Where is Ahmad Farhad? The mysterious case of Pakistan’s missing poet

Farhad has been missing for a week. His family blames Pakistan’s spy agency. The government denies it is holding him. Now a court wants him found this week.

Ahmad Farhad with his wife Syeda Rooj Zainab [Courtesy of Urooj Zainab]By Abid HussainPublished On 22 May 202422 May 2024

Islamabad, Pakistan — A missing poet. A desperate family. A powerful security apparatus. And a court trying to decode conflicting claims in order to dispense justice. Those are the ingredients of a case that has grabbed Pakistan’s attention this week.

Hours after Ahmad Farhad, who is also a journalist, went missing on the night of May 14, his family petitioned the Islamabad High Court (IHC), alleging that he had been “disappeared” from outside his home in the capital, Islamabad, by the country’s powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for his criticism of authorities.

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Pakistan’s government has said that Farhad is not in the custody of the ISI. But on Tuesday, the court demanded that security forces produce Farhad within four days, warning that it might otherwise summon senior government officials for a grilling.

So who is Farhad, how did he go missing, why is the court intervening and what has it said – and what is Farhad’s family saying?

Who is Ahmad Farhad?

Previously associated with various media outlets, including Bol News, Farhad was recently working as a freelance journalist and frequently reported on the recent antigovernment protests in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The 38-year-old, who is originally from the Bagh district of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, is also known for his strong criticism of the country’s powerful establishment, a euphemism for Pakistan’s army.

Syeda Urooj Zainab, his wife, told Al Jazeera that her husband had said he was under pressure from government agencies for several months due to his perceived support for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is currently imprisoned on various charges he denies. Pakistan’s government and military accuse Khan’s supporters of orchestrating a violent attack on state institutions in May 2023 after the former PM was arrested.

Zainab said her husband’s ultimate loyalty was to human rights, not any party. “My husband has always stood for human rights regardless of any affiliation. He used to protest in support of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) when they were under pressure by the establishment, and he has refused to change his principles,” she added.

PMLN is the party of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his elder brother Nawaz Sharif, himself a three-time former prime minister. The PMLN, when it was in the opposition and the PTI was in power between 2018 and 2022, accused the military of cracking down on it – just as the PTI under Khan has accused security forces of doing since 2022. The military has denied the allegations of the PTI, and previously rejected the charges of the PMLN.

When did Farhad go missing and what was the reason?

Zainab says her husband of six years was returning home after a dinner late on Tuesday night when four men grabbed him outside the gate of the house and dragged him into a car.

“It was past midnight on [May 15], when four men, wearing dark-coloured clothes, pushed him in a big four-wheel-drive vehicle as they all sped away,” she said, adding that three other vehicles were also part of the group.

According to Zainab, her husband had told her about possible risks to his life due to his political commentary and reporting on the issues in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“He had told me that his instincts are telling him his life might be at risk due to his commentary on what is happening in his hometown. But he was clear in his view that the establishment has been after him for a long time,” she said.

She added that two days after the alleged abduction, she was contacted by Farhad through his WhatsApp asking her to withdraw her petition in the court in return for his recovery.

Ahmad Farhad is a poet and a freelance journalist in Islamabad who went missing last week [Courtesy of Rooj Zainab]

“I could tell he was being coerced into sending the message. He asked me to withdraw my petition, and he would return home. He also said he is away for some private business, but it was clearly a forced statement” she said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the country’s prominent human rights body, has condemned Farhad’s disappearance and demanded his urgent release.

What has the court said so far?

The court, in its hearing on Monday, ordered the police to find the missing poet promptly, warning that it might otherwise summon the defence secretary to appear before it.

In its written order issued on Monday, the court also instructed the police to “investigate the allegations with reference to the officials of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) by recording the statement of officials”. Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, the IHC judge hearing the case, has said the government needed to change people’s perception of state institutions which are accused of abducting people.

But a defence ministry official on Monday informed the court that Farhad is not being held by the ISI. Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal, representing the government, told the court on Monday that Farhad was not being held captive by the intelligence agency and assured the judge that he would be found soon.

The judge had, in an earlier hearing, said that in the event of state authorities’ failure to recover the missing poet, the court would summon the prime minister.

The country has a chequered history of enforced disappearances, with Pakistan’s military and its intelligence agencies being accused of orchestrating abductions of critics and politicians.

But Zainab, Farhad’s wife, told Al Jazeera she was optimistic about her husband’s return after the court’s intervention.

Source: Al Jazeera