As a mother, Fauzia feels only relief that Zeenat has been reunited with her own family.
That is how Fauzia Ansari, whose son Hamid Ansari is in a Pakistani prison, describes the return of the journalist Zeenat Shahzadi. She was helping him and had been abducted two years ago.
Fauzia Ansari has been fervently praying ever since her son Hamid Ansari was arrested for illegally entering Pakistan in 2012. But it was not only for her son that Fauzia had been beseeching God. For the past two years, her prayers have included Lahore-based journalist Zeenat Shahzadi, who went missing on August 2015, while she was still working on her son’s case. Fauzi’s thoughts on that count have been answered, at least, as Zeenat was rescued from her abductors and reunited with her family earlier this week.
“She did much more than what she needed to do as a journalist — indeed, she did more than most family members would have done. I gave her power of attorney, which was attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here and the Embassy in Pakistan as well. After that, she was the one who made all the arrangements with the lawyers in Pakistan, and did all the needed paperwork for the case to be taken to court,” recalls Fauzia, adding that it was only after extensive research that Zeenat decided to help. “She felt for me, but she told me outright that she needed to corroborate the facts first. So, she spoke regularly to my son’s Facebook friends from Pakistan, as well as the police officers who had initially arrested him before turning him over to army custody. It was these friends who had convinced him that it would be safe to cross the border from Kabul,” she explains.
An angel in a time of dire need, is how Fauzia describes Zeenat. “She became like a daughter to me. She would have only one day off in a week, and she would travel all the way to Peshawar from Lahore in a day’s time to keep up with the proceedings at court,” she says.
“Sometimes she would travel really late and I would stay up all night worrying about her. She would give me a call when she got home,” recalls Fauzia.
As a mother, Fauzia feels only relief that Zeenat has been reunited with her own family. “I’m so glad that she has been found! She did everything by the law — approached all the people in authority through legal means. I was so worried that something would happen to her while helping my son. I had her number with me and tried messaging her, but it was unreachable, so I gave up after the first few tries,” explains the Hindi teacher, who had come to find out about Zeenat’s abduction in the Pakistani media, and the news of her rescue from social media.
“I keep an eye out for any and all news pertaining to Pakistan. Every news of good relations between India and Pakistan comes as a relief, while news of any tension between the countries causes terrible worry,” she adds.
It was five months after Zeenat had been abducted that Hameed’s case finally went to trial in Peshawar, and he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment — a heavy punishment for a mistake made in the impulsiveness of youth. According to reports, he had gone into the country to rescue a girl from the Kohat region of Western Pakistan. He befriended her on Facebook and crossed borders to prevent her marriage to another man. “Since he was also a member of the Rotary Club here, his friends (Facebook) in Pakistan also wanted him to go over there to conduct seminars, and assured him that they would take care of him, even if he went without proper papers. They were the ones who told him to cross the border at Kabul, too. When you are young, you tend to bank on friends and not tell your parents the truth. He made a mistake going into Pakistan without papers. But it was not a crime to be punished so heavily,” says Fauzia, blinking back tears.
With Zeenat’s rescue, however, comes hope. “I have been praying for two years now for both my son and Zeenat to be found. The same human rights group that was working on her case is now working on Hameed’s. I can only appeal to their sense of humanity to help my son as well. I have had a positive response from Sushma Swaraj (external affairs minister), and I know that the Indian government is doing all it can. I can only appeal to the Pakistani government now. My prayers for Zeenat have been answered. I just hope the same happens for my son,” Fauzia sighs.