Book extract: Shahbaz Taseer on being at death's door for 5 years

It had been several days since my last torture session.

Muhammad Ali decided it had not been brutal enough. It was time to up the ante.

He would typically arrive to disclose his plans for the following day, making sure I would stew all night imagining the horrors of tomorrow.

As an uneventful day drew to a close, Muhammad Ali took me from my room into an adjacent chamber and sat me down at a table. A guard, Sohail, sat behind me to hold me still. Muhammad Ali held a special torture tool, a plass, pliers. The video camera was already set up. The whole production had a clinical air, almost like a doctor’s appointment.

I was given a single painkiller injection in the flesh above each nail. This wasn’t to completely numb the pain―there would be plenty of that―but simply to make sure I didn’t pass out. This was all to ensure the video had maximum impact. It was to be as gruesome as possible with me in as much agony as the camera could capture. “You have to start screaming as soon as we start and keep screaming until we are done,” Muhammad Ali commanded, like a film director. “The louder you scream, the sooner this will be over.” It was surreal to sit there receiving these instructions as though I were their accomplice, not their victim.

Muhammad Ali injected the painkiller into my fingers, then spread my hand on the table.

He took the nail of my thumb in his pliers and started to pry it loose.

At first there was only pain. The agony was so intense I came close to vomiting. But the nail wouldn’t come loose, which meant the action was useless for his torture video. So they stopped the recording and Muhammad Ali took a small blade and cut across the top of the nail on each finger, to loosen it. Then they started the video again.

This time, he decided to skip the thumb. With the pliers, he ripped off the fingernail of each finger on my right hand. With each yank a white-hot pulse of pain throbbed through my entire body. My hand on the table was covered in blood. He took my nails and placed them in a small plastic bag. A messenger would soon be arriving. He’d have these nails sent to my mother in Lahore.

When it was all over, I was crying and delirious with pain.

The guard swabbed my naked nail beds in Pyodine, which hurt almost as much as having the nails pulled off. Slowly the pain began to ebb. My fingers were bandaged, the camera switched off; the show over, they took me back to my room.

I had been reduced to the lowest form of life you could find on earth. The pain was one aspect, it was excruciating. Beyond my pain and degradation what almost defeated me was what a burden my family would also bear. These videos, the gruesome evidence of my lowest moments, would be delivered to them. Rendered helpless, I felt the humiliation threatened to swallow me whole.

Another night, not long after, Muhammad Ali came to my room. “Ahmed,” he said, using one of the code names they used to keep my identity secret, “tomorrow we cut flesh from your back.”

I was quite aware of the horrendous agony that would ensue for days.

The next day they took me back to the torture cell. My shirt was removed; I was made to stand in a large plastic bin and tied by the wrists to the loop in the ceiling.

I realized the purpose of the plastic bin was to catch all the blood that would stream from my body.

Muhammad Ali stood behind me, a sharp knife in his hand. He drew the knife down my skin, cutting a long strip of flesh from my back.

The pain was indescribable. I screamed and screamed. But again, the pain was not the worst of it.

I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of disbelief that my life had ended up here. In the hands of these madmen, desecrating me. The sense of desperation at my situation, the suffocating conviction that somehow I deserved all of this, took me to a dark place.

Muhammad Ali cut a second strip of flesh from my back, a few inches long.

He held it up to my face for me to see.

Did I pass out? I may have. It’s hard for me to recount the individual moments of my torture. They were a series of sensations, sounds, moments, all played out against a backdrop of searing pain.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House

Lost to the World: A Memoir of Faith, Family and Five Years in Terrorist Captivity

By Shahbaz Taseer

Published by Penguin Viking

Price Rs1,705, pages 288