Mumbai Local

To Pakistan, for love

Hamid Ansari was a very good student. His college marks were good enough to get him into medical school, but he was squeamish about cutting bodies open and blood in general, so he opted for an engineering degree. Then, like many other ambitious young Indians, he did an MBA. The qualifications notwithstanding, he wasn’t able to get a job he wanted. He marked time, working in State Bank of India for about six months, and then switched to call centre jobs. But he was always on the lookout for what he really wanted: a job in the aviation sector.

He would spend hours glued to his computer, looking for job openings. One day, in late 2012, he told his parents that there was an opening in Kabul airport and that he had a good chance of landing the job since there were not a lot of candidates in the running. He wanted to fly there to do the interview.

“I immediately objected,” his mother Fauzia Ansari says. “I told him that people go to places like the US or the UK for jobs and not to Kabul. But he said that if he worked there for a few months, he could get experience and come back and get a job of his choice. Anyhow, he convinced us it was the right thing. He left for Kabul with our permission and blessings.”

On November 4, when Hamid set off for Kabul, he told his parents he would be back by the 12th or latest by the 15th of that month. He kept in touch with his family faithfully. “For about a week we were talking every day.” Ms Ansari says. “If we didn’t speak before I went to bed I felt uneasy. Then after November 10, the connection was lost. He didn’t call and we were unable to get in touch.”

Worried, the family waited. The 12th passed. And then the 15th. Still no word from their son. They went to the Afghanistan embassy to make an enquiry. They were told that perhaps phone lines were down because of weather conditions and to just be patient. At this point, Hamid’s older brother suggested they should check Hamid’s email and Facebook account. They didn’t have to hack into his email: the family all know each other’s passwords. And he had left his Facebook account logged in.

From there, Ms Ansari, a college lecturer, pieced together what happened. (Hamid’s father Nehal, a banker, left the talking to his wife, saying she was the one who had the best grasp of the situation.)

Ms Ansari phrases this delicately: “I came to the conclusion that there was a tribal girl from the Kohat area that Hamid had been friends with. She was the victim of a social evil where, if there was a rivalry between two families, then the tribe’s leader takes a decision and the other family’s daughter will be given to the affected family. That is what had happened with this girl and she was going to be married off to an elderly person.”

Jatin Desai, general secretary for the Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, who Hamid had got in touch with, is more direct. He told The Hindu , in a separate conversation, that Hamid had fallen in love with a young woman from the rough frontier area of Pakistan, and had decided to rescue her and bring her back to Mumbai. Hamid had asked him for help in getting a visa, and Mr Desai had tried to dissuade him. He told him that Kohat is a tribal area, where the practice of ‘honour’ killing is not uncommon, and warned him that any attempt to interfere could put the girl in danger. “I think he was under pressure also from the girl,” Mr Desai said. At any rate, Hamid decided he would go anyway. The job interview in Kabul seems, in hindsight, to be fiction, made up to give his parents a valid reason for him to go to that part of the world. Mr Desai said, “He flew out to Kabul because some friends told him not to worry and that crossing the border from the Afghan side would be easy.”

Hamid had been in contact with several friends in Pakistan via Facebook, young people who, like him, were Rotarians: Atta-ur Rehman Awan, a media professional, Shazia Khan, a medical doctor in Islamabad, and Saba Khan. From the Faebook Messenger chat logs, Ms Ansari says, the family were able to piece together a rough timeline of what had happened. “From his Facebook account we found that he had been chatting with four or five Pakistani friends. They appeared to be highly educated people.”

Hamid, it appears, had discussed the situation with his friends from Pakistan. Ms Ansari says he repeatedly stated in the conversations that they needed to do something to save her. The friends, apparently, said they could not intervene, but urged Hamid to cross over from Kabul, saying that the border there was porous, unlike on the India side. They would drive over, pick him up and then take him to Kohat by car. They also urged him to come quickly, since time was running out.

So Hamid made the journey to Kabul, and did just that. He seems to have stayed with Atta-ur Rahman for two days in Kohat, after which he shifted to a small hotel. And then he vanished.

Hamid’s family acknowledges that his journey was foolhardy. “He made a mistake and crossed the border without a proper visa. I accept that he made a mistake but he went with a good intention,” his mother says.

“When I first came to know that he had gone to Pakistan,” Ms Ansari says, “I went immediately to the Versova police station to file a complaint. I also approached a lawyer, Majeed Memon, who agreed to help us. Notices were sent to the external affairs ministry and the Intelligence Bureau. I ran from pillar to post trying to meet the external affairs minister.” Ms Ansari was also connected with an investigative journalist from Lahore, Zeenat Shehzadi. Over several visits to Kohat, Ms Shehzadi managed to piece together a timeline of what transpired.

The sub-inspector at the Kohat police station, Faizullah Khan, told Ms Shehzadi that Hamid had been arrested from a hotel. “After investigating [Shehzadi] realised that actually Hamid had done nothing wrong and that he was a victim in this case,” Ms Ansari says. In 2013, Ms Shehzadi, who had been given a power of attorney by Hamid's family, filed a petition in the Peshawar High Court on their behalf. Petitions were also filed with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) and the PHC.

In a statement under oath in court in September 2014, Khan said that Hamid was arrested after information was provided by the Intelligence Bureau. He claimed that Hamid was interrogated and later taken away by personnel from ISI and MI.

The High Court continued to seek replies from the Ministry of Defence and Interiors. Finally, on January 13 this year, Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney-General informed the court that Hamid is in military custody and is being tried.

The legal battle is not over, given that nobody yet knows under what charges Hamid is being tried. But Ms Ansari is hoping that the struggle will soon be over. “I got help from a Pakistani journalist and Pakistani lawyers. Now, it is up to our government to resolve the issue,” she says. “I know relations are good now between the two countries. This case should be considered on humanitarian grounds that go beyond politics.”

“I told him that people go to places like the US or the UK for jobs and not to Kabul. Anyhow, he convinced us

Fauzia AnsariHamid’s mother

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 11:45:42 AM |

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