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“I didn’t realise how time went by” — Ajmal Khan

The vice chancellor of Islamia College University Peshawar, who returned home after almost four years in Taliban's captivity, speaks about his time as a hostage

“I didn’t realise how time went by” — Ajmal Khan

Ajmal Khan, the 65-year-old Vice Chancellor of Islamia College University Peshawar, returned home on August 28, 2014 after almost four years in the captivity of Taliban. He was kidnapped on September 8, 2010.

Ajmal Khan is the son of Obaidullah Khan and grandson of Abdul Jabbar Khan, commonly known as Dr Khan Sahib, who served as the chief minister of the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkwha) before Pakistan’s Independence. Dr Khan Sahib was the elder brother of freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly called Bacha Khan.

Ajmal Khan started teaching after completing his Masters in Economics. While teaching, he pursued his law degree at the historic Edwardes College in 1973. He has served as the Principal of Islamia College Peshawar and also as the Vice Chancellor of Gomal University, Dera Ismail Khan.

He spoke to TNS in the presence of many guests who had come to felicitate him on his safe return home.

The News on Sunday (TNS): What were your feelings when you came to know about your release?

Ajmal Khan (AK): I was informed a few days before of the release. I was given the same indication twice or thrice in the past — but my release would not materialise. I had told myself not to believe in my release until I reached home. But, it turned out to be true this time.

I was so happy to see my family. I did not recognise some of my grandchildren and had to ask for their names. It is like getting a new life.

TNS: Can you recall the day of your abduction?

AK: I was leaving for office in the morning with my driver when a car drove in front of us just a short distance from my house. It stopped at the end of the street and some people swiftly came out of it. A man pointed a pistol at my driver and told him to sit in the back seat with me. Another man injected some substance in my left arm. My driver was given an injection in his right thigh. Our abductors drove us off quickly and the last thing I remember before I fell unconscious was someone putting a burqa on my head.

When I regained consciousness, it was afternoon and we were travelling in some mountainous area. At one point, we were made to walk and had to change two vehicles before arriving at a house later that evening at an unknown destination.

Once Hakimullah Mehsud asked me about my family and I told him I had five daughters and no son. Hakimullah…kept silent for sometime and then asked me if I would be interested in getting married in Waziristan — so I could have a son.

TNS: What were you told by your abductors on your arrival there?

AK: They said they had no enmity with me and that I was kidnapped for ransom. I did not know where we had been taken but later we came to know we were somewhere in South Waziristan Agency. I was shifted from one place to another. In the early days, I spent less than a week at one position, later I stayed up to five months at a particular place.

TNS: How were you treated during captivity?

AK: The kidnappers handed me over to the TTP. Initially I was confined to a single room. After some time, I was allowed to walk inside the house and at times even stroll outside. Things changed completely when my captors handed me over to fighters from the Khan Said Sajna group. His fighters told me to consider myself a free man with no restrictions. They called me “baba” out of respect and told me that I would be released once the situation in Waziristan was peaceful enough for me to safely go back home.

TNS: What happened to your previous captors who surrendered to Khan Said Sajna group?

AK: They had become friends as we spent a lot of time together. They were put in a tunnel-turned-prison after their surrender. I visited them occasionally and I used to pity them. It was unbelievable that once I was in their captivity and then I saw them behind bars — while I was almost a free man.

TNS: How did you keep yourself busy in detention?

AK: To tell you the truth, I didn’t realise how time went by so fast. I believe it is all due to the prayers of my well wishers. I kept myself busy in prayers, supplications and recitation of the holy Quran. I taught the holy Quran and elementary studies to some children for a few months before I was shifted to a different place.

TNS: Any incidents you would like to recall from your captivity?

AK: There are many interesting incidents. Once Hakimullah Mehsud asked me about my family and I told him I had five daughters and no son. Hakimullah and all his men kept silent for sometime before Hakimullah asked me if I would be interested in getting married in Waziristan — so I could have a son. I told him I am 61, and too old to get married. I also told him I might be going home soon. After many months though, I joked with my captors that I should have accepted the offer as I was not going home soon. I narrated this to my wife and daughters and it made them laugh.

Then there was a little boy who used to bring me goat milk. He started to come daily and listen to my recitation of the Quran. I asked him if he wanted to learn and he jumped at the offer. Before I was moved to a new place, the boy was into fourth ‘para’ of the Quran.

One day a Taliban told me that the boy’s mother had asked him if the money she could raise by selling her cattle head would be enough to pay for my freedom. I was moved that even people in the area of my captivity wanted my safe return.

TNS: Were you provided medicines for your heart disease and did you come across any life threatening heart issues during your captivity?

AK: I was regularly provided with my prescribed medicines. There were no doctors in the area. Luckily I did not experience any serious cardiac problems. However, I faced problems when there were delays in supply of medicine.

TNS: You still have some time left in your service. When do you intend to go back to work?

AK: I want to go back to work on September 8. It has been many years that I haven’t done teaching. I have 23 months left in the extension in service given to me and I want to spend each day of this time to spread knowledge.

TNS: Do you plan to write a book about your time in captivity?

AK: Yes, I want to write a book about the events of the past four years. I want to start work on it soon.

TNS: What in your view should be done for the areas where you were kept captive?

AK: The area and its people are poor. The government should focus on development of the infrastructure there. I wish that the light of education should spread in those areas. I remember many people told that the Pir Ghar mountain in their area is the highest in the world. They were amazed when I told them about Mount Everest and K2. Those people need education and in my capacity as Vice Chancellor Islamia College University I would try to have branch of Islamia College Peshawar set up there with the support of the government. If asked, I would step forward to take the initiative of educating the people of Waziristan.

Arshad Yusufzai

The writer is a Peshawar based freelance journalist and has worked for Voice of America and The ICRC. Connect with him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ayusufzai.

One comment

  • Nice article…

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