Home at last: Locked up in Afghanistan, Pakistani journalist wishes never to go back
KARACHI: “I will never go back to Afghanistan,” was the verdict given by Faizullah Khan, the Pakistani journalist, who was recently released from detention in Afghanistan. “The first trip was enough of an experience for me,” he said resolutely.
Clad in a new black kameez shalwar, the reporter however did admit his mistake. His gaze lowered towards the floor, he fervently nodded his head. “Yes, it was my fault. I was travelling without documents and passport,” he paused, before carrying on. “But I had no idea I would be travelling to Afghanistan.”
Back in Pakistan, and sitting comfortably at Karachi Press Club (KPC), Khan has vowed never to go back. A reporter for ARY News, Khan covers the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and courts and has been in the profession for the last eight years.
In April, he was detained by Afghan authorities and later sentenced by the Jalalabad court for four years for illegally travelling to the neighboring country. On September 28, however, the Afghan court miraculously gave orders for his release.
The TTP assignment
The television journalist said that he was travelling with officials of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan for an interview. “Those days, negotiations were going on between the government and the TTP. I wanted to interview the TTP leadership on the issue.”
Khan had assumed that he would be meeting them in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and was surprised when the TTP took him to Afghanistan for the interview.
“I had no idea that we were going to Afghanistan because the location was undisclosed. I had no passport with me.”
The first interview took place in TTP’s media cell in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. Done with the interview, Khan was on the way to interview other TTP officials when he was detained at Lalpura Check post by Afghan intelligence officials.
“With no travel documents, they thought I was a spy.” And when they saw the interview tapes, Khan said that the intelligence officials were even more perturbed.
“Since the interview had taken place in Afghanistan, the officials said that it was not good for their country’s image as everyone presumes that the TTP is present in Pakistan but at that time, they were present in Afghanistan and I interviewed them there.”
However, the intelligence’s accusation of Khan being a spy was not proved, and the Jalalabad court sentenced him to four years in jail for travelling to Afghanistan illegally.
His laptop, clothes, and interview tapes were confiscated, never to be returned. “There was nothing sensitive in the tapes. But they still kept it.”
Khan, who was sentenced in July, said that his time in the Nangarhar Jail, housing 2,000 prisoners, was the most difficult. “There were 17 to 18 prisoners staying with me. The officials did not torture me but they said negative things about Pakistan.”
In jail, the prisoners received ‘very bad food’, mostly vegetables. “We used to make our own food but when the Americans and UN officials came for inspection, they would hide our stoves.”
For two months, he slept on the floor and later got a bed when there were fewer prisoners. Khan, who hails from Manshera, says that there were several Pakistanis in the jails, labourers who were travelling without documents and others with ties with the Taliban.
Khan, who once had curly long locks, said that he was most upset when the jail officials shaved his head. “When I came back, my son did not recognise me.”
Home at last
Last Sunday, the journalist and father of four, said he was shocked when he was told he would be released.
“It was Karzai’s last day when I was released. I heard the prosecutor saying that Karzai had ordered my release.”
Khan has a long list of people to thank: journalist bodies, the Pakistani government, the Afghanistan government and even Malala Yousafzai, who rallied for his return home.
“I had lost all hope of being released anytime soon. The intelligence officials had said that I would never be able to see the sun again.”
The journalist, who claims he is mentally exhausted, wants to take a break before getting back to reporting. “I will rest and travel somewhere with my family for some time before coming back on the job again,” he smiled.