What went before Dr Abdul Samad’s arrest

February 17, 2019

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KP archaeology directorate head Dr Abdul Samad
KP archaeology directorate head Dr Abdul Samad

PESHAWAR: The arrest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s archaeology directorate head by the National Accountability Bureau (KP) made headlines in local dailies and electronic media.

It took seconds for media to flash the news and almost the same time to ruin the reputation of a professional and even the department that was built in recent years to promote the softer image of the terror-affected province.

Dr Abdul Samad, director of the KP archaeology and museums, who was arrested by NAB in its office finally after months and months of questioning , many long ‘meetings’ in NAB office in awkward hours that were not less than detention often took place. Psychological torture was also immense as he would be called anywhere any time. And it had been happening for almost three years or more.

Apparently, it was first a complaint of a female contractual employee who could not be re-appointed, after a panel, including Dr Abdul Samad, did not select her for the job. The nature of complaint was never known to the newly-appointed director but he had to go through a stigma of ‘sexual harassment allegations’ and financial embezzlement and other frivolous allegations. None were proved so far by any accountability body. These accountability bodies, including NAB and Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), raided his office, scanned files and did everything that they could.

Archaeologist was subjected to malicious news leaks, irksome probe techniques by NAB officers

The ACE that was out to get some dirt on him failed to find anything but with its leaks to news-hungry media did damage the image of one of the most historic monuments, Peshawar Museum. The ACE was so bent upon implicating him in a case that it sent private antique shop owners as experts to assess the authenticity of artifacts at Peshawar Museum. The officials at Peshawar Museum even feared that since the experts visited the museum reserve collection without the director’s permission or knowledge and were allegedly associated with antique business and smuggling, they were a potential threat to the museum themselves.

Dr Abdul Samad continued to do his work despite such malicious news leaks and irksome investigation techniques of the NAB officers. There were times when he was made to feel belittled despite being a government officer. In 2016, he was informed that the case was closed but later, it would resurface for probe into more aspects of his official life and more allegations would surface.

It was ironical that it was Dr Samad, who was first to compile database of sites and registered some 6,000 sites and also pushed for a comprehensive amendments to make a law to protect and preserve antiquities. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa having many archaeological remains needed staff for various sites having statues and archaeological remains worth billions of rupees.

As if the psychological torture of past few years was not enough, the man, who was recently awarded the Presidential Pride of Performance in the field of archaeology, was not only presented to the court in handcuffs but also, his family was not allowed to meet him on Saturday despite the court’s orders.

Dr Samad, a gold medalist and master’s degree holder from University of Peshawar, was awarded a DAAD German scholarship for his PhD from prestigious Freie University Berlin Germany. After teaching for sometime in a public sector university, he joined KP directorate of archaeology and museum as director in 2014.

Dr Samad has delivered many lectures on archaeology in Pakistan, Germany, Italy, UK, USA, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Oman that has inspired many foreign archaeologists and researchers to come or fund projects for joint collaborations and research in Pakistan.

Dr Samad’s research papers, his books on Hinduism and Gandhara, and in latest years, his work on the origin of Kalash and its culture has not only helped revive the interest of international researchers but has also helped build an image of this area as a ‘melting pot of cultures, religions, and civilisations’ that could attract tourists, pilgrims and researchers to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

An archaeologist of international fame, who helped push for a tighter law to protect and preserve antiquities in KP, introduced new archaeological survey techniques in Pakistan, started new techniques of archaeological excavations for Buddhist sites and his unveiling of 17,00 year old status of the ‘Sleeping Buddha’ in Bhamala (Khanpur) and some 200 new archaeological sites in Chitral valley alone are few of his efforts to protect and preserve archaeology in Pakistan, especially KP, where lack of facilities and staff at such sites is at risk of artifact smugglers and plunderers.

Yet this archaeologist was presented to the court handcuffed and his family is denied meeting with him by NAB, which has taken him in physical remand for 10 days on Friday (Feb 15). He was accused of misusing authority by employing Class-IV 9 low-grade employees like peons and watchmen at archaeological sites.

This is the story of Dr Abdul Samad and what he had to go through before this arrest. His story is going to have far-reaching implications, too. There are far more serious implications of this arrest as many young and talented officers would hesitate from signing a simple official work related file. Can the government work efficiently in this manner? The government needs to look deeply within and its investigation bodies and perhaps hold a judicial probe into who is bent upon paralysing the government that came to power with a slogan of change and why so.

A social media uproar on his arrest questions - why would any government officer or any internationally qualified expert, want to work in such a stifling environment?

Perhaps the government that shouted slogan of change needs to change the law that makes NAB officials so draconian that they could question any official error as ‘misuse of authority’.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2019