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Hamid Ansari’s Conviction: An Indo-Pak Love Story Gone Wrong

How Hamid Ansari smuggled himself into Pakistan to meet a girl he befriended online and landed in a Pakistani prison

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Ithas been close to 1200 days since 55-year-old Fauzia Ansari last heardfrom her son Hamid, the Mumbai engineer who went missing from Pakistan inNovember 2012. 1200 days and yet, Fauzia still expects him at every doorbell,still smiles thinking about his affectionate hugs, and still hopes against hope that he will return to her soon.

But Hamid, who is currently lodged in a Peshawar jail, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment on Tuesday. A military court in Pakistan found him guilty of espionage and convicted him for allegedly being an Indian spy. However, Fauzia says that Hamid’s only crime is that he was humane, self-destructively humane.
How Hamid Ansari smuggled himself into Pakistan to meet a girl he befriended online and landed in a Pakistani prison
Fauzia Ansari, Hamid’s mother holds a picture of her son (Photo: The Quint)
Around four years ago, Hamid, now 31 years, met a Pashtun girl over the internet. Based in Kohat located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, the girl told Hamid that she belonged to a conservative tribe, a land where honour killings were not unheard of. According to reports, the two fell in love, but when the girl’s parents found out, they resolved to get her married to another man.

Distraught, the girl would beg Hamid to help her out of the situation,take her away. That’s when the engineer and MBA graduate resolved to travel toPakistan and rid her of the injustice.

I found several of Hamid’s conversations on Facebook after he went missing. The girl was desperate; she wanted to be rescued, and I could see that that desperation had built in Hamid too. He was in touch with another girl from Kohat and a few other locals in Pakistan. They told him that he did not have time to wait for the visa, that if he went the legal way, the girl would be married away.

“They explained to him that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was comfortablyporous, and advised that he should travel to Kabul and then infiltrate intoPakistan. Hamid, although a little hesitant, fell for it,” says Fauzia, aschool teacher, speaking to The Quint at her Mumbai home.

How Hamid Ansari smuggled himself into Pakistan to meet a girl he befriended online and landed in a Pakistani prison
Transcripts of Hamid’s online chat with Pakistani locals (Photo: The Quint)
Fauzia recollects that Hamid left for Kabul on November 4, 2012 saying that he had been able to get a job as an airport manager in Afghanistan. For the next six days, he would speak to his parents every day. On November 10, he told them that he would return in two days. But after that conversation, Hamid suddenly went missing.

His phone was perpetually off. After he did not return home norcalled his parents for five days, Hamid’s family began to worry. They visitedthe Afghan embassy in the city, but were told to believe that he was safe, thata place like Afghanistan tends to have network issues.

For the next entire year, we had no information about Hamid. I did not know if he was dead or alive. I would think of the worst, and then consciously force myself to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. It was that uncertainty and the fear of a horrible truth that was slowly consuming us. The hope in me had died, and I had resigned to prayers. I visited Mecca-Medina and I prayed. I really prayed. And that day itself, my prayers were answered.

“A journalist from Pakistan called me on my phone. Shesaid that she would help me find my son if he was innocent. I showed her all ofHamid’s chats with the Pakistani locals. She was convinced of his innocence,and began tracing each of the local links,” says Fauzia.

How Hamid Ansari smuggled himself into Pakistan to meet a girl he befriended online and landed in a Pakistani prison
A picture of Hamid Ansari before he left for Afghanistan from Mumbai (Photo: The Quint)

Zeenat,the Pakistani journalist, learnt through the locals that Hamid had arrived inKabul, and that the day he went missing, he had checked into a hotel inPakistan after illegally crossing the country’s border from Afghanistan.

Zeenat went to the hotel and found that Hamid was arrested by the police within an hour of his check-in. When she went to the local police, she learnt that Hamid was in custody of the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was fourteen months after he went missing that Hamid’s family finally learnt about what had led to his disappearance. But the haunting uncertainty over his existence still remained.

“ThroughZeenat, we were able to engage a renowned lawyer in Pakistan for our habeascorpus petition filed in the Peshawar high court. We didn’t have the money topay the counsel. During those three years, we were completely drained –physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Because we had to travel toDelhi all the time, my husband had to give up his job and opt for voluntaryretirement.”

Once while returning from the embassy in Delhi, I was so upset that my eyes were full of tears and I couldn’t spot a pit on the road. My left foot got stuck in it, and my head hit the road. When I removed my foot from the pit, I saw that my heel had separated from it. I had to take four months off work, and I still have difficulty walking. But I know that if Hamid returns, every bit of that pain would be worth it.

“I’m glad that the renowned Pakistani lawyer understood our grief. Heknew we couldn’t pay him; he knew that we were so helpless that we couldn’teven go to Pakistan. Our visa had been rejected at least twenty times. So heoffered to represent us for free; he said that that was the right thing to do,”says Fauzia.

How Hamid Ansari smuggled himself into Pakistan to meet a girl he befriended online and landed in a Pakistani prison
Hamid’s parents, Fauzia and Nihal Ansari (Photo: The Quint)
It was only over three years later, on January 13 this year, that Hamid’s parents learnt that he was alive, and was in custody of the Pakistani military, being tried for being an Indian spy. The family was shocked after the revelation. Hamid wasn’t a spy, they knew for sure.

They requested their lawyer to facilitate hisreturn, but on Tuesday, their son was convicted on charges of espionage. ThePakistani military court ruled that he was carrying maps of “sensitiveinstallations” in his possession, had thirty email addresses and seven Facebookaccounts.

All he was doing was trying to help this girl, rid her of that injustice. I even traced the girl’s father and spoke to him. But he said that she was married, and that we shouldn’t bother them with ‘all this rubbish.’ Hamid was at fault for he crossed into a country without the necessary documents. But it was a mistake and I believe that he should be pardoned for it. He has served his time already.

“The court has sentenced him to three years, but he has alreadyspent three and a half years in their custody. In January, when we learnt thathe was in prison, we became hopeful. We discovered that he was alive, that yes,he would come back. But now, this sentence has again pushed us several stepsback. The last three years have been worse than a nightmare for us; everyminute that passed has been a victory. I hope that Pakistan understands ourstruggle, admits our mercy appeal, and grants him pardon,” says Fauzia.

How Hamid Ansari smuggled himself into Pakistan to meet a girl he befriended online and landed in a Pakistani prison
The Peshawar High Court’s Order (Photo: The Quint)

Fauzialives in Andheri, Mumbai with her husband, Nihal, a former bank manager and her olderson, a dentist. Completely detached and uninterested in smart phones untilthree years ago, she now knows how to open mails, operate social networks, and hasquick references to news articles on Hamid saved in her phone. Despite herbroken limb, she still travels to Delhi regularly to remind our authoritiesabout her son, and her eyes still well up when she speaks about him. It’s hope,she says, that gives her the courage besides those tears, to keep going on.

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