By Morning Star News, Pakistan correspondent
A powerful Pakistani official’s aide who is allegedly running a prostitution ring here has taken a Christian girl from her home and forced her to convert to Islam and marry him, according to the girl’s family.
Khursheed Bibi, a midwife and mother of 15-year-old Asma Masih, told Morning Star News that Ghaji Khan, a close aide of Sindh Provincial Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani, abducted her daughter from their house in Karachi on Dec. 10. The girl’s father is Rehmat Masih.
“Ghaji was our tenant for some months, but we asked him to vacate the premises after two police raids on our house revealed that he was running a prostitution network from the upper portion of our house,” said Khursheed Bibi, of Neelum Colony in Karachi’s Clifton area. “The police recovered some girls from Ghaji’s rooms in both raids; however, he escaped arrest because of Minister Siraj Durrani, who is considered very close to President Asif Zardari and acts as his enforcer in Karachi.”
Mother to seven daughters (two married) and six sons, Khursheed Bibi said the family searched for Asma without success that night in Karachi, Pakistan’s violence-ridden financial hub.
“The next afternoon we got a call from Ghaji that Asma had eloped with him and they had contracted nikah [marriage],” she said. “He also claimed that Asma had converted to Islam and asked us not to look for her, as she won’t be returning home.”
Khan had somehow enticed Asma out of their house and whisked her away, she said.
“I could not believe my ears, because Asma is hardly 15 and Ghaji is thrice her age,” she said. “I told him that I wanted to speak to Asma for the last time, so he handed over the phone to her. ‘What have you done my child, my child?’ I asked as Asma burst into tears. [She said], ‘They are not going to let me return home, mother – do something.’”
Khursheed Bibi said that she and her husband went to Boat Basin Police Station to file a First Information Report, but the duty officer refused to register a case against Khan.
“We told him that Ghaji had abducted our daughter, but the official refused to listen to us,” she said. “[The duty officer said], ‘Do you know Ghaji works for Siraj Durrani? I’d suggest that you forget your daughter and stop creating problems for your other children.’”
Disappointed by the police, Khursheed Bibi said the family filed a court petition to enjoin the police to register a case against Khan and recover Asma from his custody.
“We told the court that our daughter was a minor and could not have made an independent decision to renounce her faith,” she said. “It is quite evident from the circumstances that Ghaji had contracted a fake Islamic marriage with her to avoid arrest. The court admitted the petition and ordered police to register a case against Ghaji and produce Asma in court.”
Police registered a case (No. 644/12) against Khan on Dec. 22, but despite repeated court directions to arrest him, officers have not complied.
“The judicial magistrate (South) has repeatedly ordered the investigation officer, Sub-Inspector Abdul Ghaffar, to raid the minister’s house and arrest Ghaji, but the police have not gone there even once,” she said.
On Saturday (Jan. 19), the judge ordered police to produce Asma in court yesterday (Jan. 21), but again police officials said they needed more time.
Meantime, Khan’s lawyer has submitted a marriage certificate to police claiming that Asma had converted to Islam and had married his client of her own free will. The certificate issued by Mufti Abdullah of Jamia Yousufia at Malir says that Asma had embraced Islam, and that her new name is Farzana.
“The mufti is definitely a part of this racket,” Khursheed Bibi said. “Even if one supposes for a minute that Asma has willingly accepted Islam, how can the mufti validate a marriage of a 15-year-old, which is strictly against the law? We have submitted evidence [birth certificate and baptism certificate issued by the Philadelphia Pentecostal Church in Karachi] to the court, while Ghaji is claiming that she is over 18.”
Her lawyer, Jamil Virk, has petitioned the court to recover Asma and set up a medical board to determine her exact age. The family has also asked that when police rescue her daughter, she be sent to a government-run women’s shelter until the case is decided.
Khursheed Bibi said that Khan and his associates have continuously threatened them, including death threats.
“We are poor Christians with no one to turn to except the courts,” she said. “I couldn’t control myself and broke down in tears before the judge. I told him that we were being continuously harassed and threatened to stop pursuing the case or else we would be killed, yet we still want our daughter back.”
Noting that police had repeatedly defied the court’s orders by failing to produce either Khan or Asma, the judge yesterday (Jan. 21) issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Khan and his wife Zareena Begum, who is also allegedly involved; she is said to help him lure young girls into prostitution.
The judge reprimanded police for favoring the accused, warned against any harm to the applicant and her family and ordered officers to produce Khan in court on Wednesday (Jan . 23).
Sub-Inspector Abdul Ghaffar told Morning Star News that police did not have the evidence against Khan necessary to arrest him.
“We cannot raid the minister’s house until we have solid evidence against Ghaji Khan,” he said, adding that “Farzana” had told police that she had wilfully married Khan.
He added without explanation, “The girl is hesitating to appear before the court due to her family.”
Ghaffar rejected the elderly mother’s claim that police were supporting Khan due to the minister’s influence. “There’s no pressure on us from Minister Durrani,” he said.
He acknowledged that Khan had “a minor criminal record” but refused to comment about his alleged involvement in sex-trafficking.
“I don’t know about the raids on Khursheed Bibi’s house, so I cannot comment on the prostitution charges against Ghaji,” he said. “He has told us that Farzana is his third wife, and he has a marriage certificate. It’s up to the court to determine her age and whether she was forced to convert.”
A large number of women and girls belonging to Christian, Hindu and other minority communities in Sindh Province have been forced by Muslims to convert to Islam. In all cases, the perpetrators are either close relatives or aides of influential politicians and feudal lords.
In February 2012 a Hindu woman, 19-year-old Rinkle Kumari, was abducted from her village of Mirpur Mathelo in Sindh Province’s Ghotki District and forcibly converted to Islam by relatives of Pakistan People’s Party lawmaker Abdul Haq, whose alias is Mian Mithu.
The young woman’s family fought a two-month legal battle despite threats to their lives, but in April the Supreme Court ruled that Rinkle had chosen to live with her “husband” and had “embraced” Islam of her own volition.
In March, the chief justice observed that Rinkle, who constantly cried throughout the on-camera proceedings, wanted to return to her parents. When directed to a shelter to make up her mind, Rinkle reportedly “shrieked” and pleaded to go with her mother.
According to various media reports, nearly 300 Christian and Hindu girls and young women are forcibly converted to Islam in Sindh Province every year. Such cases are rarely highlighted in the media for various reasons, fear of reprisal by the Muslim majority being the foremost deterrent.
Once converted to Islam, no person can renounce the faith under the Islamic injunction of “death for apostates.”