Imprisoned in Afghanistan
THERE’S hardly any connection between Malala Yousufzai, Sirajul Haq and Saleem Safi.
The teenage activist is recognised for her global campaigning for education, the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) is striving for an Islamic system in the country and the renowned broadcaster is known for a series of scoops.
But for Faizullah Khan, each of the three emerged as heroic characters who made possible his release from Nangarhar jail in Afghanistan.
“I am thankful to everyone,” he says. “From the management of my organisation to journalist bodies and from the governments of the two countries to human rights activists: everyone played a role and that’s why I’m back home. But the way those three took up my case and followed it up constantly, it’s beyond anyone’s imagination.”
With others vying for attention in the print and electronic media, these three, however, preferred to keep away from the limelight as Faizullah believes that it might have damaged the case for his release.
Malala contacted top officials in the Karzai government to secure Faizullah’s release after reading about his ordeal in a story published in Swat’s local newspaper. Sirajul Haq used JI’s decades-old connections in the neighbouring country to obtain his freedom. And Saleem Safi utilised his journalistic contacts to ensure Faizullah’s safe return.
Faizullah, associated with ARY News as a reporter, was arrested in Lalpura, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on April 25. The 35-year-old journalist was convicted of having illegally entered the country by a Jalalabad court which sentenced him to four years imprisonment.
While the prosecution in Afghanistan was getting ready to seek another 25-year prison term for Faizullah on charges of ‘spying’, ‘compromising national security’ and ‘attempting to deteriorate diplomatic relations of the two countries’, the president issued a pardon and ordered Faizullah’s release on his last day in office.
For his family, the long and frustrating wait has finally been brought to an end. On a warm Wednesday afternoon as I entered the building where he lives, I saw his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter standing next to him, waving from their third-floor balcony. Inside, the children would sometimes slide on the couch and at other times climb onto their father’s lap as friends and relatives continuously called him up congratulating him on his release.
For Faizullah, it all happened in his quest for ‘big news’ after he landed in Peshawar in April. He was scheduled to cover peace talks between Pakistani and Afghan officials including the security situation in the western border areas. He claims that he never intended to enter Afghanistan and only realised that he was there when he was caught by the Afghan intelligence officials. But the ‘nightmare’ in Afghanistan, Faizullah says, finally ended for him as a ‘miracle’.
“I was jailed in April and in May I came to know that we were expecting our third child. I was missing my family terribly and this news made me even more miserable. I felt extremely helpless. But I have to commend my wife’s role during the entire ordeal. She came to the forefront as a real crusader.”
The crusader wife, Sania Faiz, launched an unwavering campaign to secure her husband’s release. She filed a petition in the Sindh High Court, met every official concerned and influential individuals with a single-point agenda. “I was unable to take care of my children during those five months,” she says with a smile, patting her daughter’s cheek affectionately. “To focus on Faiz’s release, I left them at my mother’s place. I hired a rickshaw from morning to evening to go from one place to another so that I could meet people, attend meetings and demonstrations, appear in court and mobilise journalist and human rights bodies.”
Having been a journalist herself before tying the knot with Faizullah in 2008, Sania knew which channels to use and who to pursue. She visited Islamabad thrice and Quetta once. She was even present at the Torkham border with journalists and Khyber Agency administration officials to receive Faizullah.
“I was able to persuade a source to regularly send Faiz some money from here while he was imprisoned in Nangarhar jail,” she says. “I did it alone and never lost hope. I don’t know how I found the strength, patience and stamina. Somehow I did. But you know these are memories that one never wants to live with,” she says in a voice choking with emotion and her eyes brimming with tears.
After a momentary silence, Faizullah asks me to drop him at the Karachi Press Club where a reception awaited him. During the 15-kilometre ride from his home in Gulistan-i-Jauhar to the press club on my motorbike, Faizullah’s analysis on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations made me realise how his journalistic quest for the truth did not wane even in prison.
“I am indebted to the Afghan government for all their cooperation in extending my release,” he mused. “But you know, Imran bhai, it’s very unfortunate that we are no longer good neighbours. During my five-month imprisonment I came across all types of Afghans including media persons, officials, security personnel and diplomats. And they all believe that the two countries are not friends and probably will never be. This is alarming. And sadly no one cares from either side of the border.”