The FIA is a secret police force, and one of its best-kept secrets is whom it
works for. Nominally an organ of the state, it is not above accepting freelance
assignments from prominent individuals and commercial groups. The extent of its
extralegal activities is anyone's guess, but a highly respected human-rights
investigator believes that "there is close cooperation between carpet
interests, feudal lords, segments of the police force, and the
administration—district commissioners, the courts, and government officials.
Financially resourceful drug barons are also a part of the scene." Whoever the
client, the FIA provides an assortment of services straight out of the KGB
handbook: wiretaps, tails, searches, arrests, harassment, and varying degrees
of corporal punishment.
These services were very much in evidence on a Thursday afternoon in late June,
when the FIA raided the BLLF's Lahore headquarters. The detail consisted of ten
men, all in plain clothes, who scrambled up four flights of stairs to the tiny
office in no time flat. These were not ordinary policemen; this was not the
usual surprise "inspection" (read "intimidation") to which all nongovernment
organizations are periodically subjected. These were professional agents, lithe
and expert, commanded by a severe officer in a freshly pressed safari suit.
After lining the BLLF workers up against a wall, he ordered his troops to
"confiscate anything that may incriminate them." The agents took a liberal view
of "incriminate," and packed up computers, filing cabinets, fax machines,
photocopiers, telephones, stationery, posters, bicycles—and the cashbox
containing the monthly payroll. Their depredations were supervised by a small
man who was distinctly not a policeman. He represented, it turned out, the
Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association. His purpose, he said,
was "to protect the interests of legitimate businessmen." Every so often he
consulted with the commander.
When one BLLF worker tried to protest, an agent threw her against a wall and
held a rifle butt inches from her face. When another worker demanded to see a
search warrant, the commander informed her that none was necessary, because "we
are acting to prevent terrorism." The association representative nodded in
Fifteen minutes later the detail was gone, along with the office equipment and
furnishings. All that remained was a heap of broken furniture, a
workers'-rights poster, and a BLLF flag dangling out an open window. Several
staff workers had been taken away as well, to an FIA holding center, where they
were interrogated for three days.
Two days later another FIA detail raided the BLLF's "Freedom Campus" training
facility in Lahore, along with several of its primary schools around the
country. Once again the agents were undiscriminating. They seized everything
movable ("items used to obstruct valid commercial interests") and mistreated
the staff without respect for position or age. Teachers, drivers, secretaries,
and peasant families seeking refuge from violent employers were interrogated
along with administrators, advocates, attorneys, and fundraisers.