Daughter of missing Pashtun activist lambasts Pakistan for silencing dissidents

Peshawar [Pakistan], May 15 (ANI): Talia Khattak, daughter of a prominent human rights defender Idris Khattak, has lambasted Pakistan for silencing dissidents.

"You can disappear my father. But you cannot disappear his bravery," she told the Amnesty International.

56-year-old Idris Khattak is an activist associated with the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch and has also been affiliated with the National Party. At the time of his abduction, his driver was also detained. The driver has since been released by the abductors.

Khattak has worked on the documentation of human rights abuses in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now known as "ex-FATA".

"My father, Idris Khattak, a devoted human rights defender and the most selfless man I know, disappeared on 13 November 2019. I have not heard from him. No one has any idea where he could be," Talia told Amnesty.

She added: "The day before my father disappeared, he told me he was worried. He was reluctant to let me take the train to Karachi. The railways are not safe, he had said, and that he had a bad feeling. We reached a compromise that he would call me every hour to check on me."

"I remember wondering how he thought a phone call would save me if the train really had crashed and burned. I realise now that it was one of the small gestures that parents make when they don't know what else to do. I recognise it because now all I want is to do the same for him. Call him every hour to make sure he is okay," said Talia.

In Pakistan, enforced disappearances have been used as a tool to muzzle dissent and criticism of the state. People are abducted by the very institutions that are supposed to protect them and placed outside the law. There is no arrest warrant, no record, no investigation - as if the person never existed.

She said: "My father reported on them regularly, gathering first-hand information for human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch."

"I had boarded the train, and almost forgotten about my father's promise of calling me. When I reached Lahore after nearly five hours, I glanced at my phone to see no missed calls from him. Puzzled, I called him. He answered to say he was very busy and that he would be staying with his friends for a few days. He also added, strangely, that his phone was almost out of battery and he had left his charger at home," said the daughter of the missing activist.

"I tried not to make much of it," she recalled.

Talia said: "When I did not hear from him for the next few days, I started to panic. I would call his dead phone incessantly. I spoke to my aunt, who assured me he was fine and said that she had just spoken to him. I was confused but I believed her. My uncle asked me if I could stay on in Karachi for a few days. I sensed a restrained urgency in his tone as I laughed and asked him who would take my exams if I decided to stay back."

Shocked with the abduction of her father, Talia said: "It was only on my way back to Islamabad on the train where I got a text message from my friend telling me he was sorry that my father had been abducted. I stared at the phone. How could someone joke about something like that?"

"I suppose in that moment, you let outrage overcome the sinking feeling that your worst fear might be coming true, to survive. I moved to an open door on the coach, my hands shaking and heart racing. I cried all the way until the next station. I had no idea who to call or if I even wanted to confirm the news. When I had eventually gathered myself, I asked him how he knew what had happened to Papa. He sent me a screenshot of a news article," she recalled.

Talia told Amnesty: "My family had been trying to protect me. Papa had been missing for five days already before I found out the horrible truth that he had, after years of reporting on enforced disappearances, been disappeared himself."

"When someone you love gets taken away from you, it catches you by surprise on some days and on others, it is all you can think of. I believed Papa would be home in three days. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Like so many others who have been taken away from their families, you never lose count of the days. You hope every morning when you wake up that that is the day where you finally stop counting. I look at pictures of Papa, and the only dream of him walking into the room to be with us again. Like thousands of other families in Pakistan", she said.

Talia said, "There is so much anger to hold on to. At the indifference from the police to the swings and roundabouts of the courtroom. My father is not a case file. He is a human being who cannot be wiped away like an inconvenient streak of dirt. He is a person, with the people who are looking for him. We deserve answers, and he deserves the protection of the law."

"It is also easy to sink into hopelessness. But then I think of what he would do in a situation like this for someone else. He would be brave, and that strength is something that no one will ever be able to disappear," she said.

Pakistan human rights defenders say that at least 5,000 people have been victims of enforced disappearances in the country since 2014 -- almost three people each day disappearing during the last five years. (ANI)