By NASEER GANAI
Last updated at 7:56 PM on 19th February 2012
Cargo, Harinawas and Papa-2 – words that frightened the heart out of Kashmiris during the height of insurgency in the mid-90s.
These were “open secret” torture-houses run by the establishment where Kashmiri youth, and sometimes old men, were interrogated to force out information from their guts.
Those who have managed to come out alive from Cargo, Harinawas and Papa-2, have narrated harrowing tales of third-degree torture – electric shocks to their genitals, big logs rolled over legs and being thrashed naked with oil-smeared bamboo sticks till their buttocks turned blue.
Papa-2’s infamous torture centre where hundreds suffered persecution is now the residence of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.
Except for Cargo, which is located in a populated neighbourhood, the other two gorgeous mansions were tucked away from civilisation. The shrill shrieks and wails of those tortured men never went outside the sprawling premises.
Over the years, these houses have been exorcised of their haunting past – repainted, refurbished and given a completely humane makeover.
However, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons contended that vital evidence about people who vanished during the peak of insurgency had been destroyed when these houses were renovated. “The torture and interrogation centres must be protected for future investigations,” it said.
The infamous Cargo building has been converted into a cyber police station, while Papa-2 is now the official residence of former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
This State guesthouse in Harinawas used to be an interrogation centre
Harinawas, the most opulent of the lot with three presidential suites and scores of bedrooms, has now become an official guesthouse. A colonial mansion on the banks of the Dal Lake at posh Gupkhar in Srinagar, Papa-2 was the most infamous torture centre. Hundreds are believed to have been persecuted there.
“Till 1989 the building was known as Fairview Guesthouse where visiting officials used to stay. It was taken over by the Border Security Force (BSF) in 1990,” Nazir Ahmad War, a senior official in the hospitality and protocol department, said.
The BSF named it Papa-2, ostensibly to keep the compound’s new purpose confidential. It continued to be an interrogation centre till 1996. Thereafter Ashok Jaitley, the chief secretary of the state then, moved into the house.
“In 2003, it was renovated and then finance minister Muzaffer Hussain Baig moved in. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has been staying there since 2005,” War said. Maharaja Hari Singh, the last king of Kashmir, had built Harinawas for his wife Tara Devi at the foothills of the Zabarwan Range overlooking the Dal Lake.
Legend has it that the king ignored his priests who portended that construction of the palace at that particular site wouldn’t be auspicious because it was the abode of goddess Shiksha Devi.
After Tara Devi began living there, the tumultuous events of 1947 unfolded – forcing the king to flee Kashmir. He never returned, and the building was abandoned after Independence. The creaking gates and the rusty locks were flung open after armed insurgency erupted in Kashmir in the 1990s.
In Cargo this cyber police station was once used as a reformist’s den and a torture house
The soothsayers, for once, were right. The palace became an interrogation centre. “It was taken over by the CID in 1996. When Ghulam Nabi Azad became chief minister in 2005, he converted it into the chief minister’s official residence. The building has three presidential suites,” War said.
However, the government handed over the building two years ago to the hospitality and protocol department, which in turn has transformed it into a state guesthouse fit to host the President. The officials have painstakingly tried to retain the royal touch of this retreat, with finer details such as newly-fitted antique taps and a landscaped garden.
Cargo at Haftchinar, some two km from Lal Chowk, is associated with the formation of the Special Operation Group in May 1994 after it was decided that the battle against militancy couldn’t be won without involving the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Initially, less than 30 men from Jammu and Kashmir and the paramilitary forces started operating from the building.
A WikiLeaks exposé last year mentioned Red Cross officials briefing US diplomats in Delhi in 2005 about the notorious activities at Cargo where electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation were carried out against hundreds of detainees.
The building came under attack on December 27, 1999 from al- Badr militants who killed a DSP and 13 other police personnel. Over the years, a policy shift ensured that torture gave way to reformist tactics. “The interrogators chosen for the task were Muslims well-versed in the principles of Islam.
The subjects were fed religious discourses to counter their extremist version of Islam. Hence, people sarcastically began calling the place Dar-ul-Uloom Cargo,” an official said.
Subsequently, the state police “designated” it as cyber police station. However, the state home department has yet to approve the police move.
Daily Mail UK