By Malik Siraj Akbar
I have been deeply perturbed by the news that Sajid Hussain, one of the most exceptional Baluch editors, has gone missing since March 2. It is ironic and tragic that Sajid had left Pakistan because he feared that his work as a journalist that involved reporting on the drug mafia and other players in the prolonged insurgency in Baluchistan, would land him in trouble. Sajid, who in 2015 founded the Balochistan Times, an online magazine with a wealth of information and unique perspectives on Baluchistan, had recently been granted political asylum in Sweden. What good is the asylum that eventually leads to one’s disappearance?
Three weeks after the Baluch journalist’s disappearance, the Swedish authorities have not publicized any information about Sajid’s whereabouts, which has understandably added to his family’s concerns and anxiety. Sajid has a wide readership among people who read stuff on Baluchistan. Those who want a balanced account of things related to Baluchistan and want an accurate analysis turn to him. Hence, it was natural for his readers to start wondering what happened to Sajid and why he suddenly stopped writing and recording his popular podcast on Baluchistan. As speculations increased, his family was ultimately compelled to go public to break the tragic news that Sajid has gone missing.
“Missing? How can someone go missing in Sweden?” that’s one reaction I have heard from most people who have heard the news. “Sweden is not Pakistan. You can’t simply go missing.” Now that’s too much faith people in Baluchistan have in a country like Sweden that has kindly been granting political asylum to professionals like Sajid that fear for their lives in their home countries.
Sajid seems an introvert but he is unstoppable when he writes. In his writings, he is a scrupulous observer of human behavior, shares even the least noticeable details of an interaction or an event. Sajid is brutally honest. He is opinionated but neutral. He is equally generous or stingy in his praise for the government or the opposition. They don’t dictate the flow of his thoughts or his writings. It often seems that he writes for himself as if he is writing a journal. After all, who can so honestly put all of their naivety, innocence, and vulnerabilities in public in one article? Sajid does. His writings are also punctuated with an abundance of literary references, anecdotes, and historical and cultural attributions.
Despite my deep admiration for Sajid’s work for years, we never met in Pakistan.
We met for the first time on March 25, 2012, in Washington, D.C., when he had been selected for East-West Center’s Pakistan-United States Journalists Exchange Program. He spoke eloquently on a panel on US-Pakistan relations and the role of the media. His first reaction seeing me was somewhat poetic and philosophical: “There is nothing better than meeting a son of soil on foreign land,” he said. We sat down and chatted until midnight. While he was relieved that I had left Baluchistan, which by then had become a graveyard for journalists, he shared his own safety concerns how difficult it had become for him to work as a Baluch journalist even in Karachi. We discussed several options for him to take a temporary break from the dangerous environment by either applying for a professional fellowship or moving abroad to earn a degree until the dust around the Baluchistan armed conflict settles down.
Later on, Sajid moved from country to country. Before ending up in Sweden, he spent time in Uganda and Oman. When you leave your country and go abroad, no matter how fantastic a professional you were back home. You always start a new life as if you are a newborn baby. You will be required to start from zero. You will have to learn the local language, the culture, make new friends, connections and networks, adapt to the new culture and assimilate. It is not always easy. It’s professionally frustrating. The degrees and skillsets you take with you to the new country often do not match the local needs and requirements. For an asylum-seeker, there is only one path ahead: go back to school and prepare for the job market of your new country.
Sajid, too, decided to go to school there although he had already earned a master’s degree in economics from Karachi University several years ago. Unfortunately, he disappeared the day he moved to his hostel in Uppsala University.
The Swedish authorities must do whatever they can to recover Sajid because his survival is vital to the whole of Baluchistan. He is not an individual but an extraordinary contributor to Baluchistan’s media landscape. His writings help his readers get a glimpse inside the Baluch society and understand its culture and politics. There are very few credible and qualified journalists like Sajid from Baluchistan. Being a journalist and a writer in Baluchistan is somewhat a call for a suicide mission but there are people like him who so religiously believe in the idea and the power of journalism and exchange of ideas that they are willing to pay any price of telling stories of those who don’t have a voice.
Dawn, Pakistan’s most respected English language newspaper, rightly reported on March 30, that Sajid’s friends and acquaintances “are shocked to learn that he has been missing from Swedish city Upsalla for nearly a month without a trace.” The News International, another leading national daily, quoted Saeed Sarbazi, Karachi Press Club’s vice-president, as saying that the news of Sajid’s missing has “depressed the journalist community in Pakistan.” He added that journalist groups in Pakistan strongly urged the Swedish government to deal with Hussain’s disappearance with utmost urgency. BBC Urdu quoted Talat Aslam, Sajid’s former boss and the Senior Editor at The News, as describing Sajid as a “talented and competent person.”
The Swedish authorities must inform Sajid’s family, friends, and readers what happened to him. His family has waited for three weeks to hear good news about him. It’s time they did.