Missing: the boy on the bicycle
SIX years after Hafiz Saeed Rehman went missing from Sariab Road Quetta, the police dug up a grave to look for him. The High Court ordered that a body be exhumed because Quetta police, after giving half a dozen other explanations for his disappearance, had started saying that Hafiz Saeed had been killed. His father Allah Bakhsh Bangulzai who has been campaigning for his son’s release for nine years, didn’t believe the police. “I knew it wasn’t his grave, I knew my son wasn’t dead,” insists Allah Bakhsh, who runs a small grocery store near his house. Allah Baksh Bangulzai’s faith wasn’t just the faith of a father who can’t bring himself to believe that his eldest son might be dead. He had seen with his own eyes the body that was buried in that grave. Nine year earlier looking for his newly disappeared son Allah Baksh had done the rounds of the mortuaries. “They showed me two bodies,” says Allah Baksh. He had a really good look. “They were both my son’s age. One boy had his throat slit. Another one had his legs cut off just below his knees. I was relieved neither of them was my son.”
Hafiz Saeed became one of almost 1300 disappeared Baloch citizens whose families have been holding almost a perpetual vigil for their release. They travel from distant villages and towns to hold three-month-long protest camps outside Islamabad and Karachi Press Club but our press usually ignores them. When Voice of Missing Baloch Persons recently held a rally to mark one thousand days of their protest, no TV channels covered it.
After his visit to the local morgue, Allah Baksh was convinced that his son was alive. For next six years Allah Baksh’s son kept making fleeting appearances in various reports, official documents and court hearings. Once it was admitted in Balochistan High Court that he was in the custody of our intelligence organisations. Once he was told that his son had been sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment because he was a terrorist. Then the high court was told that he was doing his time in Gujranwala jail. But after six years of running up down the country and knocking at every one’s door Allah Baksh stood besides a grave waiting for a body to be exhumed, certain in his heart that it wouldn’t be his son.
Hafiz Saeed left his home on the evening of July 4, 2003. It was a Friday and there had been a huge bomb blast in the area. Forty people died in that blast and soon after a curfew was imposed. “He came home after his maghreb prayers, got on his bicycle and left,” remembers Allah Baksh. He repeats the same details over and over again as if he has missed something and if he can remember the exact sequence of events, he’ll find out where his son is right now. “There was a curfew in our part of the city, the curfew started at 6pm and Hafiz left home at 6.15.” Six years of searching his memory and he still has no answer why his son left home just after the curfew came into effect. “May be he thought if you are on a bicycle nobody will bother you. May be he didn’t know that a curfew has been imposed. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Hafiz Saeed was 25 when he disappeared. He was an obedient and bright son. He had done his Hifz-i-Quran by the age of 15. He went on to do his matric privately. He was teaching other children Hifz-i-Quran at Iqra School. He was the eldest in the family and was engaged to be married a year after he disappeared.
With his madressha background, his teaching job, his beard and his shalwar above his ankle, a lot of people, specially the security forces, tend to jump to the conclusion that Hafiz must have been somehow involved with some religious cult, some jihadi organisation. “He never did any of those things. After finishing his teaching work at school, he came straight to my shop in Gharib Abad and helped me out. He had cousins who were also madressah teachers. Sometimes they visited. I never heard anything political. He was very pious, yes, but he was a straight boy. He was the eldest of my children, he was close to me. I would have known.”
Hafiz Saeed didn’t return home that night. “My son had never not spent a night at home. I got worried. I started looking.”
Hafiz Saeed and his family had no personal enmity. His father assumed that Saeed had been picked up by the law-enforcing agencies for violating the curfew. He thought about kidnapping for ransom but told himself that who would expect a ransom from someone as poor as him. He registered an FIR, did the rounds of the hospitals and asked everyone he could.
“Fifteen days later a man came looking for me,” says Allah Baksh. “He came on a motorbike, introduced himelf as Yasin from MI.” Yasin from MI asked Allah Baksh if his son Hafiz Saeed was involved with any Jihadi organisation. “I told him that he wasn’t involved with anyone or anything except his teaching and my shop.” The man on the motorbike assured Allah Baksh that MI will investigate and if he was with any of the law-enforcing agencies, he’ll be released.” For next three months Allah Baksh kept looking but didn’t hear anything from anywhere. He filed a petition in the high court. The petition has been going on for eight years, now, but not once has he seen a glimpse of his son despite various orders by the court saying that a meeting should be arranged between the missing person and his family. He has not had any kind of contact with his son during this time.
In the intial hearing a statement submitted on behalf of the ISI said that Hafiz Saeed had been arrested after he was injured in the bomb blast and he was being interrogated. Crime Branch also confirmed in a separate report that Hafiz Saeed was in the custody of ‘sensitive agencies’. The high court instructed that a meeting be arranged with the family. The meeting never happened. Instead Crime Branch submitted another report, this time saying that Hafiz Saeed wasn’t in the custody of ‘sensitive agencies’.
Allah Baksh wrote letters to President, to Chief Justice but never heard back. For 11 months he sat in a protest camp outside Quetta Press Club. For all these years there was no sighting, no news of his son but he didn’t give up.
Then out of the blue a list surfaced in Quetta High Court in 2009. There were 13 missing people on it. They were all supposed to be serving time in jails. Hafiz Saeed was on it. According to the list he had been court martialled and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. The report said that he was in Gujranwala jail.
Allah Baksh managed to contact HRCP who sent one of its people to Gujranwala jail. The jail authorities said they didn’t have Hafiz Saeed. Allah Bakhsh went back to the high court and this time police filed a submission that Hafiz Saeed had actually been killed in that blast and buried.
By now Hafiz Saeed had been suspected of being involved in the blast, suspected of being injured in the blast, and now six years later his family was being told that Hafiz Saeed had actually died in the blast. Allah Baksh reminded the court that his son had left home four hours after the blast happened. High court ordered a DNA test. Police were basically saying that one of the bodies that they had shown Allah Baksh six years ago was his son’s. “I had had a good look at those bodies,” Allah Baksh again gives a graphic description of the slit throat and decapitated legs. “That wasn’t my son.”
Before they exhumed the body that wasn’t his son’s, they gave him some clothes and asked if he recognised them. “These clothes didn’t belong to my son. After he became a Hafiz-i-Quran he never wore a shirt with buttons. But just to make sure I took these clothes to show his mother. And she also said that these were not his clothes.”
The body was exhumed and as Allah Baksh had predicted it wasn’t his son. He was relieved. But not for long. He says that secretly he envies people who have found the bodies of their loved-ones. “They have buried them and now they mourn them,” he says. “All I can do is wait.”
And while he waits, Allah Baksh can’t stop thinking of the events of that fateful evening. “What I don’t understand is that he came home after offering his maghrib prayers. There had already been a bomb blast. Then he took his bicycle and went out. There was curfew outside. I don’t know why he went out.”
Mohammed Hanif is an author and journalist. His pamphlet The Baloch Who Is Not Missing and Others Who Are is published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.