Ayoung Pakistani journalist-activist Zeenat Shahzadi (25) is back with her family after more than two years. She was abducted from Lahore on August 19, 2015. She was helping the parents of young Indian Hamid Ansari to locate him. Hamid went “missing” from Pakistan’s restive province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Zeenat and Hamid’s story is a sad one. She is finally “rescued” but lost her younger brother in between. Saddam Hussain (18) committed suicide in March 2016 as he was very attached to Zeenat. He searched everywhere but could not find her and so committed suicide. He was terribly disturbed. The day he committed suicide, he told their mother that now Zeenat will never return.
Hamid Ansari is still languishing in Pakistan’s prison even after completion of his sentence. Zeenat was not aware where Hamid was kept in Pakistan on the day she was abducted. She was on the trail of Hamid reported to have been caught by Pakistani agencies. She used to visit court hearings and also regularly attending hearings before Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance. She was sure that Hamid was in Pakistan.
Hamid, a young engineer and MBA from Mumbai, was arrested from a town Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on November 13, 2012. He entered Pakistan illegally from Afghanistan for the sake of his love. He was in touch with a girl from Kohat and he went to meet her. He opted for the Afghanistan route as he could not get Pakistan’s visa. The visa regime between India and Pakistan is so problematic that it is virtually impossible to get a visa for a person like Hamid. Separate efforts are on to get Hamid back. But, that is a different
Justice (Retired) Javed Iqbal, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance, told BBC that Zeenat was recovered from an area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on Thursday night. The newly appointed National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chief added, ”Non-state actors and anti-state agencies had abducted her and she was recovered from their custody. Tribal elders from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa played a role in her recovery.”
She was abducted by a couple of gunmen around ten in the morning when she was waiting for a bus to go to her office. There was no communication from the kidnappers till she was “rescued.” Hina Jilani of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) appeared before the Commission on Enforced Disappearance. Zeenat had filed an application with the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Human Rights Cell on behalf of Fauzia Ansari.
Her sudden appearance was a pleasant surprise to everyone. Even her disappearance had surprised Pakistanis. Nobody really knows how she survived all these days. How she was taken to the Pakistan-Afgnaistan border. The Af-Pak border is the most dangerous place, where various militant groups are active. Recently, an American-Canadian couple was rescued from Af-Pak border by Pakistan’s security forces after five years. They were kidnapped by Haqqani Network while hiking on the mountains of Afghanistan.
Neither Zeenat nor her family members spoke to the media. IA Rehman, former chairperson of HRCP, spoke to Zeenat’s mother and she has confirmed that her daughter is back. Zeenat was abducted earlier on August 12, 2015 for few hours. On that day she had attended a meeting at HRCP where then Indian High Commissioner TCA Raghavan was speaking. While on her way home from HRCP, a couple of people abducted her and asked why she was pursuing the matter of Hamid Ansari. She was “released” after a few hours. At that time, her family members had told human rights activists that Zeenat was forcibly taken away by intelligence agencies but was released after a few hours.
It is a sad story of two families. One family in India is waiting for their son to return and the other in Pakistan has lost their son, while daughter is back after two years. Both families suffered emotionally, psychologically and mentally during this period and they still continue to suffer. Hamid Ansari’s parents Fauzia and Nehal are waiting for their son to return. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment on charges of espionage. He has already completed his sentence. He is in the Pakistan’s custody for around five years.
As Zeenat is back with her family, Hamid’s parents are eagerly waiting for their son to return. Hamid’s parents are delighted to hear the news about Zeenat. Fauzia said, ”I feel relieved because somewhere I feel responsible for what she had to go through.” Zeenat’s family suffered and so is Hamid’s. It is time for both countries to revisit their strict visa regime and liberalise it.