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WASHINGTON, Jan 15: Nicholas Schmidle, an American journalist who had to leave Pakistan abruptly last week, said he was deported and did not leave on his own as authorities in Islamabad claim.

Mr Schmidle told a gathering in Washington that he never felt unsafe in Pakistan until last week when security men and police officers started knocking at his door, telling him to leave the country. Mr Schmidle is the son of a US general, Maj-Gen Robert E. Schmidle Jr., who commands the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, Japan.

“It was raining real hard and the policemen said we are here to take you and your wife to the airport,” said Mr Schmidle, who returned to Washington on Saturday.

He said the police officer who came to his residence in Islamabad last Tuesday had a deportation order but it did not explain why they were ordered to leave Pakistan.

The day before, he recalled, an ISI officer had stopped by when he was not at home. “He told my security guard that my visa had been cancelled as I was writing against Pakistan,” he said.

Mr Schmidle was in Pakistan since February 2006 on a writing fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs while his wife, Rikki, was studying at the Islamic University, Islamabad.

He said he believed his article “Next-Gen Taliban” published in the New York Times on January 6 may have ticked off Pakistani officials.

“You can criticise the government as much as you want to from your arm-chair, but when you start digging out things, it’s a problem,’’ he told a gathering at Washington’s New America Foundation.

Authorities in Islamabad say that Mr Schmidle had to leave Pakistan because he did not have a journalist visa.

Mr Schmidle said that despite the troubles he had with the authorities, he had very fond memories of Pakistan and would like to go back whenever allowed to do so. His eyes lit up when talking about the hospitality the couple received in Pakistan.

“I have never experienced such hospitality before,” said his wife, Rikki. “Hospitality triumphs over everything in Pakistan… they are the best people in the world.”

He said people in Pakistan may dislike American policy but when it comes to Americans or people from anywhere else the sense of hospitality is unbelievable.

“Of course,” said the couple in one voice when asked if they would like to return to Pakistan. “Insha Allah, we will go back.”

Both Nicholas and Rikki now speak Urdu and say it was almost like a honeymoon for them as they went there just two months after their marriage.

Mr Schmidle said all the friends they made during their two-year stay in Pakistan were in tears when they left.

“It was actually more difficult to say goodbye to them than saying goodbye to my parents when I left two years ago,” he said.