Desi Back to Desh

Between airports, airplanes and transit lounges

The Faisal Chohan Posts – I

Here is a series of posts that went around in early December 2006, on the Faisal Chohan and Cogilent issue. They are dated, but to some extent still relevant. This first post, is the note that went out earlier in December when we were still trying to get Faisal out of Adiala Jail.  By the time I wrote this on a Sunday morning, two weeks had already passed

I have never met Faisal Chohan but I owe him an apology.

As I write these lines, Faisal is a typical techno geek entrepreneur with a difference.  Yes he runs a technology company, based out of a software park in Islamabad; yes he is a frail thin, thing; I don’t know if he wears spectacles, but I assume so since 18 hours a day in front of a bright LCD screen for the last decade of your life is not supposed to lead to 20-20 vision.  His co-founder is a digital fellow at Stanford; his company does big things with interesting technologies with little names. At the surface, you may be describing me, the next Google or hundreds of my technology peers in Pakistan but there is one difference.  I am sitting peacefully in my home office, a room away from my family, a floor above my parents, a short drive away from my office, right next to a clean, accessible, functional white tiled bathroom with running water.  While Faisal sits in a jail cell in Adiala, Rawalpindi, possibly freezing, possibly hungry, certainly wondering the life his dead child could have lived, if we had given him half a chance.

I owe Faisal an apology. Perhaps more.

I heard about Faisal last Thursday in Lahore.  His partner Atif, the visiting fellow at Stanford, sent a short note on the PASHA forum, asking for our help. PTA and PTCL had raided their office in Islamabad and like plundering Mongols pillaged servers, drives, phones and equipment. They had set Basra on fire, looted Baghdad, razed Kabul and a week later would kill Faisal’s child in search of their equivalent of Weapons of Mass Destructions – a technology that goes by the name of Voice over IP.  Unlike General Colin Powel and the nation we all love to hate, the General at PTA and the team at PTCL didn’t need to make a case in front of anyone.  They thought a great crime had been committed against our great country and could only be punished by barging into this idly pidly little technology company and turning off its life support.

I owe Faisal an apology. I did nothing.

I run a small technology company too. I was in Lahore on business, out of office, I was busy; If you needed something urgently please contact Mujtaba Iqbal, my partner in crime – the auto responder said.  I thought some one else would pick up the ball.  We have 40 full members, 130 Associate members at PASHA. Atif had asked every one for help. Surely, there would be others who would come forward, this wasn’t my problem.  While FIA and PTA were busy raping Cogilent, I sat down in a friend’s office in Lahore, turned on the heater, checked my email, browsed the internet and thanked God that I wasn’t in Faisal’s place.

I owe Faisal an apology. I believed in our great nation.  I waited for the four witnesses to come forward.  

But there is hope. I may be a shameless, selfish, indifferent prick but there are others who are as different from me as Faisal and I are different from each other.  Wahaj Siraj came forward and became the little voice in my head that kept on saying – shame on you Jawwad, you are a selfish, indifferent, cynical prick.  Wahaj’s daily updates from the front, show casing PTA’s arrogance, Faisal misery and our helplessness shamed me into picking up the phone and asking if we were going to do something. We did but it wasn’t enough.

Four days ago we found that IP address on which PTCL had detected VoiP activity and PTA and FIA had taken action didn’t belong to Cogilent. There was no case. No WMD’s.  The General had invaded Beirut, rather than Baghdad. A difference of a few miles, but now that the General was here, and the troops were raging to go, and Faisal was in his Jail cell, what really mattered was to boldly go where every one had gone before. We made a mistake, so what; screw Faisal and Faisal’s family. Yes we know he is innocent, but he is in the system, he is a techno geek without connections, the system will take two months or eight years, we don’t care and he can afford a few days in jail; what difference does a fucking weekend make. So what if a few children die, it’s all collateral. You care, you do something about it.

I owe Faisal an apology. I didn’t care. And the child that died was Faisal’s.

I have blood on my hands. The General at PTA is a general. He will behave like a general, he doesn’t care.  Faisal is not his son, it is not his grand child that is dead. But what about the rest of us? What difference does a weekend make? I get depressed at Holiday Inn Islamabad because the bathroom is not clean enough and the room is not bright enough.  Try a jail cell in Adiala for 10 days, with your wife in the hospital and your child in the mortuary and then ask me what difference does a fucking weekend make?

I owe Faisal an apology. I don’t know how to wash his blood off my hands.