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The Curious Case of Hamid Ansari

August 14, 2013

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You may think he is a spy or a saboteur. If he is one, would he have spent months trying to reach Kohat from Mumbai and then get caught in just two days?

Sitting in Mumbai, Hamid Ansari fell in love with a Pakistani Pashtun girl over Facebook. He was a 26 year old management teacher, she was a B.Ed. student. After over a year of obsessing about each other over the internet, phone and phone messengers, she called him one day, crying. She had confided in her sister about this online affair, but the sister told the parents, who decided it was time to find her a husband. It was the last phone call. She soon disappeared from Facebook too.

A distraught Hamid did all he could to find out about her, even found another girl in Kohat and requested her to find out. But to no avail. He decided to try and get a visa to Kohat, making several calls to the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi. As a Rotarian, he managed to get an official invite from the Peshawar chapter of the Rotary club to visit Peshawar and Kohat to interact with the youth. This didn’t help him get a visa either.

He met Jatin Desai of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy to see if Jatin could help him get a visa. Kohat would never be possible, Jatin said. It’s in the heart of a conflict zone. And besides, Jatin said, that area is known for honour killings. Forget the girl, he said. But Jatin could see he was mad about the girl, she was all he could think of.

He convinced his parents to let him fly to Kabul in November 2012 for an interview for a job at Kabul airport. A week later, his phone stopped working.

With no news of him, his parents opened his computer and found he had not logged out of his Facebook and his email. Reading hundreds of Facebook chats, they pieced together what had happened.

Three online Pakistani friends urged Hamid to reach Kohat via Kabul, by illegally crossing the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They not only encouraged him to do so, but gave detailed instructions and instigated him to do it soon.

Meet Atta Ur Rehman Awan, a graphic designer with Dastak, an Urdu magazine in Kohat, one Shazia Khan who claimed to be a medical doctor in Islamabad, and a mysterious Ms Saba Khan.

This is an excerpt from a chat between Shazia Khan and Hamid:

Shazia: It’s very difficult to get a visa to Pakistan these days. Why don’t you get a visa to Afghanistan instead? from Kabul, come to the Pakistan border at Torkham and I’ll get you to Karak or Kohat from there. Luqman also says you should come via Kabul. Kabul to Torkham is only 150 kms.

Hamid: Visa for Kohat is very difficult. But visa for Lahore is easy. I asked someone at the Pakistan High in Delhi what is the way out. They said I need an invitation or a clearance from the Ministry of Interior. By the way I have a friend in Jalalabad…

Shazia: Jalalabad is just 50 kms from Peshawar…

Hamid: I asked my friend about going to Peshawar from Jalalabad, he said there’s a lot of vigilance and there’s a very high chance I would get caught. Without a Pakistan visa getting back into Afghanistan may also be difficult. It might be easier if I get a Lahore visa. I have a friend in Sindh who says that once I reach Lahore he can get me an extension visa to Kohat. But I need to first get a visa to Lahore. I am ready to take all risk.

Shazia: Oh there is no checking while entering pakistan from Afghanistan. I will get you to Peshawar in my own car. I’ll also get you an ID card of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Hamid: Now you tell me what to do.

And this is a chat excerpt (translation from Roman Urdu) between Atta bhai, as Hamid called him, and Ms Saba Khan, while Hamid was not online, but was cc-ed:

Atta: I’ve been recommended this man Kamran Khan (phone number). Call him and see who he is and if he can help? But remember nobody should know Hamid is Indian. If anybody comes to know, there could be a mess.

Saba Khan: I too gave you someone’s number, was it of help? I got that number from a Frontier Corps guy. And yes, apart from us nobody knows that Hamid is India, let’s be clear about that.

Atta: Okay, I will call that guy. I got to know from someone that there is no problem in coming from Kabul to Pakistan. All you have to do is to strike a deal with the taxi driver at Kabul airport. There is no checking. It is only on the return trip that there are ten check points. What do you recommend? That man also told me the trick is that nobody other than the taxi driver should know you are going to cross the border. The taxi driver will drop at Torkham.

And this chat is between between Atta and Hamid:

Atta: Please don’t mind my saying this, but you are very lazy. If I were in your place, by now I would have done everything.

Hamid: I know, but I have deliberately delayed this. And all this mess was caused by her sister. It all happened too suddenly. And then this visa problem. These Hi Commission people don’t give a visa soon.

Atta: Now don’t delay it more.

On November 12, he sent an email to Saba Khan. The email’s IP address shows it was sent from within Pakistan. Here is an excerpt, translated from Roman Urdu:

“Listen I am fine here. I am with Atta bhai. I reached late at night but everything is fine. Just keeping a very low profile. I should get a new mobile by evening, will let you know. For obvious reasons I cannot call you.

Take care. Inshallah we will both return soon. Pray for us.”

Hamid Ansari’s mother is a college lecturer in Mumbai and his father is a banker. They emailed all these characters and got no replies. Most phone numbers in the chats have stopped taking calls from Indian numbers. Mrs Fauzia Ansari got a relative in Dubai to call Atta Ur Rehman Awan, who said that he had found a ‘Dhaba’ in Kohat for Hamid to stay, where he was for about two days before “agencies” took him away.

I managed to get in touch with a local journalist in Kohat, who was enthusiastic about helping bring Hamid back home. He called up Awan, who said that “agency people” took him away, and that he could not say more on phone. The journalist then met Awan in person, and also a university student that Hamid was in touch with. This journalist told me that both said “agencies” had taken him away and that the two had been questioned by them too.

The journalist from Kohat said that he could not say more on the phone and could not help, as it was “a sensitive matter”. One journalist in Lahore, who had shown interest in the story, said the ‘Dhaba’ that Hamid had stayed in was called ‘Palushan’. She said that according to her ‘sources’, military intelligence and the ISI had raided the hotel together, and “Hamid got disappeared in this raid”.

Ansari made a huge mistake, but one feels more angry about his online Pakistani friends who gave him a crazy advice to go to Kohat via Kabul and take the girl with him back to Mumbai. Hamid even had the film Dil Walay Dulhaniya Lay Jaain Gay on his mind – he wanted the father to willingly let the girl to go with him.

The chats also contain the father’s address and phone number. I called him up and he angrily said what any father would say in such a case: “She had no friend. Nobody came here. She is married now.”

Perhaps the “agencies” think he is an Indian spy, given the paranoia in Pakistan about India’s alleged activities on the Afghan border. But at the same time, Indian investigators probably think he is getting trained for anti-India activities. Having read his long chats, I am convinced he was nothing more than a naive young man whose love was blind. Many Indians have a fascination for beautiful Pashtuns, Hamid was perhaps one of them.

Hamid has been missing for ten months. The maximum punishment for illegally crossing into Pakistan’s borders is six months in jail. This Eid, whoever has Hamid in their custody, might want to think of the blessings they would get if they send Hamid home.

(First published in The Friday Times and FirstPost.)

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Anil Kumar Dikshit permalink
    August 14, 2013 1:44 PM

    Victim of peaceniks.

  2. Saba permalink
    August 14, 2013 2:18 PM

    In recent tweets this tragic tale was being tagged as a real life Bollywood romance. I do believe this would greatly diminish the seriousness of the case and detract from government and other efforts to get him back, if he is alive. In an informal discussion with expat Pakistanis I learnt that it would be well nigh impossible for this man to remain alive in the territory he ventured into. The danger to his life would be from the girl’s family and tribe as well as from agencies. I doubt that the GoI will do anything to save this man/ get his body back when it is incapable of taking care of its soldiers.

  3. August 14, 2013 5:56 PM

    Passion makes one blind to all things. If one succeeds, one is a hero. Failures are called fools. Not only that. They are suspected all round of a large number of bad intentions. That is the irony.

  4. Sumati permalink
    August 15, 2013 8:14 AM

    Victim of bad judgrment.

  5. Tony Thankavelu permalink
    August 15, 2013 10:41 AM

    Its an obsession for the fair skinned girls that is the center of the problem here

    • Kunal Vohra permalink
      August 15, 2013 5:16 PM

      Yes, of course, because, obviously, there are no fair-skinned women in India, right?

      Yes, there is a mindless obsession with fair skin in India but to see that at play here is simply ridiculous. Maybe things are just what they seem – that he was madly in love, or thought he was, and took an ill-advised, impractical and unwise decision, as people in that state of being are known to do.

    • manip permalink
      August 16, 2013 5:56 PM

      Hey Tony,

      At least be sensible to someone’s bigger troubles. Its just so easy to pass judgement online. I hope you will be careful in future.

      As a counter to your argument – ‘Obsession for fair skinned girl can be satisfied with less money+less time within mumbai’.

      Sorry to put this argument but it is more for usual online commentators who just go blindly on each story.

      • January 10, 2014 10:21 PM

        To be fair, Shivam says pretty much the same thing in the post as well,

        “Many Indians have a fascination for beautiful Pashtuns, Hamid was perhaps one of them.”

        So while this specific case may or may not be influenced by this factor, your counter is a weak one. In Hindu/Telugu/Tamil movies the hero does not satisfy his desire for a Caucasian/Punjabi/North Indian girl with money, she ‘falls’ for him and that is what the male ego is fundamentally after.

        • January 10, 2014 10:35 PM

          Just to make it clear, my hopes are completely with Hamid and I hope we find a way to bring him back to his family in Mumbai. My comment above is only in the context of manip’s earlier argument.

  6. Mukul Dube permalink
    August 15, 2013 12:20 PM

    jis dhaj se koi maqtal main gaya wo shan salamat rahti hai
    ye jan to ani jani hai is jan ki to koi bat nahin

    On the one side, the fearlessness that shines in young love:
    On the other side, the malign terrors of the mighty State.
    Both blind and stupid, but in radically different ways.

  7. Anil Kumar Dikshit permalink
    August 16, 2013 6:36 AM

    Yeah! Was seriously following ‘peaceninks’ prescription of people to people contact, otherwise such a well-read man wouldn’t have embarked on journey to such a known dangerous location.

  8. subramanian permalink
    August 21, 2013 6:12 PM

    management teacher? Hahahaha.

  9. fauzia permalink
    October 28, 2013 10:44 PM

    i am hamid’s mother. I request each and every individual to help me to get my so back. I can’t explain my pain in words. I will struggle til my last breath to get him back. perhaps I am still alive for him.

    • Zia permalink
      February 1, 2014 7:43 AM

      In Shaa Allah, Hamid will be back… Ameen
      Vikram appreciate your thoughts and compassions for some one whom you probably dont even know, also want to make a point here, if we all collectively try to feel the pain a mother is enduring I am sure we would not be even close to 1% of her plight, so lets all pray for Hamid’s home coming – Thanks for listening

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