Mystery deepens around missing elderly Indian clerics in Pakistan

Two Indians and a Pakistani disappear from Karachi and Lahore airports on Wednesday evening. But nobody seems to know till Saturday evening what happened to them

Photo courtesy: Sajid Ali Nizami
Photo courtesy: Sajid Ali Nizami
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72 hours after two elderly clerics of Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah, Asif Nizami (82) and Nazim Ali Nizami (66), disappeared from Karachi and Lahore airports respectively, there is still no information about their whereabouts. While the Minister for External Affairs had tweeted on Friday, March 17 that she had taken it up with Pakistani authorities, on Saturday there was no further tweet from her on the subject.


Officials from the Union Home Ministry, however, called up Sajid Ali Nizami, the son of Asif Nizami on Saturday afternoon to say that they were hopeful that the missing clerics would be found soon.


Nizami and his nephew had left for Pakistan on March 6 on a short, 10-day trip and were expected to fly back to New Delhi on March 16. They were visiting Pakistan, said family members, after 30 years and planned to look up relatives and visit Sufi shrines in Pakistan.


The family claims the duo were travelling on ‘VIP Visa’ and were not directed to report to police stations wherever they visited. Indeed they were received well in Pakistan and several functions had been held to felicitate them.


The two clerics, members of the extended family of the Sajjada Nashin (hereditary administrator) of the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi, had flown to Karachi in a Pakistan Airlines flight from Delhi. On March 15 they had visited the well-known Daata Darbar Dargah in Lahore and were reportedly driven to the Lahore airport by local leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party.


Nazim Ali apparently called relatives in Delhi to inform them that while the older cleric had been cleared to fly to Karachi, he himself had been detained at Lahore by airport authorities on the ground that he did not have all the travel documents. Curiously, after making the phone call, he too seems to have disappeared.


The mystery deepened further when someone by the name of Hammad from his sister Kanwar Jahan’s home in Karachi went to receive Asif Nizami at the Karachi airport. The man, who also worked at the airport, apparently waited for three to four hours after the flight landed and claimed that the 82-year-old cleric had not emerged from the airport.


Even more mysteriously, he too then disappeared.


Pakistani media quoted officials of both Punjab Police and Sindh Police as denying any knowledge of their whereabouts. Pakistani Foreign Office also issued a denial saying that the Special Branch which monitored movement of visitors, especially from India, had no knowledge that the senior cleric had even landed in Karachi.


While a website, Ummat.Net, was quoted by some tweets as saying that the visiting clerics from India had links with the Indian external intelligence agency, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), commentators remained sceptical.


Senior journalist and commentator Sultan Hali told National Herald that it seemed highly improbable that state agencies would detain such well-known and important visitors to Pakistan. “They are reputed and venerated by a large section of Pakistanis and very old; they cannot be a threat to Pakistan or be agents of RAW”.


Hilali also doubted accounts that terrorists may have abducted the clerics. Security in Pakistan, especially at airports, he pointed out is very stringent and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for terrorists to get in.


Pakistani commentators, however, acknowledge that of late there have been several attacks on Sufi shrines in Pakistan including a deadly attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, a month ago on February 16. However, had the disappearance have anything to do with the Islamic State or Daesh, they felt, there would have been an announcement by now.


Meanwhile a delegation from the Nizamuddin Dargah called on Minsiter of State (External Affairs) VK Singh and sought Government of India’s intervention for the clerics’ safe return.

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Published: 18 Mar 2017, 7:30 PM