It happened last Friday.
I was coming out of the mosque after Jumma prayers when I caught this guy. He was standing at the main gate of the mosque, just like other beggers.
A few things distinguished him from the others standing there with him, though. He didn’t look like a beggar, he was not crying out loud about his woes or anything and hanging by his chest was a note that had a pretty shocking statement written.
I had a glance and I moved to my ride. It was more like ‘I came, I saw and I conquered’ thingy, except that you need to replace came with saw, saw with totally freaked out and conquered with got the hell outta there to catch the true essence of the situation.
A friend FS had a look at the note and the guy as well. Both of us wanted to talk to the guy but the fact that he had that note hanging from his neck was keeping us from it. We had doubts that he might explode or something. But somehow, we overcame that and convinced ourselves to talk to him.
And that we did. We conducted a lengthy interview of the guy.
Since, FS played a critical role in this fiasco (he did most of the talking), I asked him to write the blog entry for me (the reason this took this long to get published). He started off as something for a blog post, and then he thought about turning it into an email for some news channel. This is his take on this:
In Pakistan, it is a common sight to see beggars swarming mosque entrances after Friday prayers. Yet, worshippers coming out of the Najam Mosque, near Tipu Sultan and Shaheed-e-Millat Road crossing on the 25th of October were startled to see an old man asking for money. What was unique about the old man was that he held a banner that proclaimed in broken Urdu, and in even more broken English, that he had been pressed by terrorists to become a suicide bomber and upon his refusal, he was severely tortured. To escape from this torture, he quit his job and left his home, and now he is in need of financial help.
This could have been a clever new way to beg for money; however, the last line of the banner said something more alarming: these terrorists are aided by Iran and their real aim is to spread terror in the country while putting the blame on India, Israel and America. When pressed for more information, the man said that he used to be a high school science teacher in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. In his area, terrorists are actively engaged in recruiting to-be-suicide bombers, and they are mostly targeting young children and teenagers. He was approached by these terrorists and when he refused, they tortured him so badly that he lost sight in his right eye. He informed the authorities, even going as far as the Supreme Court, yet nobody believed him. Now, he wants the people assembled there to take up his cause, and bring his ordeal to the notice of the mainstream media.
Who could this man really be, and why is he so brazenly saying something so dangerous in public? Is he telling the truth, or is this just a clever new ploy to lure alms out of people’s pockets? Or could this be something more sinister? The banner is also apparently “signed” by one Fazl-ur-Rehman of S.S.T. This could be an attempt to fan the flames of sectarian violence, and given the machinations of the spy agencies in our region, this is highly probable. The English written in red and in fine print found near the top left of the banner reads:
[They] do terrorism with the collaboration of Persia (Eran) and blame America, India & Israeli. Financially help me. - Fazal Rehman (SST)
Given the propensity of Pakistanis to put the blame for all their woes on the American- Israeli-Indian “axis of evil”, this is indeed a remarkable statement. In fact, the likely reaction of many Pakistanis, after reading this will be that this is another attempt by the CIA-Mossad-RAW nexus to further destabilize the country. This may or may not be true, but this innocuous looking old man is definitely a sign of things to come. But the real mystery is who is Fazal Rehman and what does SST represent.
We even managed to take some pictures from a mobile camera. Right click and open in a new window to have a look at larger images. The text is pretty legible.
There were a lot of doubts about this guy, his story and his intentions.
- He claimed that he went to the Supreme Court but to no avail. Considering the state of our judicial system, it would take years to make your way up to the Supreme Court. He didn't look like someone who could afford that.
- If he was a teacher then he should have been aware enough not to ask money in front of a mosque. He should have gone to Edhi etc. They could have taken care of him easily.
- He said he lost one of his eyes to torture. Both his eyes and his eyesight looked fine.
- The Urdu written seemed broken, giving it a Kashmiri style. The guy spoke perfect Urdu, in contrast.
- The guy actually wanted us to spread the word around and was very vocal about it, even more than asking for money, which he actually was there for.
- When we asked his name, he murmured something, which none of us could recall afterwards. Although, FS thought he had said it out clearly and we just missed it, I think he intentionally wanted to avoid the question.
All in all, this seemed like an effort to earn some easy money at best (we helped him a little), and promote sectarian violence at worst. Given the circumstances, both of us believe that his motive was the latter one.
By the way, if someone is wondering, I blurred out some controversial text from the images and also cropped other people's faces out of the frame. I don’t want to be a part of someone’s maligned agenda, if there is any.
Thank you FS, YBA and AIK for helping out with this post.