By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*
Media reports on the eagerness of umpteen Pakistani Hindu families to settle in India last year not only bothered human rights organizations but also governments of the two countries. Kidnappings and forced conversions of young Hindu girls as well as men, especially in the border areas of Peshawar are a violation of human norms.
It’s not only Pakistani Hindus who routinely narrate horror tales. Indian Muslims are terrorized too while on visits to Pakistan as tourists as they are generally taken to be RAW agents or spies. The problem with the Pakistani administration is that it can’t tolerate Hindus and more than them, pious Muslims who profess their loyalty to India. My family and I realized this to our dismay during our recent visit as tourists to Lahore. In fact it was my second visit after I had taken a group of eight students of Modern School to Lahore’s Aitchison College and was quite impressed. I thought I must also take my family to this city of wonder. However, it was the gravest mistake of my life and will never forget the way the agencies demonized my family.
Pakistani ISI officers at the Wagah border, especially this young highly educated, impressive and balding, gentleman named, Hameed (only if he told me his name correctly), are equally intolerant of Muslims who swear allegiance to India.
Hameed ragged me and my family both at the time of entry (June 04, 2012) as well as at exit (June 13, 2013). He grinned at me stating, “Police walon ne aapko chhor diya!” (The policemen at Lahore spared you!)
We were hounded and persecuted throughout the tour. It started at Wagah while crossing the border and continued till we had crossed back. Perhaps Pakistani government officials are more cordial towards Indians who hate their motherland and are ready to reveal a secret or two if they are in possession of it.
In Lahore, I witnessed dreadful Jamat-ud-Dawa posters (in photograph) at the back of three-wheelers proclaiming hate and death to India! Does the Indian government actually really believe that cricket will cure such deep-seated animosity?
My honeymoon with Lahore, my city of dreams at one time, a city of fun and frolic and institutions such as Aitchison College and Punjab University, eateries such as Salt’n Pepper Village, Food Street and Zaiqa and children’s entertainment areas such as Sozo Water Park Joy Land Park, ended during my second — and perhaps last — visit there from 4 to 13 June, 2012 accompanied by my wife and children, only to find ourselves at the Sarwar Road police station, Lahore Cantonment towards the end of our tour.
Through the columns of this daily, I implore Muslims of India never and ever to venture into Pakistan as tourists since there is no guarantee that they will return unless they are part of some government delegation. Pakistani authorities hate Indian Muslims and that is the truth. My children, who were enthusiastic about visiting Lahore — a city about which famed Urdu writer Kashmiri Lal Zakir once said: “Jinne Lahore nai vekhya/ Wo te jamiya hi naiee! (He, who hasn’t seen Lahore/He isn’t even born!)”, are now absolutely Pakistan-phobic.
It so happened that on 9 June, 2012, the fifth day of our stay in Lahore, the children wanted to go for rides at Joy Land Park around 5 p.m. While we were about to enter the park, we were asked by ISI sleuths (in civilian clothes) who had been following us right from Wagah border all these days without our knowledge, to divert our three wheeler towards the Sarwar Road police station.
At the police station, we were told that we had entered a “prohibited” area. My wife said we were tourists and there was no notice board to ward us off. But the officers had sinister designs and had already readied papers to lock us up. The fact remains that even if some tourist goes to the amusement park unknowingly, he lands in the hands of the ISI only to be put behind bars indefinitely. Time and again, while grilling us, the officers kept repeating that Pakistani tourists received even worse treatment at the hands of Indian agencies, but I kept denying that. These denials demeaned me in their eyes. Besides, Pakistani law enforcement officers have the right to hold any Indian as per the country’s law!
We were staying at the prestigious, 125-year-old Aitchison College from where our passports, visas and other papers were picked up by the policemen. I kept wondering what possible threat they could face from this unassuming group of enthusiastic tourists ~ three school-going children, my wife and me. But the ISI spies had plotted impeccably to snare us. Our arrest documents had been prepared and passports and other papers confiscated. We were deeply shaken.
Fortunately, the college bursar, Col. Mehboob, is a retired army man. He assured the ISI men that we were mere tourists and were not to be harried. When even that wasn’t enough, I had to call the editor of The Nation. At the end, it took us five long hours to get out of the dreadful clutches of the ISI officers after tendering a written apology.
Before leaving Pakistan, I was reminded of my grand uncle Maulana Azad’s words: “My dear brothers, today you are leaving our country; did you ever think what will be the outcome of this? If you go away, Muslims in India will become weak. You will be divided into two sects of liberals and fundamentalists. Listen to me carefully, Hindus can differ with your religion but they can’t differ with your Qaumiyat (clan), but in Pakistan you will be treated as chattels.” Yet I took the risk and paid for it! That day I learn the lesson of my life that “desh bandhs” (countrymen) are better and dearer than “deen bandhu” (people of my own religion).
I was also reminded of my mother who was a Pakistani supporter while an Indo-Pak cricket or hockey match used to be held anywhere in the world. During the Partition imbroglio, she had suffered in Delhi at the hands of non-Muslims and took Pakistan to be a sort of el dorado. However, tables seemed to have been turned as I had to suffer at the hand of the Pakistani Muslims. In fact many Muslims bear the same feelings unless they go to Pakistan and suffer the way I’ve suffered. They think that Pakistan Muslims are like “brothers”. Alas, except a few good souls, they are butchers. Lahore for the last four days of my journey was almost a garrison. I thank my stars as these ISI agents could also have “encountered” us as Indian spies. O, my God! I love Lahore as a city of heritage but I’m scared of that land!
Pakistan, whose safety, progress and prosperity most Indians care about, unfortunately is run by ISI agents and the country’s army. They are suspicious of all Indians. I no longer have a “soft corner” for Pakistan after the treatment I received in Lahore. While I have great regard for its people, Pakistan’s politicians and its Intelligence system are double-faced and routinely indulge in double-speak. That’s why Pakistan is inching towards disaster.
Sitting in the police station, I was ruing what Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s dream had come to represent. The dreamland promised to Muslims after thousands of sacrifices is riven by terrorism, corruption, inflation, honour killings and sectarianism, to name only a few demons.
On the very first day of our visit on 4 June, 2012, when I had gone to McLeod Road to change currency, the dealer cheated me out of around four thousand Pakistani rupees. When even my threat to call police did not work, I gave up, thinking it would be immensely preferable to be able to leave the kiosk in one piece. The country is certainly doomed if Intelligence officials think nothing of detaining children aged between three and 16 on the suspicion of spying for India.
Some tourists do manage to stay out of trouble, but many (my family included) fall victims to the horrific machinations of the ISI. Some breathing space for Indian tourists is urgently needed in Pakistan. Our ordeal did not end at the police station. While going back to Delhi, customs officials teamed with five ISI officers grilled us for three hours, ransacked our bags and gave our camera, our cell phones, wallets and external hard disc a thorough going-over. Even medicines and my shaving kit weren’t spared. All the while, I remained worried that something would be planted in our luggage to make a case for arresting us.
I heaved a sigh of relief after we got out of the clutches of these ISI megalomaniacs. Having crossed over to the Indian side, the sight of Sikh customs officers came as a big relief. The officers were friendly and we cleared customs in no time. After my Pakistani misadventure, my love for my homeland has increased manifold.
Though, as usual, relations are hostile, nevertheless I end with Ali Sardar Jafri’s couplet: “Guftgu band na ho/ Baat se baat chaley/ sar pe hansti hui sitaron ki raat chaley! (Let’s believe in dialogue without any fear/ Just like the cool luminescence of a starry night!)”
*Grandnephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and social commentator. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org