RAWALPINDI - Not long ago, the clinic of Dr Hamid Hassan in Rawalpindi’s posh Westridge neighbourhood was thronged by patients but now the clinic presents a deserted look.
Dr Hassan chose to leave Pakistan four months ago after repeated threats and demands of extortion by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Earlier this week, Rawalpindi police halted its probe into the cracker attack on his clinic and the threats to his life due to lack of evidence and clues and the incidents have been labelled as ‘untraced.’
The famous surgeon received the first extortion call in August 2012 when a caller, who claimed to be member of TTP, demanded Rs 100 million from him. A 72-hour ultimatum was given to fulfil the demand. Three days later, a cracker was hurled at his clinic on Peshawar Road and the attack was claimed by the TTP.
The surgeon contacted police but soon he lost hope and then decided to knock the doors of an unlikely place: Khalid Bin Waleed Madrassa in Golra area of Islamabad. The surgeon sought the help of seminary administrator Maulana Fazal Rehman Khalil, the founder of Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM).
Dr Hassan felt that Maulana Khalil and his 200 students in Khalid Bin Waleed Madrassa could provide him with security as compared with 16,000 cops, combined police force of the twin cities.
Located in the midst of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the access road to three years old Khalid Bin Waleed Madrassa is littered with filth and garbage and its entry gate is manned by masked and long haired gun-toting students who would allow nobody inside the premises until they get clearance from Abu Saif, a close aide of Maulana Khalil and head of financial affairs of the seminary.
Inside the religious seminary, the outlook of students is completely different from other religious students. Most of them are bareheaded, having short beard and long moustaches with their hair reaching out to shoulders.
From North Waziristan to Kashmir and Karachi, people of diverse ethnic backgrounds can be seen in the religious complex where the formal courses of religion have not yet been started.
Dr Tariq Jamal, former medical superintendent of Federal Government Services Hospital (FGSH), is another physician who instead of seeking help from police approached Maulana Khalil after he received a threatening letter from TTP in March 2013 that demanded Rs10 million as extortion.
In May this year, owner of Savor Foods, a leading food chain in twin cities, was demanded by unknown people to provide money and after a week, one of his outlets in Rawalpindi was attacked that injured 16 people, most of them were passersby.
As more and more cases of extortion and kidnapping for ransom surface, wealthy businessmen and affluent people are turning to religious leaders and heads of seminaries to wriggle out of the dangers to their lives and businesses. Even powerful figures like former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had to seek the help of Maulana Samiul Haq, administrator Haqqania Madrassa in Akora Khattak, for the release his son Ali Gilani who was kidnapped last year, just days before the general election.
According to a report jointly prepared by the Rawalpindi and Islamabad police, TTP was getting active support from hardliner religious seminaries to carry out terrorism and extortion in the twin cities.
The police report states that the main seminaries that provide support to the TTP are Jamia Darul Uloom Zakrya Basti Anwarul Madina, Sara-i-Kharbooza, Tarnol, led by its administrator Pir Azizur Rehman Hazarvi, and Jamia Khalid Bin Waleed located at Shams Colony in Golra neighbourhood which is administered by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil.
A senior police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Nation that majority of the kidnappers had links with religious seminaries . “The extortion money in most cases was received by religious students in Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” the official said.
“They have a very strong network and we have been keeping an eye on them. You see that extortion cases have significantly been reduced this year in the twin cities. Some businessmen and wealthy people avoid informing us when they receive calls from extortionists because they fear backlash. This is not right approach,” the police officer said.
Most of the cases of extortion and kidnapping of ransom have been traced back to religious seminaries , the official asserted.
“Maybe the police are not cooperative or capable and this is the reason that people come to me when their dear ones are kidnapped or asked for extortion money,” Maulana Fazal Rehman Khalil, who was one of the signatories of Osama Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa that called for waging war against crusaders, told The Nation in an interview on Saturday.
“Yes, Dr Hamid Hassan had approached me when his office was attacked and when he was demanded Rs 100 million. I curse those people who resort to unjust extraction of money from wealthy people in the name of Islam,” Maulana Khalil, who was observing Aitekaf in a mosque of his seminary, said.
Guarded by gun-toting long haired religious students, Maulana Khalil dismissed the impression that religious seminaries affiliated with Deoband school of thought were involved in kidnapping and extortion.
“Some anti-Islam propagandists were maligning the religious seminaries on behest of outsiders,” Maulana Khalil said.
Staff Reporter adds: A militant was killed while another arrested in exchange of fire with security forces in Janikhel area of Frontier Region Bannu on Saturday.
Being tipped off about the presence of militants in Bachki Janikhel area, the security forces cordoned off the locality and launched a search operation. Finding themselves encircled by the security forces, the militants opened indiscriminate fire. To which, the forces also retaliated and killed a militant identified as Matiullah Jan while arrested another key militant namely commander Waliullah in injured condition. Waliullah has been moved to unidentified location for further interrogation.