An open letter to President Obama

Post Date: Dec 6th, 2010 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Dear President Obama –

Firstly, I wish to dedicate this OPEN LETTER to all those who fought militants in their country for democracy’s sake and, as a consequence, lost everything: home, family, business, friends and hope.

I am a 59 years old political activist from Pakistan. I was a businessman and an appointed member of a democratic, secular and moderate Pashtun political party [name deleted]. I was a successful trader of food grain in Peshawar for more than three decades and I enjoyed a happy family life. Thanks to my business I traveled extensively to Europe, USA, Japan and Malaysia. Our party strongly condemns the terror policies of the Taliban and those Islamic fundamentalist groups who militarized our region with our government’s secret collaboration. As a newspaper columnist I wrote hundreds of articles condemning my country’s misguided policies, both in local and English papers, in my country and abroad – which lead to several assassination attempts against my family. I was beaten close to death; my home was sprayed with bullets in the middle of the night; my car was shot at as I sped away for my life; I can’t recall how many threatening phone calls I received over the years. As is expected, these attacks cost me my business and profession. I have been in hiding for many months, unable to regain the position I one enjoyed in my community. Finally I escaped a kidnapping – which surely would have ended with my execution – only thanks to the courageous intervention of bystanders, who rallied to save my life at that deadly moment, ending ten years of political activism.

More than 400 activists and family members in my party were murdered in suicide bombings and target killings. Thousands of party workers have gone underground or abroad to save their lives and continue their protest against Pakistan’s military establishment and its conspiracy with the Afghanistan militia and Taliban who cross into our country with impunity. After a devastating attack on my family home, we were forced to leave everything behind and flee into exile. At my old age I have lost everything: my home is gone, my business collapsed and my wife is hiding in the mountains. My children have lost their education and today we all live in terror and fear. I now hide in Hong Kong together with my younger son, with no hope of seeing our family any time soon. The Consul General of the United States of America in Islamabad replied to my plea for help that regrettably he was unable to assist. Similar replies came from the Canadian and Australian Embassies, who suggested I contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Finally, I was shocked when the UNHCR mailed a letter to my home – logo and full name on the envelope – which might have cost my life since every postman then knew I was seeking political refuge! Their advice was to flee the country, as I could not seek protection in Pakistan, but had to first escape to another country to seek asylum. This is like telling a man drowning to swim to the other side of the river, if his life is in imminent danger and wants to be rescued by the United Nation!

CIA World Factbook – Pakistan:

Living in a scrap yard container
Living in a scrap yard container (freezing in winter - baking in summer)

Since Pakistan is in the grip of suicide bombings and government killings, our party is losing leaders every week. The same day I flew out of Karachi, a dear friend and member of our provincial assembly was blown up in his cars, together with a score of bodyguards – as was widely reported by BBC and CNN. He paid the ultimate price for speaking up against Pakistan’s terror policies and support of militants in our country and across the boarder in Afghanistan. I have been on the Taliban hit list longer than I care to remember. At last on January 16th, 2010 I was informed by an intelligence official that I would be murdered that very night! I was notified which members of our PF-I Peshawar constituency would be assassinated. Undoubtedly this tip-off saved my life. Seizing this opportunity, I discussed the matter with my family and we decided I would flee to Hong Kong with my younger son, as we happened to hold visas for a trade show. My family then dispersed and still hides with relatives. Tears remind us every night the price we paid for democracy.

After arriving in Hong Kong, we registered with the UNHCR and the Immigration Department, under article 3 of the “United Nation Convention against Torture”, but we do not know what fate awaits us with these two organizations. I still can’t grasp my total losses for supporting the War Against Terror. I lost everything for the sake of democracy, freedom and justice, but I wonder if it was worth it now that I am penniless, homeless and hopeless. Today I am a beggar, when I used to enjoy status and respect in my country. In my old age I am helpless even to support my adult son, who is prohibited from working here. I am entirely reliant on charities like Vision First, which bring a ray of hope into this nightmare existence, which I never expected fleeing to a developed country. I thought that having supported Western forces against terror, my personal sacrifice would be recognized and I would be granted a minimal existence. Instead I am living in a rat-infested tin hut, with inadequate sanitation, which has caused sores on my hands and feet. What about my family? They are suffering for my activism and lost father, husband, home, income, friends, education and hope in the future. They are scared and it breaks my heart to know I have caused their agony.

Therefore, I respectfully request your help on humanitarian grounds, both for me and my family, so that we may spend the remainder of our lives with some respect and dignity. We place great hope in your intervention, because we suffer for supporting the international community in the war against terror, for condemning the militants and their masters. It would be a tragedy if we were sacrificed for having chosen what was right against the forces of terror. If the civilized world fails to help people like us, then the terrorists will win this war and it will be a dreadful defeat for us who lost everything siding with the Western alliance. We wait anxiously for your positive reply. Thank you very much!

(a Vision First beneficiary)