LAHORE, April 16: It is no longer just a doorbell for Mohammad Iqbal and his family; instead it has a ring of alarm about it. As a boy goes to answer the call the other inhabitants form a line of defence behind him should the visitor turn out to be an unwelcome one. Usually the door stays shut until the visitor’s identity is established and his intent known.
It’s been like this since March 8 when four men kidnapped Iqbal’s teenage son Bilal and nephew Shiraz from Iqbal’s home in Madina Town, a middle class locality in Faisalabad, after robbing the household. The kidnappers told the boys later that their family had been targeted because of their Ahmedi faith.
The boys returned home after six days once Iqbal and his elder brother paid Rs2.5 million against an original ransom demand of Rs10 million. The kidnappers have since been arrested, but the life of Iqbal’s family stands totally transformed. The structure of the house has been altered to make it more secure; as this writer sat with the family members in their living room last Thursday, on the table in front lay a revolver and a handgun.
There are many Ahmedi families in Faisalabad who share Iqbal’s insecurities. They have been terrorised by multiple robberies and kidnappings in recent months. The triple murder of the city’s known businessman Ashraf Pervaiz, his brother Masood Javed and nephew Asif Masood on April 1 intensified this terror. The murders took place in a crowded area: yet no eyewitness has come forward so far.
Though there is no evidence, the murdered victims’ family suspects it to be the work of a militant group known for its involvement in the Kashmir ‘jehad’. “Our family is respected and we have no dispute with anyone. The murderers were trained in the use of arms and were well informed about the movement of their target,” a relative of the murdered businessmen, who does not give his name, tells Dawn. Dr Rashid Karim is a homoeopath who was kidnapped last May, taken to the tribal areas, and released after more than five months on payment of Rs10 million. He says his kidnappers had tried to grill him about Ashraf Pervaiz.
The community’s suspicion about the involvement of a militant outfit and its affiliates in the recent robberies, murders and kidnappings is strengthened by the arrest of the four abductors of Iqbal’s son and nephew.
“The triple murder happened only three days after the police apprehended the accused involved in the incident at Iqbal’s home,” DSP Abid Hussain says. “All of them have said they belong to the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa,” he says.
The accused have confessed that they had obtained a decree from a cleric, Maulvi Usman, allowing robbing and killing Ahmedis. Abid says such people distribute a portion of the looted money.
Yet the Ahmedi community in Faisalabad does not just fear the militant group. “It could be a cleric or a known religious group fomenting hatred against our people for no reason or a militant outfit kidnapping or murdering our people for money. It could also be a local resident or some one from Pakhtunkhwa or Karachi or anywhere else,” says a district-level leader of the Ahmedi community, who did not want to give his name.
“They use mosques and universities to spread malicious propaganda against us. We are scared. Some have already moved out of the city.”
Nonetheless, in certain cases Ahmedis have been targeted for financial considerations. Consider a four-page pamphlet urging Muslims to sever all economic ties with Ahmedis. The pamphlet lists 33 businesses – ranging from a photocopier to a drugs store to a jeweller – being run by Ahmedis. The businesses owned by Ashraf Pervaiz’s family are also mentioned in it.
A large number of Ahmedis in
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Fasialabad say they have received threatening letters, ‘advising’ them to renounce their faith, before their homes are raided or relatives abducted. “I received a letter about four months before the kidnapping,” says Iqbal. His brother-in-law also got a letter.
The victims say the robbers and the kidnappers have the details about the daily routine of their targets and about their businesses. Probably this is why police officials have advised Ahmedis to change their daily routine. Most of them heeded the advice seriously. But that too didn’t help some, as the April 1 murders show.
The community leaders link the increasing attacks and crimes to official apathy and police inaction. “All this started in 2008 when some people falsely accused 23 Ahmedi students of the Punjab Medical College (PMC) of blasphemy. Under the pressure of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the government and the college administration expelled the accused students. An emboldened SSP used the incident to foment hatred against Ahmedis in the city. Had the government not given in to the SSP the situation today would not have been as bad as it is,” an anonymous community leader argues. He says the PMC incident was followed by the murder of an Ahmedi trader. “A spate of robberies and kidnappings ensued,” he adds.
A major complaint is that none of the cases involving Ahmedis as victims is investigated properly. “The laws and police are the handmaiden of our persecutors,” says an Ahmedi. “Politicians are afraid. A family loses three members and there is not a single word from the chief minister or any other official. Where is Shahbaz Sharif, the self-proclaimed torch-bearer of justice? We deserve to be treated like other citizens but neither the police nor the judiciary is ready to provide us justice.”