By Azam Khan
ISLAMABAD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) –Pakistani investigators under pressure from a high court judge and the prime minister’s office have pledged to arrest leaders of a trafficking ring who duped girls and sold them into the sex trade in Dubai and Pakistan.
The Intelligence Bureau, one of Pakistan’s top national security agencies, said it is requesting the help of Interpol to track down Ayesha Ashfaq, the woman who allegedly lured a 15-year-old Pakistani girl Zunaira Mohammad to work in a beauty salon in Dubai and then prostituted her.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office requested the bureau investigate the case following a report published by Thomson Reuters Foundation last week about Zunaira, who was brutally attacked and now lives in hiding with her family after she escaped from more than four years of sex trafficking.
Zunaira’s story on www.trust.org also was cited in Islamabad High Court on Monday by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, when he ordered the head of the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA) to submit a detailed written report within one week about political corruption allegedly impeding arrests in Zunaira’s case.
Qaiser Mehmood, FIA’s deputy director for legal affairs, told the high court that the agency had not been able to arrest a husband and wife team suspected of trafficking Zunaira because the inspector pursuing the case was being pressured by a local politician from her home city of Faisalabad. Mehmood did not reveal the politician’s name, whom he said is a member of the provincial assembly of Punjab for Faisalabad.
Ayesha Ashfaq is living somewhere in Dubai and her husband Ashfaq Ahmad, a dialysis patient, is hiding somewhere in Faisalabad, FIA’s Sub-Inspector Ajmal Hussain told Thomson Reuters Foundation. The FIA investigation revealed that Ayesha Ashfaq is part of a wider trafficking operation.
“We have apprehensions that she might be part of a bigger racket that is involved in smuggling girls from Pakistan to Dubai for commercial sex trade,” he said.
Islamabad High Court will take up the case again next Monday to examine the FIA's progress. The government meanwhile is providing security to Zunaira and her family.
Almost five years ago, Ayesha visited Zunaira’s parents and persuaded them to allow their daughter to live with her and she would pay for her education and give her a job at her salon in Dubai, according to the family. The poverty-stricken parents agreed. Zunaira wants to study to become a software engineer.
Ayesha’s husband allegedly forged the documents to enable them to transport Zunaira to the United Arab Emirates.
After Zunaira escaped in March 2013 with the help of her brother-in-law during one of the trafficking ring’s trips back to Pakistan, the gang attacked her home, pumped bullets into her right leg, according to her lawyer Zulfiqar Bhutta.
The investigative agency in its report found that Zunaira and her family were still receiving threats from the alleged traffickers, forcing them to sell their house and go into hiding, and that the traffickers have blackmailed girls into withdrawing their criminal complaints against the gang.