A 24-year-old Pakistani journalist has been rescued two years after she went missing while investigating disappearance of an Indian citizen in 2015, the Dawn reported on Friday. The paper quoted Missing Persons Commission chief Justice Javed Iqbal confirming Zeenat Shahzadi’s recovery to the BBC. He said she was recovered on Wednesday near the Pakistan-Afghan border. Iqbal blamed some “non-state actors and enemy agencies” for kidnapping Shahzadi. He added she was recovered from them with help of tribal elders in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Shahzadi went missing after filing an application with Pakistan’s Supreme Court on behalf of missing Indian citizen Hamid Nehal Ansari’s mother, Fauzia. Ansari was sentenced to three-year imprisonment for espionage months after Shahzadi’s disappearance.
Activist Hina Jillani had in 2016 told the BBC that Shahzadi had informed her family that security agencies had “forcibly taken her away” and detained her for questioning about Ansari. Shahzadi’s brother, Saddam Hussain, had committed suicide in 2016. Her elder brother, Salman, had told the Dawn that Hussain was disturbed because of their sister’s disappearance.
In Mumbai, Fauzia said she was delighted to know about Shahzadi’s release. “I was asked earlier that between Zeenat and my son whom I would want to be released first and I had said Zeenat. Today that wish has come true. I feel relieved because somewhere I feel responsible for what she had to go through.’’
Fauzia had last spoken to Shahzadi in August 2015. The two had been in touch on daily basis before that.
“It was in Mecca when we first got in touch… seeking the God’s help to find my son. I later realised that someone was trying to get in touch with me on my phone. I called back and Zeenat introduced herself and said that she would want to help me. I told her that day that she was the answer to my prayers which it turns out she really was,” said Fauzia.
Fauzia said UK-based activist Jas Uppal had introduced her to Shahzadi as she was desperately trying to trace her son who left home in November 2012 for Afghanistan in search of a job. She later came to know that Ansari was in love with a woman in Pakistan’s Kohat region and had crossed over to prevent her marriage with another man.
Zeenat Shahzadi had travelled to Kohat and discovered that Ansari had been in police custody.
“As soon as she got the statement from the police she called me up and said that she planned to file a petition before the Human Rights Cell of the Pakistani Supreme Court about Hamid’s disappearance. She sought a power of attorney from me to act on my behalf and filed a petition on our behalf,” said Fauzia.
She said that Shahzadi would travel for hearings from Lahore to Islamabad.
Shahzadi’s perseverance along with efforts of local Pakistani lawyers paid off when in January 2016 police in Pakistan told the Peshawar High Court that they had detained Ansari in 2012 and handed him over to intelligence officials.
“She would inquire about my health and ask me not to worry. She knew that I would fast and pray for her every time she stepped out of her house to attend a hearing. She would diligently call me in the night to say that she had reached home and I should stop praying and rest as well,” said Fauzi, who teaches at a Mumbai college.