of his ghastly crime, she gave him a lengthy sentence with possibility for parole at some stage.
He spent the first few years of his sentence at the Landhi Borstal, the correctional facility for offenders under the age of 18.
On reaching adulthood, he was transferred to Central Prison Karachi, where I first met him.
The social division that is so ubiquitous in South Asia is also reflected in how prisoners are allotted their quarters. Those with university education or recognized social or political status are given B class. The majority is stuffed in the C class where every prisoner may get one meter by two meters of floor space in a large barrack.
Bilal was a C class prisoner but he was a muscular, well built young man full of street smarts. He became friendly with some PPP prisoners who were partly student or youth leaders and partly gang leaders in their life outside the prison. Some of them were in jail simply because they wanted to be in jail – after all, jail is a safe place. Also, if something is done outside you cannot be held accountable because you are behind the bars. This is an efficient system: you give the ‘line’ and if the deed is done, there is hardly any way to connect it with you.
With his ability to intimidate other prisoners in his barrack, Bilal was noticed by the PPP people who saw his worth as a brawny sociopath.
At that time we were in ward 18, which was the most coveted area in the prison. It had two rooms that opened into a big hall and had an inside toilet though without a flush system. Fateh Alam and I shared one room. The other room was rather crowded with the PPP bigwigs with their small fry. They brought Bilal to that room, which was great improvement to his living conditions. He also gained culinary satisfaction as the supporters of PPP and those in need of political favours sent good food to our ward regularly. The added attractions were a TV set, a video cassette player (those were pre-DVD days), and daily newspapers, all of which were illegal in the prison at that time.
With his life improved suddenly, Bilal was naturally attentive to the indoctrination he was subjected to. It was a rather quick process. It had to be, because all they had to drill in him was that might is right, the end justifies the means, and morality is for the masses, not for the elite. They convinced Bilal that he was the cream of the crop and he fully agreed with them.
Among those in the other room, there was Hanif Khassoo, the annoyingly handsome drug dealer with his monkey. It was a kind of status symbol, the pet monkey. The small monkey was very lively and intelligent. He was fond of ripping apart the toothpaste tube of anyone who was careless enough to leave it unattended. One day, the monkey stole the toothpaste of Bilal and climbed the tree, sank his teeth into the tube and squeezed most of the toothpaste before throwing it back at Bilal who was seething with anger.
Bilal threw the tube away and went inside. I thought that was the end of this. After all, it was just a monkey being a monkey.
In an hour or so, the monkey was back on the ground, jumping from one person to the other. When it jumped to Bilal’s shoulder, he caught the monkey by its short leash and started banging it to the ground, hard.
The monkey was screaming in pain.
I saw Bilal’s face. He was smiling. In fact it was more than a smile. His face was radiating happiness. It was a rare sight of a vicious psychopath in action.
On a rainy day Bilal came to my cell and we talked for several hours. As he opened up, it was jarring to know the real Bilal. He was still proud of the murder of his friend. In fact, he considered it a manly act, worthy of admiration. Justice to him was the ability to silence, even permanently, anyone who disagreed with him. And, he was a very, very lonely man.
The PPP tinkered with the justice system and arranged for his release on parole.
Within a week out of jail, he went to extort money from some shopkeepers in the Nazimabad area of Karachi. His partner in crime was Ahmed Shah, a lowly thug. The shopkeepers were already tired of the extortion racket and one for them fired his pistol at them, killing Ahmed Shah and lightly wounding Bilal.
Quite likely, the extortion mission and the retaliatory action by a shopkeeper were part of the plan to entangle Bilal into a web of crime where he will always need the support of PPP to remain out of the jail. It was the case of manufactured dependency.
After his foray into crime, Bilal was sent on increasingly dangerous missions to rough up the rivals or collect the extortion money. His rise in the thuggish hierarchy of PPP accelerated when the need arose to do away with Saeed, the notorious and vary daring criminal in their ranks. Bilal was a friend of Saeed and though the case never went to the court, the insiders say that it was Bilal who fired the bullet in the back of Saeed’s head.
Bilal had become important in the muscle brigade of PPP but there was also Khalid Shahanshah.
Khalid was among the eight people who were the founding members of Al-Zulfiqar, a highly trained group of criminals, the militant wing of PPP and deadly enemies of General Zia ul Haq, who had deposed Zulfiqar Bhutto and later hanged him. Bhutto was the founder of PPP and father of Benazir Bhutto, twice the prime minister of Pakistan and wife of Asif Zardari.
Al-Zulfiqar was loyal to Shahnawaz Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir Bhutto, living in exile in Syria. He was in France when he died under suspicious circumstances. After his death, the Al-Zulfiqar switched loyalty to Benazir Bhutto but slowly came under the control of her husband, Asif Zardri, also known as Mr. 10% because of his knack to get a substantial cut from every major project in Pakistan during the premiership of Benazir Bhutto.
Asif Zardari let the money trickle to the Al-Zulfiqar band and Khalid Shahanshah was the chief bodyguard of both Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto. Even though the paramilitary forces provided security to both of them, Benazir in her capacity as prime minister and Asif Zardari as minister for environment, they felt more comfortable when protected by the Al-Zulfiqar.
With the death of Murtaza Bhutto, another brother of Benazir Bhutto, in a police encounter, there came the split in the Al-Zulfiqar. There is strong suspicion that Asif Zardari was behind the murder of Murtaza. Khalid Shahanshah remained with Benazir Bhutto while Bilal came close to Asif Zardari. Khalid remained the chief bodyguard of Benazir and Bilal became the chief bodyguard of Asif Zardari.
When Asif Zardari became the president of Pakistan, Bilal gained a new level of notoriety and power. The death of Khalid Shahanshah is possibly linked to Bilal.
Bilal’s own death was not far into the future. He was killed by another gang within the PPP, one led by Uzair Baloch. His gang pledged loyalty to Zulfiqar Mirza, the school friend of Asif Zardari, who was his best buddy, became bitter enemy, and is inching back to friendship.
All the bigwigs of the PPP, despite occasional tussle among them, remain friend to each other and share in the power and all that comes with power.
It is the people like Bilal who get trapped into the world of glamour and crime from which the only escape is death. Their life is in the service of their masters and their death is beneficial to their masters. They are the born fools and the dead fools, though they certainly think otherwise.
There are hundreds, possibly thousands of Bilals, who are trapped into a life of misadventure under different flags in Afghanistan. To chisel out escape routes for them will contribute for betterment of the situation in Afghanistan.
To pay them for laying down arms is not the solution because they will go back and buy more arms. This has been tried already and has backfired.
The solution, if any, will have to ensure their carefully supervised transition back to the peaceful life.
To be continued . . .