Former Pakistan Guantánamo detainee uses art to portray anguish of years in confinement

Muhammad Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, a former Guantanamo Bay ditainee his art exhibition at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 4, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 05 May 2023

Former Pakistan Guantánamo detainee uses art to portray anguish of years in confinement

  • Exhibition of Ahmed Rabbani’s artwork is on display at Karachi’s Indus Valley School of Art until May 15
  • Rabbani was held at Guantánamo 2004 onwards without ever being charged, he was released in February

KARACHI: A former Pakistani detainee at the Guantánamo Bay US detention facility, who returned to his home country this year and is exhibiting his work at a gallery in Karachi, told Arab News his paintings depicted the “pain, anguish, blood and tears” of years spent in confinement without ever being charged.

According to the global legal action non-profit Reprieve, Ahmed Rabbani was a taxi driver in Pakistan who intelligence services mistook for a known extremist. He endured 545 days of torture in CIA custody before being rendered to Guantánamo, where he was held from 2004 onwards. He was never charged with a crime and never had a trial.

Rabbani and his brother, who was also at Guantánamo, returned to Pakistan in February. His wife was pregnant at the time he was picked up and just five months later gave birth to their son who, now 17, had never met his father before February this year. His parents and sister passed away while he was incarcerated.

An exhibition of Rabbani’s artwork, entitled ‘The Unforgotten Moon: Liberating Art from Guantánamo Bay,’ is on display at Karachi’s Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture until May 15.

“People ask me what colors I have used. I tell them I haven’t used colors, I have used pain, I have used anguish, I have used blood, I have used tears,” Rabbani told Arab News at his exhibition.

People observe the paintings made by former Guantanamo Bay detainees at art exhibition at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 4, 2023. (AN Photo)

“My pain of 20, 21 years, that’s what I used. I don’t know what these colors are. This is my pain.”

Rabbani said he began painting while in prison but many of his artworks were confiscated by his captors. The few works that made it out are on display at the Karachi exhibition, as well as the work of ten contemporary Pakistani artists who are responding to Rabbani’s work.

“The one that I made about my torture, they did not let go of it,” he added. “We had no human rights.”

Muhammad Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, a former Guantanamo Bay ditainee his art exhibition at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 4, 2023. (AN Photo)

Remembering how he started painting, Rabbani said he requested Guantánamo prison authorities to allow painting class in the prison around 2006. It took up to four years to be supplied with some materials.

“After three, four years they started it [allowing painting] and they would give one color and we would work from it,” Rabbani said. “They would take the first one and give us another color. Like this they pestered us and like this, one or two years went by.”

“After 2011, they started giving some pastel colors. Then in 2015 or 2016 acrylic colors came. Canvas cloth we got in 2016. Before this, there were papers.”

Natasha Malik, the artist who curated Rabbani’s exhibition, described the experience as “eye-opening.”

a painting made by a former Guantanamo Bay ditainee displayed at an art exhibition at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 4, 2023. (AN Photo)

“It has been harrowing, it has been incredibly difficult to do a show like this because you see very up close how much suffering and how much pain Ahmed has gone through,” Malik told Arab News. “The time that he has lost, 20 years he’s lost, it’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking and it’s completely unjust.”

Malik is one of the ten artists who are responding to Rabbani’s work and creating some of his confiscated paintings based on descriptions provided by his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith.

“There is a series of censored paintings, which have been confiscated by the US military, which Ahmed had made during his incarceration in Guantánamo,” Malik said.

“Clive is the only one who has seen these paintings and he provided the artists, through [author] Fatima Bhutto, who has also written about Ahmed Rabbani, textual descriptions and the artists have illustrated those descriptions or, a better word is, responded to those descriptions. So, this is our work and we are exhibiting it alongside Ahmed Rabbani’s uncensored paintings.”

The exhibition, Malik said, would not just bring visibility to Rabbani’s story but the proceeds from the sale of the works would go toward the rehabilitation of his family.

“We have about 21, 22 pieces of Ahmed Rabbani’s original artworks with us here today. But there are six censored pieces which are still in Guantánamo.”

Another artist exhibiting is Amra Khan, who has recreated a painting called Strappado. Explaining the background to the painting, Rabbani said it described him being kept in Karachi for 47 days before being moved to Islamabad to be handed over to the Americans, who he described as tearing off his clothes and taping his eyes and mouth shut.

Rabbani said he was then moved to a cell in the Afghan city of Kabul where he was hung from his shoulders, and made to stand on his toes for a week while his hands were chained. Sometimes water was given but no food.

“I would scream the whole day but no one was there to listen,” he said. 

“But this, whoever made this, it is a really good one,” he said about Khan’s painting, adding: “If someone is painting something with happiness, there will be a difference from someone who paints in grief.”

But Rabbani has resolved to recreate his lost works.

“Most paintings that they [US authorities] have confiscated from me,” he said, “I will god willing repaint them all again.”

Pakistan recalls injectable medicine amid eye infection reports, initiates probe

Updated 24 September 2023

Pakistan recalls injectable medicine amid eye infection reports, initiates probe

  • The interim health minister assures the public of transparent inquiry, vows to prosecute those responsible
  • The government had received complaints related to loss of sight among diabetic patients using Avastin in Punjab

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interim health minister Nadeem Jan said on Sunday the government had recalled an injectable medicine from the market after receiving reports it had caused eye infections and loss of sight among patients in the Kasur, Multan, Lahore, and Sadiqabad districts located in the eastern Punjab province.
According to media reports, the caretaker administration in Punjab formed a five-member committee to investigate the issue, following complaints related to a locally manufactured injection called Avastin which was used by diabetic patients in the province.
The federal health minister invited his provincial counterpart to Islamabad to discuss the issue in the wake of this development. He said authorities had launched an investigation and would soon assign responsibility for the matter.
“Investigations are ongoing,” Jan said in a televised statement. “A committee has been formed, comprising five of our most senior experts, who will analyze the issue from all angles and provide us with a comprehensive report within the next three days.”
“As of now, the batch of medicine in question has been recalled,” he continued. “It is now in our possession, and its sales are prohibited.”
The minister explained the investigation team was tasked with determining whether the problem was caused by the medicine itself, issues in its supply chain, the skill level of the administering doctors, or the sterilization process.
He added the government had filed a police report against two individuals representing the supply company and had initiated legal action against them.
Jan assured the public of a transparent inquiry, adding the authorities would share their findings and prosecute those responsible for causing harm to patients.

Asian Games: Sri Lanka beat Pakistan to set up India cricket final

Updated 24 September 2023

Asian Games: Sri Lanka beat Pakistan to set up India cricket final

  • Pakistan manage below-par 75-9 in 20 overs against Sri Lanka 
  • Pakistan and Bangladesh will face off for bronze on Monday

HANGZHOU, China: In-form Sri Lanka, fresh from a stunning Twenty20 series victory in England, beat Pakistan by six wickets on Sunday to reach the women’s cricket final at the Asian Games and set up a clash with India.
Pakistan never got going on a difficult batting surface affected by days of rain at the Zhejiang University of Technology ground in Hangzhou, and could only muster a below-par 75-9 in their 20 overs.
Left-arm medium pace bowler Udeshika Prabodhani led the Sri Lankan attack with three wickets and Kavisha Dilhari took two with her offspin.
Sri Lanka sauntered to their target with 21 balls to spare to spark wild celebrations as their players ran on to the field to high-five and hug each other.
Earlier, the Indians routed Bangladesh for 51 on the same ground with all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar, only drafted into the squad as a last-minute replacement, taking four wickets.
They wasted no time in racing to an eight-wicket victory with more than 11 overs remaining as Jemimah Rodrigues top-scored with an unbeaten 20.
Rodrigues is yet to be dismissed in the Asian Games, scoring 47 not out in the quarter-final against Malaysia, which was later abandoned because of rain.
It was the second time in just over a week that Sri Lankan cricketers had proven party-poopers by preventing a Pakistan-India major cricket final.
The country’s men’s team beat Pakistan in the semifinal of the 50-over Asia Cup in Colombo to prevent a final showdown against their fierce rivals India.
Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s women secured a historic first-ever white-ball series triumph over England, winning 2-1.
Pakistan and Bangladesh will face off for bronze on Monday before India take on Sri Lanka in the gold-medal match.

Train crash in eastern Pakistan injures at least 30

Updated 24 September 2023

Train crash in eastern Pakistan injures at least 30

  • Lahore-bound passenger train collides with another in Shaikhupura district
  • Railway authorities suspend driver, assistant, two members of ground staff

LAHORE: A passenger train collided with another already parked and carrying goods in eastern Pakistan on Sunday, injuring at least 30 passengers, five of them seriously, officials said.

Railway authorities suspended the driver of the Lahore-bound passenger train, his assistant and two of the ground staff for negligence as an investigation has been opened, said top railways official Shahid Aziz.

Aziz said the incident happened in Shaikhupura district near Qila Sattar Shah station early morning as the passenger train which left Mianwali for Lahore was directed to the track where the goods train was already parked.

He said most of the injured were treated at the train station, but those with serious injuries were moved to hospital and the tracks were quickly cleared.

Such accidents are common in Pakistan where railways suffer from decades-old signal systems and tracks.

Ex-PM Khan’s party welcomes anti-terror court’s decision to grant bail to women supporters

Updated 24 September 2023

Ex-PM Khan’s party welcomes anti-terror court’s decision to grant bail to women supporters

  • Former lawmaker Rubina Jamil, social media activist among nine granted bail by anti-terror court in Lahore
  • Khan’s supporters were arrested for attacking the residence of Lahore Corps Commander on May 9

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leaders on Sunday welcomed an Anti-Terrorism Court’s (ATC) decision to grant bail to nine PTI supporters, among them five women, in a case relating to the attack on a senior military officer’s residence months ago.

An ATC in Lahore granted post-arrest bail to former PTI MNA Rubina Jamil and eight others on Saturday who were arrested on charges of attacking the official residence of the Lahore Corps Commander on May 9. 

Angry PTI supporters took to the streets following Khan’s brief arrest on May 9 on graft allegations, torching government buildings and attacking military installations in many parts of the country. Scores of people were arrested for attacking the senior military officer’s Lahore residence, among them former lawmakers Alia Hamza and Rubina Jamil, and prominent fashion designer Khadijah Shah. 

Following the protests, police registered cases against the suspects under Section 121 (waging or attempting to wage war or abetting waging of war against Pakistan), Section 131 (abetting mutiny, or attempting to seduce a soldier, sailor or airman from his duty) and Section 146 (rioting) under the Pakistan Penal Code. 

While the ATC granted bail to Jamil, social media activist Sanam Javed, Afshan Tariq, Shahbano, Ashima Shuja, Mubeen Qadri, Syed Faisal Akhtar, Ali Hassan, and Mohammad Qasim, the same was denied to 39 others including Hamza and Shah. 

“A welcome first step,” PTI leader and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa finance minister Taimur Khan Jhagra wrote on social media platform X. 

“The 9 given bail must be released. It is the reputation of the state that suffers when justice is seen not to be served, as is the case here.”

Jhagra said that “not a shred” of evidence of arson or destruction of public property linking PTI’s supporters to the acts of May 9 has been found. 

Former PTI MNA Ali Muhammad Khan agreed with Jhagra, saying that the women who were granted bail should be released too. 

“No doubt our sisters have endured alot and now when given bail by ATC they must be released & allowed to re-join their families and kids,” he wrote on X. 

 While Khan insists he did not instigate supporters to attack law enforcers on May 9, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said on Sept. 3 that the protests were aimed at starting a mutiny or civil war in the country. 

“I think its target as a nucleus was the serving army chief and the team around him. All of them,” Kakar had said during an interview with a private news channel. 

While Khan’s party alleges it is being victimized, Kakar has said the law would take its course and PTI supporters would not be targeted unfairly by military courts. 

World Cup: Pakistan Cricket Board says team to leave for India on Wednesday

Updated 24 September 2023

World Cup: Pakistan Cricket Board says team to leave for India on Wednesday

  • Development takes place amid reports of visa delays for Pakistan cricket team 
  • The squad will kick off their World Cup campaign against Netherlands on Oct. 6

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s cricket team will leave for India to take part in the showpiece 50-over World Cup tournament on Wednesday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement on Sunday. 

The ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup will get underway from Oct. 5 in India till Nov. 19. Skipper Babar Azam’s side will begin its World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6 before taking on Sri Lanka on Oct. 10. On Oct. 14, Pakistan will face India in Ahmedabad in a big-ticket clash. 

This will be the first time the Pakistan men’s national squad will play cricket on Indian soil since 2016, when Pakistan took part in the T20 World Cup hosted by India that year. 

“Pakistan are scheduled to depart for Hyderabad in the wee hours of Wednesday,” the PCB said in a statement. “Babar Azam’s side will play their first warm-up on 29 September against New Zealand and the second and last against Australia on 3 October.”

The PCB said Team Director Mickey Arthur will join the side by Sept. 30 in India for the megaevent. 

Pakistan’s plans to depart for India come amid media reports that its players are still awaiting visas to travel to India. Cricket website ESPNcricinfo said in a report that Pakistan were forced to cancel a team bonding trip in Dubai as the team was waiting for their visas to arrive on Friday. 

“The Pakistan squad was due to fly to the UAE early next week and stay for a couple of days before flying to Hyderabad, ahead of their first warm-up game against New Zealand on September 29,” ESPNcricinfo said. 

“Instead, Pakistan now plan to fly out of Lahore to Dubai early next Wednesday and fly to Hyderabad from there.”

As per the website, out of the nine teams participating in the World Cup, Pakistan remains the only one awaiting visas to travel to India. 

Political tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors mean India and Pakistan play each other only at international venues. The last time a bilateral series was played between the two sides was in 2013 when Pakistan traveled to India for a cricket series.