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Journalist Escapes to Canada After Threats

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    Journalist Escapes to Canada After Threats

    I used to really enjoy reading Abidullah Jans writing, he never used to pull his punches whenever pointing out anything he felt was wrong with the system in Pakistan. This article was a sad read, what's sadder is that I don't think a single main stream paper would have published his story.

    Another Journalist Flees Pakistan and seeks Asylum in Canada

    By Abid Ullah Jan

    MONTREAL, Canada: This column is out after a self-imposed silence of more than two months, all spent in assessing the pros and cons of telling the truth. I am sorry that I didn’t inform most of my well wishers for the simple reason that I felt embarrassed to say that I am leaving the country because the government of my motherland does not want me to live in peace any more.

    A lot has happened in - and to - Pakistan during this period of my silence. A lot has happened with me, too. I see my ordeal as a reflection of much that is wrong with the way our nation is being governed. For months, I went through the mental torture planned for me by the government agents and finally I experienced for 50 hours, the pain caused by unidentified officials, operating in secrecy, accountable to no one.

    This is the story that I didn’t even tell my close friends and relatives because I thought it would soon be over and because until recently I couldn’t link it up to my 4-part investigative report, “Exposing the Tip of Corruption Iceberg,” which was published in Peshawar Daily Frontier Post on January 9, 10, 11 and 12. Those who refer back to that report would know the top ranking government officials who were involved in the biggest ever scam in the development sector. Interestingly the corruption iceberg still exists and my exposing its tip has only cost me my career.

    The high ranking officials who were part of the story that I exposed included personalities such as the additional Chief Secretary NWFP, Director General Sustainable Development Unit, PE&D NWFP, Project Director Mansehra Village Support Program (MVSP), etc. More interestingly, the governor was the chief supporter of the corrupt officials in the government and office bearers of the NGO, now called Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP). Their respective role is clearly outlined in my original 2001 report.

    Despite the Chief Secretary NWFP, Abdullah’s remarks on the report that it was a “fit case for National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the governor forced Chairman of Governor Inspection Team (GIT) to change his report in favour of SRSP. On his refusal, he was moved to another sub-Section of Forest Department and Ms. Ali Begum was appointed in his place to carryout the dirty job.

    She did exactly what she was expected to do. In her ten page report, she rejected all the charges against SRSC despite the overwhelming evidence and the report was accepted despite refusal of the rest of GIT members to sign it. The story did not stop there. DFID, British Department for international development, came to the rescue of SRSP at this crucial juncture. Despite the fact that DFID coordinator, Steve Jones was provided with the first hand evidence of SRSP’s corruption and witnesses from the community invited him to verify the evidence for himself, funds were released to SRSP to further alleviate poverty of the poorest of the poor.

    Governor NWFP gave public statements that those who write and speak negative about NGOs would be treated accordingly. I was harassed to the maximum possible extent. Letters to various donors were sent so that they do not fund my organization: Integrated Regional Support Program (IRSP). As a carrot, I was offered jobs and as a stick, I was threatened to force me into publicly stating that the evidence presented in the report was biased and incorrect. Interestingly all this official support was extended to the government established NGO -- SRSP -- at a time when a smaller NGO, RISE in Swabi, was closed down by the same GIT even before any investigations.

    All the Bangush family members: Governor, Iftikhar Bangush; DG SDU, Masood Bangush; SRSP Program Chief, Palwasha Bangush and finally Editor Statesman, Arif Bangush, played active role in their respective positions to exact revenge for my exposing the filth and then forcefully following it up with rejoinders and even cartoons.

    The governor used military personals in a skilful way. Initially they used to come and harass me in the form of asking financial reports and legal status of my organization They would ask for illegal experience certificates for their family members so that they could frame me with that later on. Even civilians in the ISI would come to ask for the best available vehicles in my organization for taking their guests to Swat, etc.

    Nothing worked. Finally, they got the right opportunity in the form of my anti-Musharraf articles. After appearance of my book “A war on Islam?” and my pro-democracy articles in Pakistan Weekly and SA Tribune in US, ISI got a golden opportunity to interrogate and threaten my and my family on almost weekly basis.

    They spent huge amounts of public funds on an enterprise, which brought no gain to the country and failed even in securing its mean and limited objective. If the purpose of spying on my activities, phone tapping, kidnapping, and detaining me was to secure my silence, the government has failed (once again) to achieve its target. Here I am, totally unrepentant, voicing my opinions again.

    I was kidnapped on November 24 from my home in Peshawar at around 10:00 a.m. We were just around to begin our day when our house was surrounded by several vehicles. I was dragged out of my house, wrapped in a blanket and taken to an unknown place. My kidnappers refused to identify themselves or to tell me what they wanted. I was blind-folded and my face was covered with a black hood. The blindfold did not come off for the 12 hours when I was taken to a basement where

    I was tied to a chair but mercifully not beaten up. 'Why do you want to be a leader', my chief tormentor asked me without giving me a chance to reply. I was told where I had been during the past week and references were made to recent telephone conversations of mine. My captors wanted me to know that they had followed me and listened to my telephone conversations. I knew they were well-informed.

    I was kept up all night and moved to another location in the early hours of the morning. All day long I was questioned about Shaheen Sehbai, Khwaja Ashraf, General Hamid Gul, Imran (aka Abu Abdullah), who published my book, and a few names which I didn’t know but they were associating these with former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. After much questioning, I was left alone for the next 12 hours. I was set free on November 26, after being threatened to the maximum possible degree and showing the maximum respect in the form of repeatedly calling me “Sir.”

    From the moment of my publishing the initial report about massive corruption in the name of poverty alleviation – which the Governor NWFP took personal – till my abduction, dozens of government functionaries performed the tasks of visiting my office, chasing me around, “investigating,” etc. How secure can a government be if it has to deploy so many people to deal with an "insignificant" columnist? Before dropping me at Hayat Abad, one of my kidnappers had whispered to me "Remember, we took only a few seconds to nab you. That should instill some fear in you and make you act in your own interest". I must confess I am very scared. But I fear more for my country and my innocent family members than for myself.
    How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?