Declan Walsh at Karachi Literature Festival. — Dawn.com photo
KARACHI, May 13: A day after arriving in London via a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Lahore, Declan Walsh, the expelled New York Times’ Pakistan bureau chief, is reeling from the heavy-handed treatment he received during his final hours in the country and still unsure why he was asked to leave Pakistan.
In an interview with Dawn on Monday, Walsh said: “I wish I knew why I was told to leave Pakistan. ‘Undesirable activities’ is so broad as to be virtually meaningless.”
“We asked this question repeatedly at every level of the government: spokesmen, section heads, ambassadors, generals, ministers,” Walsh continued. “Some offered vague suggestions but nothing concrete, appearing as embarrassed and as bewildered as I was. Others were silent.”
The veteran correspondent’s ordeal began last Thursday, just hours before he was set to leave for Lahore to cover the weekend’s general election.
“The police came to my house (in Islamabad) after midnight with a plain-clothes officer who said he was with the Special Branch, bearing a letter from the Interior Ministry. I opened the letter in front of them. Then they asked me to sign a delivery receipt, we shook hands and off they went,” Walsh explained.
He continued, “Two days later, with the clock ticking on my 72-hour deadline, it became clear that the decision could not be reversed. I went to Lahore to cover the elections on my last day in Pakistan, where I was detained at a military checkpost and questioned extensively.”
After being questioned at the military checkpost, matters began to quickly deteriorate. “I was released and went to a friend’s house, where men identifying themselves as belonging to the ‘security services’ turned up and demanded I come with them to the airport — even though the 72-hours had not expired, and my flight was 11 hours away,” Walsh recounted.
After being told that as an “anti-state element” he could not stay in a Pakistani citizen’s home, Walsh negotiated with the officials who agreed to take him to the Avari Hotel, where he was kept under virtual room arrest until he left for the airport to catch the 6am PIA flight to London.