In news that will prove embarrassing to the Imran Khan government and Pakistan military, a popular woman human rights activist has fled the country and sought asylum in the US.
Gulalai Ismail (32) reached the US last month, The New York Times reported on Thursday. Gulalai, an ethnic Pashtun, had been on “the run” from Pakistani authorities since May after they accused her of treason for highlighting human rights abuses by the Pakistan military. Gulalai told Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty she had reached the US via Sri Lanka.
Gulalai had started campaigning on the issue of human rights as a teenager. She had been in the cross-hairs of the Pakistan Army following her association with the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM). The PTM has chronicled what it claims are the Pakistan Army's human rights abuses and disproportionate use of force during operations in the militancy-affected tribal regions of the country.
Gulalai had given a speech at a rally organised by the PTM in Swabi, a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in August 2018. During the rally, Gulalai had made several allegations against the Pakistan Army. Immediately after the rally, Gulalai was among 19 PTM supporters booked by the authorities for the event.
In November 2018, Gulalai was detained by officials at the Islamabad Airport and her passport was confiscated and she was placed on an 'exit control list', barring her from leaving Pakistan. In January, Gulalai had alleged on social media that Pakistan Army soldiers had raped and abused many women. She has also campaigned on the issue of women's rights and honour killings in the country.
Gulalai won the Anna Politkovskaya Award in 2017 for campaigning against religious extremism. Gulalai also started an advocacy group, Voices for Peace and Democracy, that works to protect women in conflict zones.
Gulalai declined to tell mediapersons further details of how exactly she escaped from Pakistan, noting it would endanger several persons who helped her. However, Gulalai vowed that she would continue her campaign for improving human rights in Pakistan.
"The reason why I left was to continue my struggle. I have already fought for the democratic rights of our people for 15 years and I will continue," Gulalai told Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.
Gulalai's bid for asylum appears to have got a boost after Democrat Senator Charles Schumer assured that he would support her. Schumer told The New York Times, “I will do everything I can to support Gulalai’s asylum request. It is clear that her life would be in danger if she were to return to Pakistan.”