On Friday afternoon, July 16, Selsela Alikhel, daughter of Najibullah Alikhel, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, was abducted by unknown men in Islamabad. The incident drew nationwide reactions. Even, the Taliban reacted against it. Pakistani officials, particularly the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, immediately responded with promises to launch a comprehensive investigation into it.
To PM Khan’s instruction, Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, Pakistan’s interior minister, concluded his investigation on July 20 that “this was not a kidnapping case” but a conspiracy by the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, to “defame” Pakistan. “There has been no kidnapping,” he said. “I want to tell the entire nation, this is an international racket, an international conspiracy, this is the agenda of RAW,” the Pakistani official was quoted as saying.
Rashid’s remarks further worsened the relations between Kabul and Islamabad with each side accusing the other of making unprofessional comments. Subsequently, the two countries recalled their ambassadors and diplomats to their capitals.
Who is Selsela?
Selsela is daughter of Najibullah Alikhel, who is Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan. She did her school studies in Kabul and Austria. When his father was appointed as ambassador to Hungary, Selsela enrolled and got her bachelor’s degree from Corvinus University of Budapest. After getting her bachelor’s degree, Selsela started studying master’s degrees in the field of international security at Science Po Universisty in Paris, France, and in war and peace studies at Freice University.
When the Afghan government appointed Mr. Alikhel as ambassador to Pakistan and with imposition of Covid-19 related restrictions, Selsela traveled to Pakistan to visit her family and continued her university studies through distance learning. She wanted to return to Europe but her abduction disturbed her plan. It also worsened relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
“This time, it’s your turn”
It was around 02:00 PM when Selsela left her residence for shopping at a nearby market. She spent 10-minutes shopping and then takes a taxi. On the way, the taxi driver picks up another person. Selsela objects to it but gets scolded and beaten up physically in return by the newly picked up guy.
Around 06:00 PM, the same day, the ambassador’s daughter finds herself in an abandoned (slum) area with her clothes torn and muddy. Then, she goes to a nearby park and calls back to the secretary of the Afghan ambassador to help her return to her residence.
According to details shared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan and medical tests taken from Selsela in Pakistan and Turkey, the kidnappers have tortured her while she fainted with tied hands and feet. Then the kidnappers have opened up her hands and feet and leave her in the slum area with a SIM-less mobile phone and a 50 Pakistani Rupees banknote. The abductors also threatened, apparently addressing the Afghan ambassador, writing “this time, it’s your turn” on the banknote in Pashto language.
Medical tests, however, have suggested that Selsela has not been raped. Moreover, she is now suffering from trauma of the incident and often sees nightmares.
In reaction to Selsela’s kidnap and torture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called back the Afghan ambassador and all diplomats from Pakistan. The ministry stated that the diplomats were recalled until all the threats are removed and those who kidnapped the ambassador’s daughter get arrested and brought to justice.
First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, said that it wasn’t the first case of its kind committed against diplomats in Pakistan. “Harassment of diplomats/ local staff with integrity who reject collaboration is in the menu of Islamabad agencies,” he wrote in a tweet posted on July 18.
“Our national psyche has been tortured,” the vice president said about the torture of Selsela in Islamabad.
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation and former president, Hamid Karzai, described Selsela’s abduction as shocking and condemned it in the strongest terms. Ensuring the security of the diplomats and their families lies with the host countries, as stipulated in international conventions, and such incidents perplex the public opinion, he warned in a statement.
Director of Government Media and Information Center, Dawa Khan Menapal, meanwhile, blamed the Taliban for the incident, arguing that whatever Pakistan did was to promote its proxy force, the Taliban.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban member, also described the abduction of the ambassador’s daughter as something hurting the dignity of all the Afghans.
“Abduction of an Afghan girl in Pakistan is against Islam and humanity. We condemn it with the strongest terms,” Mohammad Naeem, spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said on twitter about Selsela’s abduction. Furthermore, he called on the Pakistani government to accelerate efforts to arrest and punish the perpetrators.
When the incident came under the media spotlight and elicited widespread reactions, Pakistan PM assigned the country’s interior minister, Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, to arrest the abductors within 24 hours. The minister was appointed as head of the fact-finding committee. The committee concluded its investigation within the 24-hour, reporting that the ambassador’s daughter was not abducted. The Pakistani minister said that they have found the incident was a conspiracy to “defame” Pakistan.
The Afghan foreign minister, Mohammad Haneef Atmar, however, termed Rashid’s remarks as premature and unprofessional in a phone conversation with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
What are unprofessional remarks?
According to the details shared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the police and those Pakistani officials assigned to sue Selsela’s abduction case, have interrogated Selsela in an unprofessional way just by developing repeated and unrelated questions without collecting the required evidence.
A six-member investigation team has tried to portray a reverse picture of Selsela’s abduction and torture by pressuring the victim. According to the shared details, the investigation team has concluded falsely that Selsela has been to different places at the same hour and time in hot weather of 40 to 45 Celsius degrees and has traveled around the city with three taxis for five hours.
Selsela, however, rejects it saying that she has gone to a nearby market to buy a key-holder for her younger brother and the shopping has last only ten minutes.
Reiterating on acceleration of prosecuting Selsela’s abduction case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that a delegation is supposed to travel to Islamabad this week to conduct a joint investigation and share details regarding the case, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry further stressed that no reason could justify the criminal act which is undeniable considering the medical tests and evidence.
Pakistan’s government is obliged, in line with the international treaties, to ensure full security and safety for the Afghan diplomatic missions, the Afghan diplomats, and their families, the ministry added.
The neighborhood where Selsela was abducted is a diplomatic and highly secured area. Ambassadors, their families, and diplomats from European countries walk freely without any security guards. They even walk and some go to markets, restaurants, parks, sport complexes, and around the city by bicycles without security men. The same is true about Afghan diplomats. They have not found the need to have bodyguards anytime in the past and the host government has never asked for such security measures for the Afghan diplomats as well.
Given that highly secure environment, the Afghan officials look to Selsela’s abduction case as an organized crime, demanding a comprehensive investigation into the case.