WORLD

THE MYSTERY AT HOUSE NO. 114

New evidence further clouds the death of a Canadian in Pakistan

ADNAN R. KHAN August 13 2007
WORLD

THE MYSTERY AT HOUSE NO. 114

New evidence further clouds the death of a Canadian in Pakistan

ADNAN R. KHAN August 13 2007

THE MYSTERY AT HOUSE NO. 114

New evidence further clouds the death of a Canadian in Pakistan

ADNAN R. KHAN

The case of Kafila Siddiqui, the 39-year-old Pakistani Canadian businesswoman found dead in a Pakistani government minister’s home in Islamabad, took another bizarre twist after preliminary findings from a second autopsy were released on July 16. The report, obtained by Maclean’s, contradicts the first post-mortem in one key area: Siddiqui’s death was not natural, and was likely caused by a severe blow to the head by a blunt object that left her with a fractured skull and internal bleeding. That finding was conspicuously missing in the first autopsy report, which her family has suggested was influenced by the now-accused ex-cabinet minister, Mohammad Shahid Jamil Qureshi, 39, who resigned his post shortly before he was arrested on June 22. He is now charged with illegal confinement and creating the environment in which Kafila died, a lesser charge than manslaughter.

The development in the case is vindication of sorts for Siddiqui’s husband, Salman Qaiser, who returned to his Richmond Hill, Ont., home recently after more than a month in Pakistan. “I’m relieved,” Qaiser, the father of

their five-year old son, says. “The evidence was tampered with from the beginning. Qureshi influenced everything right from the crime up to the investigation.”

The family’s ordeal, however, is far from over. The background on this case, as one Pakistani journalist who’s worked the crime beat in Islamabad for the past five years puts it, is “mind-boggling.” In the spring of2005, Kafila

Siddiqui, a young, ambitious businesswoman born in Pakistan, but living in Canada for the past 14 years, meets Qureshi, a young, ambitious politician, at a business conference she organized in Toronto. A few months later, she flies off to Pakistan, leaving her husband and son behind, to pursue what she says are business opportunities. Siddiqui and Qureshi set up a business on the ground floor of a rented house in a quiet, suburban neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital. Eight months later, for reasons unknown, she moves into the second floor of the house. Nearly a year after that, in March 2007, the politician mysteriously moves into the house as well. Three months after that, Kafila Siddiqui is dead.

According to Qureshi, the former Pakistani state minister for communications, at 10:30 on the night of June 8, 2007, he stumbles onto the dead woman on the second floor of the rented home, House No. 114, Street 115, in Islamabad’s Gll/3 district. The new autopsy report, though, suggests a struggle, even a fight, at the end of which Kafila is lying on the floor with a fatal head injury. In one possible scenario, based on Qaiser’s account and supported by eyewitness testimony provided by Qureshi’s cook, Kafila was a prisoner of Qureshi’s, held captive after threatening to end a failing business relationship. Qureshi, on the other hand, maintains that she was a distraught woman in financial trouble, abandoned by her husband in Canada and falling deeper into depression. Regardless of the actual circumstances, the end result is the same: on the night of June 8 or early morning hours of June 9, Kafila Siddiqui dies.

The events that unfold immediately after her death are clearer. Qureshi apparently panics. He calls Siddiqui’s brother in Karachi, her native city on Pakistan’s southern coast. “Your sister is dead,” he says in a daze, and hangs up. Minutes later, he dials Siddiqui’s sister in Lahore, 250 km southeast of Islamabad, and says, “Your sister is dying. I’m coming over.” With the help of his driver and cook, and despite the pleas of Siddiqui’s sister to take her to a hospital, Qureshi loads the woman’s limp body into his official government car and, according to automated highway sensors, drives off in the direction of her sister’s home. It’s still unclear why the obviously distraught minister chose to go to Lahore rather than to a hospital. Perhaps shocked and disoriented, he was some-

how trying to avoid a scandal that could end what had so far been an illustrious career and ruin the reputation of his well-to-do family. But halfway through the journey, he has a change of heart. He tells his driver to turn around and go back. He arrives at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in the centre of Islamabad at 2:30 a.m.on June 9, four hours after setting out. Kafila Siddiqui is pronounced dead on arrival.

What exactly was going on in House No. 114? During the time Siddiqui lived there, she kept an extremely low profile in the upper-class, neatly trimmed suburban neighbourhood. Neighbours say they never saw the woman—only a car that would come and go from the gated premises with curtains drawn over its windows. Inside the house, the ground floor had been converted to an office for Orients Worldwide Group of Companies, a floor-to-ceiling sign in the front foyer welcoming visitors to the business’s head office. Officially, the word was that Siddiqui and Qureshi were business partners running

a consulting firm catering to a wide variety of industries, including Qureshi’s specialty—communications.

But in a deeply religious country like Pakistan, rumours were rife. Why was an unmarried man living with a married woman? What were they really up to? There were, of course, rumours that the two had been having an affair. But as news of Siddiqui’s death spread and some facts leaked out, the tale became more and more sordid. For possibly as long as four months, it was revealed by the cook, Siddiqui was a prisoner on the second floor of the home, locked up in a small bedroom at the back of the house.

Only one person may know the full truth— the accused man himself. Others, including Qureshi’s scared cook and driver, are no longer talking. “They fear him,” says a police officer close to the investigation, requesting anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media. “They told us under interrogation that Qureshi was extremely strict and

bad-tempered. Plus, he’s a feudal and a minister. Ministers in Pakistan are powerful people. The police don’t have as much power as them.” According to the officer, only the cook was allowed into the house. The driver and government guards posted at the gate were barred from entering, forced to walk to a local mosque to use the toilet and a local refreshment stand to get water.

In the weeks and months leading up to Siddiqui’s death, numerous people, from the Canadian High Commission and Pakistani

authorities, came knocking on Qureshi’s door requesting to see the woman in the house. “The last message I received from my wife was on Feb. 7,” says Qaiser. “In it, Kafila said she was terribly sick and she wanted to come home. Then nothing, which was strange because she used to write or contact someone in the family at least once a week.” Qaiser then says he began calling Qureshi regularly, but was continually told that his wife had left the country on business. When authorities were finally notified, after Qaiser filed a complaint to his local MP in Canada on March 28, a number of people, including the local police, were sent out to investigate. In every case, they were turned away by Qureshi’s guards with the same response: this is a minister’s house; there is no woman here. No one pushed the issue. “When a policeman comes to a minister’s house and asks the guard if there is a woman living there,” says the police

source, “if the guard says ‘no’ then the policeman says ‘okay’ and leaves. That’s it.”

That culture of fear and untouchability likely contributed to Siddiqui’s demise. No one crosses feudal lords in Pakistan, especially those in government, without consequences. And Qureshi’s family, a landowning cartel from Muzaffargarh in southern Punjab province, has a reputation for violent behaviour. His brother, a former police officer, was expelled from the force under mysterious circumstances. A general atmosphere

of immunity from the law prevails in the feudal south of Punjab province, where socalled honour crimes are rampant and often go unpunished. It’s an area many Pakistani members of parliament, the same people regularly accused of corruption, call home.

To live within radar range of one of these feudal parliamentarians is to live uncomfortably close to raw, unchecked power. Neighbours of Qureshi all felt its force and many now refuse to talk about Siddiqui’s death. “They’re all terrified,” says the one neighbour willing to open up, although pleading for anonymity. “Everyone knew there was a powerful feudal and government official living at that house. Some of us even knew there was something strange going on, but you simply don’t meddle in these things in Pakistan.”

Non-interference being the standard response to Qaiser’s pleas for help, it should come as no surprise that the official probe

into what actually happened at House No. 114 is in tatters. All indications at this point are that Qureshi used his sway to disrupt the initial investigation into Siddiqui’s death. On the night her body was found, police investigators arrived at the house to gather evidence but instead were—once again—turned away at the gate. “We tried to go in,” says the police source, “but the minister wouldn’t let us. What could we do? He was a minister.” It wasn’t until three days following Siddiqui’s death that the room in which she spent the last period of her life was searched, by which time it had been cleaned and perfumed.

“But it was still a strange place,” adds the police officer. “It was a tiny room with only one window, a charpoy, and a lock on the outside of the door.” A charpoy is a crude bed woven from rough rope in a wooden frame, used generally by the poorest of the poor in Pakistan. For all the apparent luxuriousness of the rented suburban home, Siddiqui received only the basic amenities during the course of her imprisonment. And now, with the investigation still ongoing, in a strange twist that can really only be understood from a feudal perspective, Qureshi has brought in his own men, barely literate thugs from the south of

Punjab, to guard the premises.

There are questions about Siddiqui’s family as well. It wasn’t until the last week of April or early May, according to Mustafa Qayyum, her brother, that any family member went to the house in person to inquire about her whereabouts. “In Pakistan, it’s difficult to file a case against a government official,” says Qayyum, justifying the delay. “That’s why we were trying to file a case in Canada.” But even so, why did it take 50 days following her last desperate message for her husband to lodge an appeal with his local MP, and why did no family member go to the house earlier to ask about her? Sources in Toronto who say they knew the couple paint a picture of a marriage on its last legs, a charge Qaiser vehemently denies, insisting instead that he was in a loving relationship with his wife (although he says he was not happy about her going off to Pakistan). But the time frame described by

him and Qayyum does not portray a husband desperately searching for his wife. Immediately following her death, there’s no doubt that the family, including Qaiser, has been extremely active in ensuring justice is served, but that yawning gap in time is one of the many elephants in the room. “Under the circumstances, I was doing whatever I could,” insists Qaiser, who says he tried calling Qureshi on numerous occasions to find out what was going on with Kafila. “It’s just very difficult to go up against a Pakistani feudal.” Qureshi’s version of events is even less convincing. His insistence in statements to the

media before he was arrested that, in her last days, Siddiqui was depressed and not eating does not fit with the findings of the second autopsy report. It states that, “The body is of a nourished female.” In a statement to the media shortly after Siddiqui’s death, Qureshi also stated that her family was jealous of her financial success. But according to sources in Toronto, the couple was in deep financial trouble. “We’d taken out an equity loan on our house to pay off debts,” Qaiser himself says. “Kafila didn’t have any money. Qureshi was the financial backer.” If that is the case, why was the only business registered in Pakistan, OMC Holdings, under Siddiqui and her brother Mujtaba’s names? Qureshi doesn’t appear anywhere on the company records, his only link to the business being his personal assistant, who signed as a witness to

the registration. The five million rupees ($86,000) in paid-up capital listed under the company’s assets, according to Qaiser, came from Qureshi, but would he put so much trust in Siddiqui, who was listed as owning 99 per cent of the shares? What happened to that money? Under Pakistani law, Siddiqui, or her heir, would be entitled to 99 per cent of OMC’s net value, the remaining one per cent going to her brother. The company, however, based on Qureshi’s own account, was not doing well. Had the money been squandered, and if so, is this a case of money owed and then collected in blood?

The motive behind the killing may never come to light, not if the current investigation is any measuring stick. “We’re trying to get additional charges, including obstruction of justice, added to Qureshi’s charge sheet,” says one of Siddiqui’s family members who has been following the case closely. “But the winds of the investigation are changing in favour of Qureshi. The police are playing a dual role. It’s been some time now that they’ve had the new autopsy report, but they’ve done nothing to upgrade the original charge to murder.” Police officials, however, say that they are continuing their investigation and if new charges are warranted, they will be applied.

For the time being, Qureshi remains locked up in jail and his story, the true story of what happened to Kafila Siddiqui, locked up with him. M