New York: Gulalai Ismail, a Pakistani women’s rights activist on the run, who managed to escape Pakistan to seek political asylum in the United States, is now the new face of hope for the many oppressed minorities of the Islamic country. On Friday morning, Ismail appeared on the busy streets of New York voicing the atrocities against minorities in Pakistan.
Just a month old in the city, Ismail highlighted the plight and miseries that minorities are facing for decades in Pakistan.
Gulalai joined the Muhajirs, Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis and many other minorities protesting outside the United Nations headquarters while Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s addressed the UN General Assembly. Many protesters were seen holding placards and chanting slogans including ‘No more blank Cheques for Pakistan’ and “Pakistan army stop meddling in politics.’
“Innocent Pashtuns were killed in Pakistan in the name of eradicating terrorism. Thousands of people are jailed in internment centres and torture cells of the Pakistani Army,” she said during a protest against Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in New York.
“Our demand is to end the human rights violations by the Pakistani military immediately. They should release the people who are still locked up in torture cells. But we are accused of terrorism if we raise our voices against them. There’s a dictatorship in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province by the Pakistani military establishment,” said Gulalai Ismail, a rights activist who was forced to flee Pakistan after being accused of treason.
Ismail said that she is worried about her family and the “underground network” that helped her escape from Pakistan.
“I am still worried about my parents back home and the underground network that secretly protected me when I escaped,” Gulalai told ANI.
“Pakistani establishment used all its machinery against me so that they can suppress my voice so that they can torture me. They have pressurised my family so that they can stand against me. However, despite all this, my whole family stood by me. And to torture me they have levied fake charges on my father and my mother,” she added.
A few days ago, the activist, in an interview with Afghan journalist Bashir Ahmad Gwakh of Mashaal Radio, said she was hiding in Pakistan for nearly six months and travelled to Sri Lanka with the help of her friends before leaving for the US.
Ismail took the baton to highlight incidents of sexual abuse by Pakistani security forces. Following her crusade against the atrocities committed on country’s women, she was slapped with treason charges.
The 32-year old rights activist managed to slip through the dragnet last month and is now staying with her sister in Brooklyn in New York. She has also applied for political asylum in the US.
Even though she has been able to escape to America, she is still worried about her parents and people who helped her during the days of hiding.
“Pakistan thinks that the US Department of State will force me to leave the US along with my family. But, I will continue my struggle in the US,” Ismail told Mashaal Radio.
In a country like Pakistan, where criticism of the military is frowned upon, Ismail campaigned vigorously for women’s rights, bringing attention to rapes, disappearances and other abuses that she and many others say have been committed by the country’s security forces.
Ismail became a fugitive in May in her country, soon after she posted accusations on social media against Pakistani soldiers.
In her posts on Facebook and Twitter, she had accused soldiers of raping and sexually abusing Pakistani women.
The woman right activist also took part in the ethnic Pashtun movement. The movement headed by Manzoor Pashteen has now become another headache for the Pakistani Army, whose heavy-handed techniques to crush the movement has failed miserably.
“There are misconceptions about Pashtuns in America that needs to be fixed. From there, I will be fighting and the world will know that Pashtuns are the victims of war,” said Ismail.
Human rights defenders believe that the charges of treason against her were false and that she was being targeted for pointing out the blatant abuses committed by the Pakistani military.
Ismail has been barred by the Pakistani government from leaving the country.
In November last year, Pakistan-based media outlet Dawn reported that the Islamabad High Court was informed that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had recommended putting Ismail’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) for her alleged anti-state activities abroad.
However, the court had ordered the removal of her name from the list following a petition by Ismail challenging the government’s decision to put her name on the ECL. But, the court allowed the interior ministry to take appropriate action, including confiscation of her passport, in the light of recommendations made by ISI.
Ever since she was 16, Ismail has been speaking out about human rights abuses, focusing on the plight of Pakistani women and girls who suffer all kinds of horrors including forced marriages and honour killings. Gulalai is waiting on her asylum application in the United States. Lawyers said that there was little chance that the United States would send her back to Pakistan.