Thursday, July 1, 2010

HELLO, and a very good morning to you. I wish I could begin by saying “may peace be on you” in Arabic but unfortunately, I’d risk being thrown into jail besides having to pay a very heavy fine. So we’ll drop that idea for now.

Within the boundaries of this land, as per the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I am not by any definition a Muslim. I am a member of the community that came under intense attack by armed zealots on Friday, May 28. And yes, I witnessed the entire tragic episode firsthand.

It was a normal Friday morning, just like all the other Fridays that come and go. I woke up unusually early by my standards, at 10am. Had a decent breakfast, read the paper, took a shower and was off to pray. That was 1:20pm. Fifteen minutes later, I and four or five others were frantically trying to break the lock to a small room. That achieved, I was holed up in a tiny cabinet with an older gentleman beside me, listening to gunfire and hand grenades exploding while praying to God and furiously dialling the emergency helpline 15 again and again. I won’t go into the details of what happened because you already know them by now. I’m going to tell you what you may not know.

One, threats of violence have been being hurled at us for a very long time. Just recently Amnesty International released a report on minority issues in Pakistan and urged the government to take strict corrective action. Two, the government, whatever it may say, did not provide adequate security even though it was aware of the seriousness of the situation. Three, we — Ahmadis — are not agents of the CIA, Blackwater, Israel, RAW, Mossad or any other organisation or network. We are a religious community without any political affiliations, with no history of violence and are engaged in charity work throughout the world. Our official motto is ‘love for all, hatred for none’.

Let’s get back to what happened that black Friday. I witnessed the Model Town carnage and can testify that there were three, maybe four, policemen in all who had been stationed there for many months. I saw them in their dhotis and slippers, smoking their hookahs, whenever I went to pray. That is what the state saw as ‘adequate’ security. What is the point of policemen being there when all they are going to do is smoke and chew paan? We were offered a false, token sense of security.

Most of the security cover on the day of the attacks was comprised of unarmed volunteers from our own community. Friends and relatives who were outside tell me that the police and the Elite Force, on their arrival at the Model Town site, did not even attempt to go inside and showed signs of fear (last time I checked, weren’t all Elite Force jawans wearing shirts inscribed with ‘no fear’?). Seeing this, members of the community who were outside tried to convince them that they had to enter the premises: the clock was ticking and lives were at stake. On the law enforcers’ refusal, some Ahmadis tried to take their weapons so that at least they could go inside themselves and try to deal with the gunmen.

It was only after the worshippers inside had subdued two of the attackers that the law-enforcement personnel found the confidence to go in. The terrorists, by the way, had an easy passage of entry: they came through the cricket ground which is directly in front of what is called Bait-ul-Noor. Five gunmen. Fully armed. Two with suicide jackets. Do unarmed people in their teens and twenties stand a chance against them? You decide. I hope the honourable khadim-i-aala of Punjab takes note of what I’m saying here. Sir, I’ll be direct for your convenience. There wasn’t enough police and please don’t give us lectures on police bravery.

And yes, you need to dial 15 literally 40 times before you get through. And by the time you do, you’re probably on your way to heaven along with the suicide bomber — or in our case, hell. If news channels can reach the spot 15 minutes earlier than the law-enforcement agencies, then I wonder where the billions of rupees set aside for the police force go.

If we are to revisit the history of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, numerous events and occurrences expose the deep prejudice and discriminatory attitude that the state and religious extremists hold against them. 1953: anti-Ahmadi riots with the call to oust Sir Zafrulla Khan, the country’s first foreign minister and a prominent Ahmadi. 1974: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the country’s first elected prime minister, ensures the passage of a resolution declaring the community non-Muslim. 1984: Ziaul Haq promulgates an ordinance that specifically prevents them from calling themselves Muslim and from using Muslim descriptions and titles. In a nutshell, they cannot refer to themselves as Muslims.

Say the Islamic greeting, publish your books or give out the call to prayer and you’ll be incarcerated in the blink of an eye. Eid-ul-Fitr last year: yahoos try to disrupt the offering of Eid prayers in the very same prayer house in Model Town. And please take note that these prayer houses cannot be called ‘mosques’ under the law (it’s a shame that it’s even called a law), which is why anchorpersons and other journalists use the word ibadatgah (place of worship).

So, on the one hand, we have the constitution and Article 20 which guarantees the right to freedom of worship and the propagation of one’s religion. And on the other hand, you have the Ziaul Haq ordinance. Notice any contradictions? The state first tells us we are allowed the freedom to pray openly. Then it tells us it’s a crime to do so. Oxymoronic? Moronic as well. Honourable chief justice, if the anti-Ahmadi ordinance does not violate the said article and the very basic structure of the constitution of the country, then what does?



A personal Narrative by a Survivor of Terrorist Attack on
May 28, 2010 in Baitul Nur Mosque, Model Town, Lahore,

The 28th of May was a hot and dusty day. It is my routine to leave home for the Juma Prayers at 12:55 pm. That day due to various commitments I got late and my father-in-law said “should we go?” in other words suggesting tentatively that we may not go. But we then decided to go. We therefore started late and reached Baitul Nur Mosque, Model Town five minutes later than usual. It is always my endeavor to find a place in the main front hall preferably in the front rows. That day since we had reached late, therefore I found a place in the last row just next to the central entrance opening into the rear corridor. My father-in-law went to
the rear upper hall. A few minutes into the Khutba, I heard the sound of gun fire. After some initial commotion, people settled down. I thought that the security people posted at the gate will be able to control the situation. But some time later when the sound came closer, louder and more persistent, I got worried. However, I hoped that the police would be able to react and it would be a matter of time before the situation is brought under control. To my utter disbelief, the firing did not subside.

Instead I heard a few loud explosions and then after laps of a few seconds firing was heard from the court yard of the Mosque. My level of worry and anxiety increased. I thought that probably the attackers were too many and some have managed to penetrate the security curtain. At that time people sitting outside the hall on chairs had been moved in and all the doors were bolted from inside. At that same time the people sitting in the main hall started trickling out of it, and into the basement. And then, some body started firing into the main hall through the windows. From the pattern of fire I concluded that there are two people who are firing.

The bullets started hitting the people who were in the line of fire, most of whom were elderly people who being less agile could not move or take cover quickly. In matters of minutes the main hall started looking empty but bloody. Only the injured, the elderly or a few young able bodied persons now remained in the hall. And all of them were crouching by the walls. Most of the bullets were tracer rounds and the ricocheting bullets created the feeling as if the dance of the death is being performed. I had taken cover behind the wall but kept my head up to have some view of the happenings. One attacker tried a number of times to force the entry from the side wooden door in the front. But he could not do so, because two or three very courageous people foiled that attempt by putting their entire weight behind that door. I saw one of them dying gallantly in front of that door and his body slumped there thus blocking it effectively. The attacker then abandoned the effort to force his entry through that door and came towards the rear door with glass pans. He tried to force it open by firing through it, but did not succeed. He then went back towards the front again and started firing through various windows. Every time he would fire through the window at random he would hit some one. Thus he continued to inflict causalities with impunity. One thing which I noticed was that upon being hit by the bullet, people would neither wail nor cry. They all took the hits and suffered the agonizing pain with remarkable forbearance. This in my opinion is reflective of their conviction and steadfastness of faith.

The same attacker then came towards the rear door, squat 15 feet away from it in my full view and started changing magazines and also took out two hand grenades. I also observed that he had blood on his trouser which was probably due to an injury caused to him in the fire fight outside the mosque. He was preparing for further damage in a very deliberate and cold manner. I watched in utter helplessness and horror for over three minutes. He was a sitting duck of a target, but none of us had
any weapon.

When the attacker was making these preparations, I started evolving various plans in my mind. My first idea was that if the grenade falls close to me and I have enough time to react, I will lob it back at him and the second was to dash away from it, in case I can not lob it back. So when he lobbed the first grenade in the corridor, it came to rest towards my feet, and I was therefore unable to pick it up and throw it back, as I was lying flat with my hands and head away from it . Therefore I chose to dash away towards the northern wall, I had gone a few feet when it exploded and Gen Nasir took the full brunt of the blast on his face and chest and Wing Commander A was hit on his thighs and feet.

The same attacker then forced his entry into rear upper hall and started shooting at the people there. After some time he came towards the main hall, stood near the railing and lobbed a grenade, which exploded in the centre of the hall and caused a wound to my right foot. Then he fired thrice on a person sitting at the entrance. I saw the man fall to a side and lay motion less. At that time I was lying flat on the ground hiding behind a dead man. The attacker then came to the entrance of the hall. As I saw him, he saw me and I imagine that he must have observed my movement as well; therefore he pointed his weapon towards me. I was sure that I will be killed now. At that time no thought about the family or any thing else crossed my mind. The only thought which came to my mind was to communicate with the God. So, I posed this question to my God “God, is it the end? And then in the same breath, I asked the next question, which I addressed to him in my mother tongue and said “jehraye nazarae toun manu wakhai nain, ouh awein san?” Translated into English, it roughly meant that “All those visions which you have shown me about the future
were just nothing?” My caring, loving, protecting and all omnipotent God answered immediately. The attacker aimed and then fired three bullets at me, which did not hit me. I did not even feel the bullets hitting any where near me. I however did not stir. By that time I had observed that any one who moans or stirs, is instantly shot by him. He was firing single shot, targeting people systematically. I thought that he is going to kill us all one by one. Since I had ducked and was lying motionless, therefore I did not see him until I looked up again after hearing the sound of gun shots after some time. People later told me that after firing from the doorway
he had changed magazine and calmly walked to the centre of the hall.

When I heard the firing start again and did not feel the fire coming in my direction, I slightly raised and turned my head and saw from the corner of my right eye that he was facing away from me and firing, targeting people from right to left one by one. He would fire two or three bullets on each person and then select the next target and start firing at it. That was the moment, on an instinctive impulse; I got up in a flash and rushed towards him. He was 24 feet away from me (I measured the
distance later). I don’t remember whether I ran, jumped, flew or I was propelled by the angles or thrown at him by the God, as I have a very vague memory of my movement. But in the space of time, it takes one to press the trigger once, I was upon him. I say so, because in that time, when I was rushing towards him, I only heard him fire one shot. I was moving at such a tremendous speed that when I hit him in the waist region he was thrown off balance and the weapon fell from his hand.
Such was my speed and so great was the jolt to him that one nephew of mine trapped in the basement, was able to see him, thought that the terrorist has been hit a bullet in the head. I grabbed and threw him on ground. He tried to get hold of his weapon but I snatched it from him by pulling it by its barrel. That is when I burnt my left hand. I sat on him and held him by the neck. Since his arms were free therefore he tried to move his arm under his belly. I thought that he wants to pull a grenade out. So I let his neck go and pulled his hand away from his belly and started hitting the base of his skull with ferocious punches. This I believe stunned and
temporarily immobilized him. It is then that I called for help. M F came with a stick and then N also came to hold him down. I then picked up his weapon and directed the others to tie him up with neckties. Later I instructed the people to remove his bandolier and any other weapon that he might still have on his person. An explosive belt was also removed from his person. He had not been able to detonate the explosive laden belt due to my timely action. The country’s interior minister, later talking to the media, said that it has happened for the first time that a suicide attacker was unable to detonate himself and he has been taken alive. The
importance of this person being caught alive and his criticality to the planners of this heinous crime is indicated by the Monday night’s (1st June) bold raid of the terrorist on Jinnah Hospital, which was most likely executed to eliminate him, in the hospital where he was being treated.

that suddenly his mood has turned ferocious and the sign of terrible annoyance are visible on his face and he rushes towards some one in an aggressive manner and snatches some object from him which appears to be a weapon. After he has done that, his face starts glowing and I feel that the face of Mamoon Abdullah is radiating the light of courage and

In both the visions narrated above, I think I have been portrayed as Abdullah, which means a man of God. I am just that and no more. When I recollect the events of that day I often wonder as to why I stayed in the hall and did not go into the basement with others? No thought of escape ever occurred to me. Throughout the period when the great tragic event was taking place, not for a moment I thought of my wife and children. It never occurred to me that I should try to save myself. I stayed in the position where I had found the place initially at the start of the congregation and watched all the happenings with trepidation from the same point. When the grenade exploded next to me I ran and positioned myself at point from where I was subsequently able to find the opportunity to attack the terrorist. When I thought that I will be killed as the attacker aimed and fired three bullets at me, I was saved and remained fit to execute the task destined to be performed by me. When Apa M (Gen Nasir’s daughter) praised my action which saved many lives and sought the details from my wife. She narrated the joke I had told her about a Sikh, who had jumped into the river to save a drowning boy and when people asked him to explain his heroic effort, he said “first tell me who had pushed me”. She commented that “It was God who had pushed him” I entirely agree with her. While the perpetrators of this heinous crime were planning the murder, Khiar-ul- Makreen was planning his own remedy, unknown to any one or to even myself. Who was to be used just as an instrument, a pawn in the hands of God. I therefore deserve no credit.

There is a personal aspect also, which relates to my immediate family and I would appreciate if you bear with me for a few more minutes and know about that too. That is about my wife, daughter and the son. Their comportment at the time of the crisis must also be shared with you. While the events related to the attack were being telecast live on the TV channels, we were not in communication with each others. My daughter on hearing about the siege of the Model Town Mosque was worried and weeping too. Her colleague tried to reassure her by saying that do not worry, uncle has proper training and he will save himself by taking cover. To that, my daughter replied “You do not know my father, I know my father better, he is not the one who will take it lying down and that is the thing which worries me the most”. She said that, she was however confidant that nothing will happen to me. She derived her confidence from those visions about my future which I had shared with my wife and the children. My son remained calm throughout this gory episode while he was in the school, but broke down when I talked to him after the event. His tears were the tears of relief and gratitude. My wife maintained her composure and remained calm. She was sure that I shall remain safe.

That is reflective of her unflinching faith in the protective hands of the God. The maids in the house said that “we fear for the Sahib’s safety because he is not the one who will sit back”. I thank my God for giving me the courage and wisdom to come up to the expectations of my near and dear ones. Each word which I have written is true and is from the core of my heart.

After the event till the time of writing this short narrative, I have received innumerable calls from friends, relatives and persons unknown to me. The calls came from far away and diverse regions and countries such as Waziristan, Kashmir, USA, UK, Germany, Canada and Zambia.
They called to appreciate my action. I have individually thanked all of them and now I once again gratefully acknowledge their concern for my well being. I say to those who are fighting the ugly menace of terrorism that, I now know the perils they face, therefore I pray for them all the time, because they need our prayers. I request you to also render strength to them through prayers and expression of support for them publicly.

I send this brief description of the events of that fateful day to my sister, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends, colleagues and all others who are close to my heart, in the hope that they will remember me in their prayers. Names of living people have not been mentioned due to the security reasons.