Exchange student escaped from Taliban

April 24, 2013

Ashraf Khan signing The Big Event poster April 20, 2013 where he volunteered on a service project with the Chadron State College International Club. Ashraf Khan signing The Big Event poster April 20, 2013 where he volunteered on a service project with the Chadron State College International Club.

As a 17-year-old student living in Swat, Pakistan, Ashraf Khan experienced a very dangerous turn in his life one day in 2007 when he was walking home from school as usual.

The International Research and Exchange Board student studying at Chadron State College this semester recently told his story to Chadron Rotary members, some who had visited Swat in the 1970s and 1980s when it was known as the Switzerland of Pakistan.

A vehicle with Taliban members pulled alongside him. They jumped out and demanded his identity papers. As a native citizen of Pakistan and a youth, he did not have the documents they wanted. In his pocket they found the Pakistani equivalent of a Red Cross volunteer card. That was a link to the United States in their minds, so they tied his hands behind his back, bound his feet and put him in the back of a pickup truck “like an animal,” according to Khan. They drove several miles to a cave where they interrogated him further.

For two hours, he was bound as they repeatedly asked him what connection he had with the U.S. “They were illiterate even though we all spoke Pashto. They didn’t understand what I was trying to tell them. They just kept going back to the Red Cross card as proof that I was American.” Khan had been a volunteer with the organization helping in the aftermath of earthquakes and floods and assisting with education.

The Taliban members threatened to kill Khan off and on for about six hours while he was trying to make sense of the sudden event. He did not have a cell phone to call for help and realized that this might be the end of his life.

Then, as fate would have it, a man from his neighborhood who had known him since he was a small child drove up and entered the cave. He asked his fellow Taliban members what they were doing holding a school student. They said the Red Cross card was evidence that Khan was from the U.S. and needed to be punished. Khan’s acquaintance laughed at them and reiterated that the boy was truly a Pakistani school student and no threat to them.

Based on this unlikely and timely testimony from one person in a city of 1.2 million, Khan was freed and driven back to his home. He was more cautious when walking home from school after the harrowing experience and fortunately nothing like it happened again. He still carries the same Red Cross card that was the trigger for his captivity. 

Khan will travel to New York after his CSC finals and the return home to Pakistan to participate in the upcoming elections. Long-range goals for Khan include earning a master’s degree in Political Science and going into law. He already holds two bachelor’s degrees, one in Political Science and Sociology and one in Human Nutrition and Public Health.

In addition to his studies at CSC this semester, Khan has been involved in many extracurricular activities including the annual International Club Dinner, the Festival of Colors and The Big Event. When signing the commemorative poster for The Big Event April 20 he told nearby Frances Gonzalez, “I’m going to sign at the top of the poster. Politicians always sign at the top.”

—Tena L. Cook, Interim Marketing Coordinator