The late Pakistani journalist and political scientist, Eqbal Ahmad, is described as an intellectual and pacifist but he was also the first Pakistani charged with “terrorism” offenses on US soil.
As a youth, he was linked to a failed conspiracy to blow up a government property and kidnap government officials.
Ahmad, along with six religious anti-war activists namely Phillip Berrigan, Elizabeth McAlister, Rev. Neil McLaughlin, Rev. Joseph Wenderoth, Anthony Scoblick, and Mary Cain Scoblick, had allegedly planned the kidnapping of the then US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger as part of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Except for Ahmad, six of the seven accused were Roman Catholic nuns and priests. According to the allegations, they were planning to blow-up steam tunnels of a government building and kidnap Kissinger to pressure the government to end the Vietnam War in January 1971.
Reports suggest the case was based on the evidence of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informer, who was a fellow prisoner of Father Berrigan’s at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
However, the case was dismissed when the jury had failed to reach unanimity in the case and it was declared a mistrial. All the accused were acquitted, except for a few with some charges, which were also overturned on appeal.
Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General, had played an important role in the acquittal when he shocked the court by not summoning his defendants or any witnesses to defend his client in the case during the hearing. He had said that the jury’s sympathy for clients would be ruined if he summoned them all.
He represented his clients with three terse sentences. ”Your Honor,” he said, ”the defendants shall always seek peace. They continue to proclaim their innocence. The defense rests.”
During the trial, as per reports, Ahmad told the media that Kissinger was discussed over drinks during dinner. He said the idea of a ”citizen’s arrest of Nixon” was proposed where people during a sit-in at the White House would subpoena “the national leader to face a war crimes tribunal.”
”We felt it could not be done,” Ahmad had said, as per The New York Times report. ”There was no agreement that kidnapping could be done nonviolently nor that it would have the desired impact on the war. Consequently, there was no plan.”
Ahmad had moved to the US in the mid-1950s as a Rotary Fellow at Occidental College in California. Later, he studied political science and the history of the Middle East at Princeton University, where he finally earned his Ph.D. in 1965.
The US had witnessed several anti-war demonstrations when its troops were engaged in Vietnam. Ahmad was among many others who criticized the war. In the US, Ahmad had found friends in Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, and Howard Zinn.
Speaking about Ahmad, Chomsky, once voted the world’s top public intellectual, has said, “Perhaps he was the most intelligent and the most original anti-imperialist analyst in Asia and Africa.” Born in the Indian state of Bihar in 1932, he had migrated to Pakistan following the partition of India.
After he returned to Pakistan with the dream to build a university there, which remains unfulfilled to the day, he had become a cross-border peacemaker between India and Pakistan as well as an anti-nuclear activist.