Betrayed by his friends, Hamid Ansari found himself labelled a spy by Pakistani authorities. He battled for his innocence, surviving brutal interrogation sessions and long periods of confinement. This is an important read for anyone who wishes to understand the exact machinations of the event, and how state power can irreparably alter individual lives. Here is an extract:
It was not as cold as one would have expected on 19 September 2014. Zeenat waited with her mother at the bus stop for her trip to Karak. Her mother blessed her and wished her a safe journey. ‘Be careful, Zeenat. While Fauzia needs you, your family needs you more. May Allah bring you success.’
Zeenat reached Karak and went to Atta-ur-Rahman’s residence. She paid him and he told her exactly what had happened. He mentioned Abdullah Khattak, who was to receive Hamid in Kohat and help him rescue Fiza.
With all honesty, he said that he didn’t know why and how Hamid was picked up but that he had informed Fiza’s father and that is who must have informed the authorities. ‘It could be Abdullah too, you never know,’ he added.
… Since Kohat was an hour away from Karak, she immediately took the bus there and called up Abdullah on the way, introducing herself as a journalist from Lahore, saying she wanted to meet regarding a story. He readily agreed.
They met at the bus stop and went to a dhaba nearby. Zeenat told him why she was there—to track a story about an Indian called Hamid Ansari, who had been written about in the papers. He looked worried and asked her how she knew that he was Hamid’s contact. She told him that she was following up with the family back home and they had a few numbers.
‘How did they get my number?’ He knew very well that he could be in trouble.
Zeenat figured out that he was nervous. ‘Abdullah, consider me a friend. You did what was right so you have nothing to worry about. I am just trying to join the dots. How did he manage to enter our country and what was he up to?’ she said.
Her words calmed his nerves and he told her, ‘Imagine, he thought he could just enter our country and take one of our girls from here. I made sure that didn’t happen.’
‘Good. But was she not going to be a victim of wani?’ she asked while she took out her notepad.
He nodded, embarrassed, but went on, ‘Zeenat, whatever may be the case, he shouldn’t have thought that he would get away with it. I did what I thought was right.’
… He told her about Hamid’s plans, how he had connected with him, and of Palwasha Hotel, where he was taken. He also narrated the entire episode of his arrest. Zeenat listened intently and took notes, occasionally interrupting him for details such as the address of the hotel, time of arrival, last call, etc.
…They parted ways. It was evening. But Zeenat knew what she had to do next. She went straight to Palwasha Hotel and asked the boy at the reception to call the manager. A while later, a young man stepped out.
Zeenat asked them about the Indian who had come there on 14 November 2012. The manager looked shocked but feigned ignorance. Zeenat gave him a knowing look and flashed her press card. ‘I am here to do a story and I know everything. So please share whatever information you have. Where is your guest register? Show it to me.’
He hesitated and said, ‘We are a small establishment and don’t want any trouble. Please don’t put this in the paper. We don’t want people thinking we allow shady people or terrorists in. We don’t know who or where the man was from but we did have him here around that time. He was picked up by the agencies, I think.’
She understood their concern and assured them that she was only trying to find out some details. He pulled out the register and showed it to her.
She went to the entries for 2012 and sifted through them to reach November. When she reached 13 November, she saw that the next page was for 15 November. She looked carefully and ran her fingers through the binding of the register to see the remnants of a torn page.
She looked up at the manager questioningly. He understood what she was asking and said, ‘Well, the cops had come to inquire about the man and a few days later some other officers came and tore the page out. They instructed me not to breathe a word to anyone.’
…The man was a hotel manager in a small town. He was straight in his ways and didn’t mince words. He looked down and then turned around and left, before returning with a sheet of paper in his hand.
‘I didn’t throw it away since I didn’t trust the men. In case someone else came asking for him from the agency then I would have had no proof, that is why I saved this paper. Here it is.’ He gave it to Zeenat.
She saw the paper and noticed the name of one guest registered as Hamza. The manager pointed at it and said that that was the guy. Zeenat felt that Hamid obviously must not have revealed his real name. ‘Who was here with him?’ she asked.
The younger boy who stood beside the manager said, ‘I was here that night. There was a local man called Abdullah who had booked the room in advance. This other man looked like an outsider. A city boy from Lahore or Karachi. He checked in and left immediately after. He never returned. Only cops came in late that night to collect his belongings.’
‘Where was he taken?’
The manager replied, ‘Kohat police station.’
Hamid is a tale of survival, resilience and a relentless battle against the faceless power of the state.