Zeenat Shahzadi, a 26 year old reporter of Daily Nai Khabar and Metro News TV channel, went missing on August 19, 2015, when some unidentified men allegedly kidnapped her while she was on her way to office in Lahore. She was rescued recently from the Afghan-Pakistan border on October 19, 2017. According to government agencies, her abduction was masterminded by non-state terrorist groups. There are no reports related to any arrests regarding her abduction.
Zeenat had disappeared from a crowded road in Lahore in broad daylight. There was no lack of evidence. Eye witness accounts have informed that the journalist was forcibly kidnapped by a group of men. She was working on a story featuring Indian citizen Hamid Ansari before her abduction. Her family members were of the opinion that this story could have led to her abduction.
Hamid Ansari was a 32 year old engineer from Mumbai who had gone missing in November 2012. It later emerged that he had entered Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region illegally from Afghanistan. Going through his laptop, his parents found emails and Facebook correspondence that revealed Hamid’s friendship with a girl in Pakistan whom he was trying to save from a forced marriage. The correspondence also revealed his Pakistani Facebook friends’ names and the hotel he stayed in Kohat, in northern Pakistan.
The Pakistani military took him into custody and convicted him with charges of espionage. While he was given a three year sentence, the decision to send him back lies with the military. The parents argue that he had already served the three year sentence awarded to him while the case was being heard. They feel that he should now be set free. Despite the charges, the prerogative to release a person accused of espionage remains with the concerned government. The Indian High Commission in Islamabad had asked for consular access to Hamid Ansari but failed to obtain it. The court finally gave visitation rights to Ansari, which is why his lawyer hired by the parents could visit him. The parents were informed by his lawyer that Pakistani authorities have kept Hamid in a ‘death cell’ with no facilities.
Zeenat was following the story of Ansari and was convinced that he was being falsely charged by the Pakistani authorities. Fauzia’s (Ansari’s mother) complaint in Mumbai and petition to the Supreme Court of India was disposed of as India has a hostile relation with Pakistan. In April 2014, the Ansaris filed a habeas corpus writ in Pakistan. Fauzia gave Shahzadi the power of attorney. The young woman travelled to the area from where Hamid had gone missing and spoke to his Facebook friends and met the father of the girl to whose help Hamid had gone. The father said his daughter was married off and refused to share her contact details.
Fauzia’s application reached the human rights cell of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which in March 2014 forwarded it to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Largely owing to Shahzadi’s efforts, the commission included Hamid, an Indian citizen, in its list of missing persons. On April 10, 2014, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa home department constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to trace him.
Ongoing efforts by Shahzadi and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan led to the police in Pakistan confirming in 2015, that the ISI and military had custody of Hamid. Finally he was tried and given a three year jail term which he had already served during the course of trial. Shahzadi was detained by plain clothed officers after she meet Indian authorities in Lahore. On International Day of the Disappeared which is August 30, in 2016 Amnesty International issued a statement noting that she “is the first female journalist suspected to have been subject to an enforced disappearance in Pakistan.”
The axe of the mighty
No one knows what happened to her during these two years. Justice Javed Iqbal, who heads the Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearance mentions that no kidnapped person has ever said anything about the whereabouts of the abductors or where they were taken. It is a general notion that kidnapped people in Pakistan will say that they were blindfolded.
Zeenat’s story also disappeared from news and from the minds of the people in the course of her disappearance. Unable to withstand the loss, Shahzadi’s brother Saddam Hussain committed suicide in March last year, making her disappearance the focus of headlines again. The family is happy with her return. Salman Latif, brother of Shahzadi said that, “Helping an Indian prisoner in Pakistan has cost us dearly. My sister was missing and my younger brother, who was deeply attached to her, hanged himself after losing hope.”
Relations between the countries have been hostile traditionally. The hostilities of the government are not always reflected by the people of these two countries. Zeenat received threats from unknown sources who asked her not to pursue the case anymore. The Pakistani government agencies are saying that the people of Baluchistan have helped in rescuing her. Baluchistan is a very sensitive region in Pakistani politics. Recently, India has shown a lot of interest in Baluchistan. This statement by Pakistani government might be used to pacify the grudges of the people in Baluchistan. Partha Pratim Basu, Professor, International Relations, Jadavpur University, informed BE, “It is difficult to assume any direct repercussion of this issue on the relation between India and Pakistan. But definitely, India’s interest in Baluchistan may have some relation with the statement made by the agencies.”