January Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 17 years ago

In an all too familiar scene these days, local law enforcement personnel accompanied by American FBI agents, cordoned off Dr. Ahmed Jawad Khwaja’s house in Lahore in the early hours of December 19. Dressed as civilians, they tried to break into the house, only to be fired upon by private security guards who mistook them for outlaws and the air reverberated with heavy gunfire which died down only when the guards were told over a megaphone that the mid-night-raiders were “law enforcers” and not “law breakers.”

A few moments later, the house was surrounded, and the agency personnel entered, woke up the inmates, including some guests who were visiting to attend a marriage, and segregated the men and women, locking them up in separate rooms.

Without offering any explanation, they put masks over the faces of the men and handcuffed them. The agency personnel searched every nook and corner of the house for over two hours, desperately looking for incriminating evidence. Finally, they remanded four computers, CDs, 0.7 million rupees in cash, personal diaries, children’s used notebooks and even some old clothes. “They collected everything they could find, including notebooks, phone indexes, cell phones, computers, floppy discs, cash and jewelry,” says Ms. Rubina Khwaja, Dr. Javed’s daughter-in-law. They also whisked away all the male members of the family including renowned gastroenterologist, Dr. Ahmed Javed Khawaja, alongwith eight of his relatives.

According to eyewitness reports, at least two ISI, one FBI and number of local police and special elite force vehicles were used in the operation. The FBI team comprised three men and a female operative, while over a dozen women police officials headed by a female sub-inspector also took part in the raid. “All the four FBI agents were talking to us in Urdu and the only thing they were asking about was the presence of Al-Qaeda militants,” says a female member of the family.

According to intelligence sources, the raid was triggered by FBI suspicions that 65-year old Dr. Javed, who is an American national, had strong links with Arab Al-Qaeda fugitives, as well as with senior leaders of the Taliban. “Dr. Javed has been under surveillance for several months by cyber-security experts who have been tracking his e-mail and internet usage,” says an inside source, who also alleges that the FBI had obtained reports that Dr. Javed had visited Afghanistan at least twice after 9/11 to treat injured Al-Qaeda militants. The FBI apparently believes that Dr. Javed and the other suspects have assisted Al-Qaeda by smuggling weapons and giving “material support” to the banned organisation — a charge that family members deny.

Dr. Javed Ahmed Khwaja is the second Pakistani doctor to be arrested for alleged links to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. On October 21, authorities arrested Dr. Amir Aziz, a British-trained orthopaedic surgeon, and held him incommunicado for a month. He was only released after the intervention of the Lahore High Court.

Dr. Javed lived in the United States between 1972 and 1983, from where he did his post-graduate studies. He came to Pakistan and settled in Lahore almost twenty years ago and has been running a free medical dispensary in the area for many years. “He sees at least 200 patients a day and the dispensary runs five days a week,” says a local. After returning from the US, Dr. Javed set up a rubber manufacturing factory that he runs jointly with other family members.

Meanwhile, the other members of Dr. Javed’s family who are currently in the custody of law enforcing agencies, include two of his sons, both US nationals, his brother Naveed Ahmed Khwaja and his son who are both Canadian nationals. Naveed Khwaja was born and raised in Pakistan, but later moved to Canada in the ’60s. He and his wife have four sons and two daughters, all born in Canada. Naveed and his family returned to Pakistan in the late 1970s. His son, Usman, who is now in custody along with Nadeem, was educated at Islamic schools after his father brought him to Pakistan from Canada in 1978, and is currently working in the family run rubber sheet manufacturing factory. Both Naveed’s daughters are married, while his other sons are students. Two are enrolled in religious schools in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, while a third is a fourth year student in a medical college.

Family members maintain that their strong religious orientation does not automatically imply terrorist connections. “There is nothing to hide,” says a relative. “Our family is very religious, but we have nothing to do with any militant outfit.”

Dr. Javed’s family members, meanwhile, say that he had only been to Peshawar, to provide medical assistance to the hundreds and thousands of refugees who came to Pakistan after the war. “He had nothing to do with any terrorist outfit,” says a family member.

The arrest of Dr. Javed’s family members, who command a great deal of respect in the area, has generated much furore and hundreds of people gathered at his house, demanding their release and chanting slogans against America, and its interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Ironically, while Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali had denied that the FBI took part in the raid, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Pakistan’s defacto prime minister, condemned the involvement of the FBI in the raid. “This is clear intervention by the FBI in the sovereignty of independent countries,” he said, warning the FBI sleuths to refrain from carrying out such raids in the future or be prepared for the consequences. Religious parties also took out processions across the country condemning the attacks and highly charged activists chanted slogans of “death to America” and “US intervention in Pakistan unacceptable.” The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal has announced the holding of two public rallies on December 27 and January 3, and the rallying cry is “America Murdabad” or “Death to the US.” “We are inviting all political parties to participate in the rally to show their protest against US policies,” says a party press release.

In the midst of country-wide protests, the authorities released four members of Dr. Javed’s family, keeping five with dual nationalities in custody. Khwaja Ahmed Nadeem, one of the four persons released, told Newsline that all of them were blindfolded, handcuffed and were whisked off to an unknown location after they were picked up from their house. “They put all of us in separate cells and we had no idea of where we were kept,” he said. According to Nadeem, they remained masked all day. Nadeem was taken to another room at about three p.m. and interrogated for 30 minutes. “During this period they kept asking us about our connections with Al-Qaeda, Taliban leaders, and also the Arabs who had been visiting our place over the years,” said Nadeem. “Obviously there was nothing special I could tell them.” According to Nadeem, he was not tortured or beaten, but harassed psychologically, and was not allowed to offer his prayers. “They said they would take me to the camp X-ray in Cuba and grill me there if I didn’t tell them the truth,” says Nadeem recalling his 18-hour long ordeal. “They didn’t beat me up physically, but the tactics which they used were enough to break anyone’s nerves.”

However, in the wake of the legal petition filed by Dr. Javed’s wife in the Lahore High Court, requesting the court to intervene and investigate the reasons behind the raid, of the five family members who are still being held for interrogation, only Dr. Javed and his brother Naveed, who were masked and handcuffed, were produced in the court on the fourth day of their arrest.

The Advocate General of Punjab, Maqbool Illahi Malik, told the court that they had recovered illegal weapons from their house during the raid, and that the detainees had also admitted their links with Al-Qaeda militants during the interrogation. Justice Javed Buttar, however, issued an order for the court to be updated on the progress of the interrogation, but said that the accused could not be extradited to any other country.

The intervention of the FBI in Pakistan’s internal affairs has generated much controversy and led to nation-wide condemnation of foreign raids on Pakistani soil. “If all people who chose to give up their comfortable lives abroad and come to Pakistan to serve their own people are treated like this, in the future, no one will think of returning to Pakistan,” says Dr. Amir Aziz, who was similarly detained by the FBI for over a month.