Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Afghan public health head takes refuge in UK after kidnap by Taliban

Dr Mohammad Haqmal was captured by the group in May 2018

Dr Mohammad Haqmal, 42, the Afghan public health chief of international standing, told British newspaper The Guardian that capital city Kabul was "not a safe place". AFP
Dr Mohammad Haqmal, 42, the Afghan public health chief of international standing, told British newspaper The Guardian that capital city Kabul was "not a safe place". AFP

A senior Afghan health official has taken refuge in the UK after being kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban.

Dr Mohammad Haqmal, 42, public health chief of international standing, developed several initiatives in his home country, including the $1 project, which provides universal healthcare in remote areas.

The doctor’s work saved the lives of 2,500 mothers over an 18-month period in two districts with the poorest health indicators in the world.

On Monday, he was awarded Public Health National Hero 2019, marking the second time he has won the accolade.

Since he’s been in the UK, Dr Haqmal has given talks at several universities on public health, including a lecture at City, University of London titled: “How the Afghan government can strengthen Health System to cope with the existing challenges within available resources”.

Dr Haqmal said that his case raised questions over the UK Home Office guidance that states it is safe to forcibly send some asylum seekers back to parts of Afghanistan including the capital Kabul, where his attack took place.

“Kabul is not a safe place,” he told British newspaper The Guardian. “There are thousands of examples of people being targeted by the Taliban there including asylum seekers sent back from the UK. My government could not protect me.”

Dr Haqmal first fled Afghanistan at the age of five, for a refugee camp in Pakistan after Russian troops burned his village, killing more than 72 people. He and his mother were the only two who survived the attack and managed to escape.

Later, after returning to Afghanistan and excelling at public health work, he was offered a role in the country’s ministry of public health.

In his post, Dr Haqmal defied the Taliban’s request to assign their prisoners in hospitals as “untreatable”, so they could be released and return to fighting, as many were suffering terminal illnesses or other serious medical conditions.

After receiving threats from the terrorist organisation, he was seized on May 5 last year by four armed men on motorbikes just 20 metres away from a government checkpoint. He was handcuffed, blindfolded and driven to a house 30 minutes away where he was held in a basement and was told he would be killed.

After being tortured mentally and physically, Dr Haqmal was saved after the sound of vehicles caused his captors to flee, because they feared it was the police. He then managed to escape by untying his hands by biting through a plastic chain.

Updated: May 23, 2019 02:09 PM

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