Jarin Jahan, The TBH Desk
On Sunday 26 November, at 4:35pm, in the sleepy town of Royston in Hertfordshire, UK, around 50 miles away from London, Shahzad Akbar heard a knock on his door.
He responded, thinking this was a normal Amazon delivery time, whereupon some coward threw sulphuric acid at his face. His large glasses probably saved his eyesight.
A fire engine then soaked Shahzad with a hose and, for the first time, Addenbrookes hospital had to use the procedure put in place after the alleged Russia’s attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal with the nerve agent, novichok.
Official involvement by members of the Pakistan government in this despicable act is sadly rendered obvious from recent history: Shahzad was a minister in the government of Imran Khan, told to root out corruption. This did not make him popular with those who are corrupt.
When Khan was deposed, Shahzad left the country rather than face the fate of Arshad Sharif, the journalist whose strident criticism of corruption apparently prompted his assassination.
The “isolated incident’
Shahzad went to the UK where he and his young family are legal residents, and where he continued to pursue the human rights work that first made us friends. But Shahzad was pursued to Royston.
Khan, who became politician from a popular cricketer, is currently facing over 200 charges ranging from blasphemy to treason.
Clive Stafford Smith, an American human rights lawyer based in England ,with whom, Shahzad Akbar brought the litigation that helped end the illegal drone strikes by US, the most trusted ally of US on Pakistan soil, wrote an article on the acid attack.
According to Smith, one of the prosecutors want Shahzad to testify against his old boss – but he has pointed out time and again that their version of events would require him to commit perjury.
This did not deter those whose vision of the ‘rule of law’ is apparently to break it. In May, they kidnapped Shahzad’s brother Murad.
For a few days, officials insisted falsely in court that they knew nothing about it, until an assistant to the prime minister told a press conference that he was “inviting” Shahzad to come back to Pakistan, whereupon his brother could be freed and even given his medication.
Smith further writes, it was obvious to anyone in England that this constituted the old-fashioned crime of ‘hostage taking’, practised more often by Middle Eastern terror groups than a supposedly friendly government.
The Hatfield police therefore initiated a criminal complaint and this compelled the British police to have a quiet word with Islamabad, telling the perpetrators to behave.
Murad was released, and the kidnappers should have learned that they simply cannot do this kind of thing and expect the Hertfordshire constabulary to turn a blind eye. It seems that the lesson went unheeded, Smith added.
After few days of the incident In a post in Urdu on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Akbar said “the attacker threw an acid solution on me and ran away”.
“I will not be intimidated nor bow down to those who are doing this,” he said in another post in English.
But The Hertfordshire police believed that it was an isolated incident. They said “It is believed an acidic solution was used. A 46-year-old man received hospital treatment and has now been discharged. The safety of any victim is paramount and we believe this is an isolated incident. Active enquiries are underway. Anyone who witnessed the incident or has any information which could assist with our investigation is asked to please contact police.”
‘We know where you are’
Two weeks ago, the Pakistan high commission sent Shahzad an irrelevant letter, merely to show they had found his home address.
The police sources – and Shahzad Akbar – also confirmed that he had written to the police around two weeks ago complaining that he felt threatened because his new address in Royston was known to the Pakistani government. Imran Khan’s former advisor did so after receiving a letter from the Cabinet Division asking questions about his role in the £190 million NCA properties settlement case and Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi’s Al-Qadir Trust.
Akbar said: “I have been in touch with the UK agencies (Police, National Crime Agency (NCA), intelligence services) after my brother was arrested in Pakistan and kept in custody for many months. The letter two weeks ago came to my new address which was shocking for me because it was a clear message from the Pakistan government that my location is known. So the police already knew about this matter. What was the need to send me a letter at my new address when letters were being served at my Islamabad address.”
A source linked with the government with full knowledge of the ongoing cases said it’s a legal requirement to serve legal papers on the accused’s known address to fulfil legal requirements. Shahzad Akbar holds evidence and documents in the £190 million corruption case and he took away these state-owned papers and refused to cooperate with the inquiry, said the source. Shahzad Akbar denies this.
Within 12 hours of this outrage, the authorities in Pakistan underlined their intent by raiding Shahzad’s house in Islamabad, trying to seize his brother Murad once again.
All this is simply barbaric, and should shock the people of Pakistan. Shahzad’s four-year old daughter avoided a dousing in acid purely by chance. She had been waiting eagerly in the doorway, hoping the knock heralded a delivery for her birthday.
Before this, the local police had rated the danger to Shahzad as ‘LOW’ because nobody in England could believe that Pakistan would be stupid enough to carry out a political crime on British soil. But now the Hertfordshire police already have plenty of intelligence pointing to official Pakistan involvement in the attempt on Shahzad Akbar.