In a strange way, the “war on terror” may have claimed another victim, at least for now and perhaps forever.
Safdar Sarki, who earned his medical degree in Pakistan, is a member of the World Sindhi Congress. The congress seeks greater influence for the Sindhi ethnic minority in Pakistan’s Sindh Province.
In February 2006, police and intelligence officers arrested Dr. Sarki at his sister’s apartment in Karachi, Pakistan, and he joined the world’s army of the disappeared.
Dr. Sarki remained with the disappeared until last fall, when a letter from him somehow made its way to Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. In the letter, Dr. Sarki described “complete isolation with a strip of black cloth on my eyes when outside, otherwise in a dark, stuffy and small gravelike cell in severe heat and severe cold. For 24 hours I am handcuffed except 15 minutes during a toilet break.”
Dr. Sarki had found himself among an estimated 4000 prisoners in President Pervez Musharraf’s secret detention network. An article by Jane Perlez in the January 18, 2008, New York Times provided few details about this network. Some prisoners are suspected terrorists. Some are not. Officials announced no charges against Dr. Sarki after his arrest. That’s how secret jails remain secrets.
After receiving the letter from Dr. Sarki, Chief Justice Chaudhry ordered President Musharraf’s government to admit that it had detained Dr. Sarki and to deliver him to the court in October. But on November 3, President Musharraf declared a state of emergency and removed Mr. Chaudhry from the Supreme Court. Another judge granted bail for Dr. Sarki, but those orders were cancelled. Yet another judge failed to arrive for a scheduled hearing.
After Chief Justice Chaudry forced the government to acknowledge that it was holding Dr. Sarki, the police announced that he had just been arrested and jailed for possession of weapons.
On December 28, one of the two lawyers working for Dr. Sarki’s release, found his client gravely ill at a jail in Baluchistan Province. Dr. Sarki is only in his 40s but required help when walking. He suffers from an eye disease that may blind him, but officials at the jail refuse to take him to a hospital for treatment.
Ali Hasan, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said, “There is a high likelihood he has been tortured.”
Dr. Safdar Sarki is an American citizen. Until his disappearance two years ago, he lived and worked in El Campo, Texas. If he had left Pakistan a few days earlier than he planned, he would be in El Campo right now.
Tom Casey, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, told the Times that “We remain concerned about the health and welfare of Dr. Sarki, an American citizen.” He also said that American officials had urged the Pakistani government to provide needed medical care.
After reading the article in the Times, I googled “Safdar Sarki” and found a website created by his supporters at http://www.sindhudesh.com/safdar/. The details you’ll find there differ slightly from those in the Times, but Dr. Sarki’s situation remains the same.
Is Safdar Sarki a terrorist? Did the police really find weapons in his possession? Did he plan to use those weapons to kill innocent Pakistani citizens?
Or is he just another Texan?
PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at email@example.com.