Jason Olson, Deseret News
Former Pakistani judge Chaudhry Ali speaks as part of the Kennedy Global Awareness Lecture Series at BYU Wednesday. Ali left Pakistan in 2006.

PROVO — Imagine your father waking you up in the middle of the night, telling you to pack only three days of clothing and one pair of shoes.

There is then a quick family meeting during which your father goes over the game plan: a speedy trip to the airport to leave the country and if he is killed on the way, then you, your mother and two siblings are to go on without him.

Ayesha Liaqat, now 18 and a student at the University of Utah, remembers Sept. 19, 2006, like it was yesterday. It was the day her family fled Pakistan to seek asylum in America.

"We left everything behind. Photos, everything that is special to us," Liaqat said. "We didn't know when — or if — we would come back. I don't think you can imagine it."

She spoke tearfully in a personal interview with the Deseret News following a speech by her father, former Pakistani Judge Chaudhry Ali. Ali spoke at Brigham Young University's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies on Wednesday.

Ali explained during his speech how his life, as well as his family's, was in danger amid political turmoil in Pakistan. The government launched an assault on judges and attorneys who may not have agreed with president Pervez Musharraf. Ali was a moving target.

Ali says of the recent political events in Pakistan, "Democracy is the only solution."

And for Ali and his family, the only option was exile, he said.

Today, many of the judges who stayed behind are in jail or under house arrest, he said.

Recounting his family's departure in the middle of the night, Ali said he left with his 15-year-old son, two daughters ages 10 and 17, and wife, Alia.

His 10-year-old daughter begged to take her favorite books and also poems she had written on the computer. "My answer was, 'No. We don't have the time."' Ali said.

He then gathered his family around him and discussed options if he was killed, Ali said, stopping his speech, as he was overcome with emotion.

His daughter, Liaqat, who was 17 at the time, recalls feeling bewildered. Her father had kept his children sheltered from knowing about the death threats and other political chaos.

"When you're younger, you don't understand," she said.

Her mother knew everything that was going on, however. With daughter Ayesha interpreting her English for the interview, Alia said her husband told her if he was stopped during their escape, she should get on the plane "and not look back."

But she refused to even consider that as an option.

Ayesha said, of her mother, "I did not see her fall apart the whole time. She held everything together."

Ayesha continued, describing her mother's continuous stress and worry before her family's exile. "My mother always had the phone right next to her. She was always worried and never knew what would happen next. She would call my dad every two hours. We, as children, never realized what was going on," she said.

After coming to the United States, Ali and his family were drawn to Salt Lake City after hearing it was a safe, friendly area with a low cost of living. Their bank accounts had been cut off by Pakistani government, which also took over Alia's textile business, they said.

Life in America was a huge adjustment. They had left all their friends and family behind. Liaqat finished high school at East High.

"It was a new beginning for us," she said. "We still miss home a lot."

Ali is pursuing a degree at the U. law school. "America is my country now. This is my home," he said.

Liaqat said the family has pulled together since leaving Pakistan.

"Before, when my dad was a judge, obviously he was working a lot and away from the family a lot, out of the city a lot," she said.

"When something like this happens, you definitely become closer," Liaqat said. "We treasure every moment together."

Ali said he appreciated the prayer at the beginning of the Kennedy Center event. "The beauty of this civilization is diversity," he said. "That should be maintained at all costs."

Ali's speech is available online at kennedy.byu.edu/

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