“I ran out of my house when I heard children and women crying. I saw four military trucks approaching,” recalled 22-year old Bibi Gul. Then a jeep stopped at the front gate and soldiers laid siege to the house of Mohammed Hussain, a schoolteacher and Bibi Gul’s father. “It was around 11am.”
Bibi Gul had been expecting them since early morning when FC personnel besieged their village on May 24 for a door-to-door search operation. Her house stood at the other edge of Gomazi, a small village, some 70 kilometers from Turbat city. It took soldiers four hours to reach this last abode after they searched rest of the houses in the village. Bibi Gul had seen smoke billowing out from several houses since the morning.
“Where is (The) Master,” one of the soldiers asked Bibi Gul with an authoritative voice, referring to her father by his nickname. Bibi Gul had now been joined by her two sisters and mother. “He has gone outside for some work,” Gul replied, before his sisters or mother could say anything. She was the only one among them who could speak Urdu fluently. “Where?,” the authoritative voice asked with even more authority. “I don’t know,” she replied, trying to look as truthful as she could.
“I know where he is. He is there in the mountains planning to kill our brothers,” the soldier said. (To be in the mountains is a euphemism in Balochistan for joining Baloch separatist militants.)
“He is just a teacher. Didn’t you just call him (The) Master?” the belligerent girl responded. “Search the house,” the soldier hastily ordered, seeming unwilling to indulge into a debate with her.
Bibi Gul, her sisters and mother stood still as the soldiers searched every nook and corner of the house. And then they came out, albeit with some of their suspect belongings.
“I have never seen such fury on a man’s face. Their eyes were filled with rage and disgust. It sent shivers through my body,” recounted Bibi Gul.
“Why do you people do this? Why do you plant bombs on our way? What is your problem with Pakistan?,” the soldier shouted with a choked voice, pointing a book they had retrieved from the house. The title of the book was ‘Jangi Hikmat Amali’ (War Strategies). It was among several other suspicious items they had discovered in the house, including a television, a radio, another book on Dr Che Guevara’s life and the latest edition of the monthly magazine of the Baloch National Movement, a political party which Bibi Gul’s father once led in Gomazi.
“What do you want from Pakistan? Why don’t you tell us your demands?” said the soldier, so overwhelmed by emotion that he almost seemed to be crying.
“We don’t have any demands. Just leave us alone,” the girl replied with a straight face, holding her breath for fear of retribution. However, luckily, the soldier managed to defuse his anger by shouting some “dirty words” into the air.
“Who reads these books?” he asked, after calming himself down. Bibi Gul, not wanting to provoke the soldiers any further, ignored the question. “Your father?” he guessed.
“We all do. Is reading books a crime too?” Bibi Gul quipped. She knew she shouldn’t have said that. She should have controlled her emotions. “Burn the house,” the soldier shouted at his comrades.
“You know what surprised me? They didn’t use a matchstick or a lighter to set the house on fire. They just poured some yellow liquid from a bottle and the fire started on its own,” she wondered.
As they – Bibi Gul, her sisters, mother and the soldiers -- watched flames leaping from the house, the authoritative voice spoke again, this time addressing Bibi Gul’s mother. “If Master doesn’t stop, next time we will set this daughter of yours on fire instead of your house,” he warned, pointing towards Bibi Gul. They left after ensuring that the house had been reduced into ashes.
Gomazi was the first, not the last, village searched in this way in a massive operation initiated by the FC personnel immediately after the elections. The soldiers, after leaving Bibi Gul alone, marched on towards Turbat city, searching other villages that fell in their way.