Life in the mountains: Ajmal Khan’s time with the Taliban

Professor shares why he was possibly kidnapped and what led to his release

Umer Farooq October 15, 2014


Released in August after spending four years in Taliban captivity, Professor Ajmal Khan offers interesting insight on the men in the mountains.

“As far as I have come to know, lack of education is among the root causes of the emergence of the Taliban in Pakistan,” the vice chancellor of Islamia College University tells The Express Tribune. He says he spent the initial six months of his captivity in North Waziristan, after which he was shifted to South Waziristan. Earlier, he had told the media he spent most of his time teaching the children of his captors. Now, he reveals what he learnt during his time with the militants that the world has come to fear so much.

“They (the Taliban) don’t know what is happening in the world,” says Khan. “The government needs to provide educational and economic facilities to tribesmen. Once provided, these facilities will change the fate of the people living in the tribal areas.”

Khan’s main reservations are over primary education. “I don’t think a uniform educational policy is implementable. It is indeed a good initiative but is not sustainable, as is evident from past experiences. To teach in English, you need to have qualified and trained teachers. We don’t have such staff.”

The vice chancellor, however, seems satisfied with the standard of higher education in the province. He shares a campus of Islamia College University is already being built in Kurram Agency, adding another project will be started in North Waziristan as soon as that is completed. This, he maintains, will help tribesmen reap the benefits of quality education.

So why was this soft-spoken, unassuming professor whisked away? “I think the reasons behind picking me up could be that I was a government official as well as my family affiliation with the Awami National Party (ANP), which was in power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at the time,” he says, referring to his relationship with ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, who is his cousin. “The ANP leadership tried their level best to recover me, but a lot of things were beyond their control.”

Ajmal Khan says his eventual release was the result of the conflict between two groups of the Taliban, one led by Said Khan Sajna and the other by Shehryar Mehsud. He said the former had taken him under his wing and had told him he was free to move around but should be wary of stray bullets due to the fighting.

Khan says he met both Hakimullah Mehsud and present Taliban chief Fazlullah during his time in captivity, claiming both were “friendly”. The professor, however, says he never met Shahbaz Taseer or Ali Haider Gillani, who he said could have been under the captivity of al Qaeda. He did, on the other hand, spend over four months with Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar, best known as Colonel Imam, who was shown to be assassinated in a video released in January 2011 that also featured Hakimullah Mehsud.

“They took him (Colonel Imam) away and when he did not return the same night, I felt he could have been killed. I came to know about his assassination the next day,” Khan said. Khan himself, however, was repeatedly told he would not be harmed. And this was enough to keep the thought of meeting the same fate as Colonel Imam at bay.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2014.


Siddique | 7 years ago | Reply

Pakistan has the potential to be a massive power in the region and a global partner to the forces of good. But the only thing that stands in its way is ignorance. We need to pump at least 30% of our GDP into education and research. We have disparity in such unfathomable numbers that the nation as a whole is being kept together merely by force.

Hafeez | 7 years ago | Reply

The only solution is to consider FATA residents at par with other residents by providing constitutional rights, education and a stake in the country.

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