On Father’s Day, Christina and Tariq Afridi get a phone call at 1:20pm saying they should come to PIMS hospital in Islamabad. Their son Karim is not well.

They get another call saying they should now go to a private hospital where their son has been taken. On arrival at the Emergency, a family doctor who looks nervously calm meets them. Christina rushes to the ER. “He’s dead!” she screams.

She collapses on the floor asking everyone, who is consoling her, why Karim has died. “I cannot even see his body as they have already bandaged him up in cloth and boxed him in a coffin to be buried.”

Karim Khan Afridi. — Photo by the writer
Karim Khan Afridi. — Photo by the writer

Tariq begins to relate the chain of events leading to June 15. Karim goes to a friend’s home to watch the football World Cup. In the morning, Christina reads a text message from her son saying, it’s late at night so he’ll spend the night at his friend’s home. When his parents call in the morning, there is no response from his mobile phone.

Few hours later, a friend of Karim’s calls to tell them that he didn’t sound good when she spoke with him around 3.30 that morning. “We don’t know when the inmates of the house discovered that Karim had died from a drug overdose.

Why didn’t they pick up the phone to tell me what had happened to my son?” Christina asks again and again as tears continue to flow.

It will soon be two years after that tragic day in June when the couple lost their only son. “We had big dreams for him. All shattered in a split second. He’s gone. We are not blaming anyone; nor do we think there was foul play,” says Tariq.

Christina makes it very clear that they blame no one for his death: “Our son was not an angel. Yes he would smoke hashish, but nobody dies of it. All his friends smoked hashish.”

“There’s a Pashto saying that when a child dies, you bury him in your heart. He’s only buried when the parent’s heart stops beating,” says the mother of 19-year-old Karim Khan Afridi as she wipes her tears

What the broken-hearted parents keep asking again and again is: Why was Karim’s condition not relayed to them? Even if he had passed out from drug overdose, surely his friends would have alerted the household? Why didn’t the lady of the house call the couple?

“Maybe my son’s life could have been saved. They would have pumped his stomach,” Christina says. “Even if he had choked on his vomit and died, we should have been told.

According to the hospital records Karim’s death occurred in the early hours of the morning.” The Afridis are still searching for answers. None come forth. Death-like silence.

See: Whisky, clubs, music: Karachi's nightlife behind closed doors

They owe it to their son’s memory to seek the truth. They will not rest until they know what happened on the night of June 14.

Tariq Afridi, whose diplomatic career in Foreign Service is outstanding, pulls out a folder containing a 39-paged appeal to the deputy commissioner, Islamabad praying for action. As a petitioner, he has named 12 respondents — the hospital doctors where his son was taken, the husband and wife, their two sons and their family doctor, two police officers and finally the state.

The petition is filed under Section 176 read with Section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code of 1898. The petition was also sent to Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar and the secretary interior.

“Dead silence,” says Tariq.

Last October, Tariq again tried to seek justice. Under the headline: ‘Unjust-delayed action by police/civil administration, Islamabad’ to the federal ombudsman.

His complaint is that the inquiry into his son’s death has been “biased and delayed by a failure to exercise powers for improper motives and favouritism”.

Last month the main respondents finally surfaced. They filed a counter complaint to the ministry of interior saying they were being “illegally” harassed by police on the behest of Tariq and Christina Afridi.

See: Three held for selling drugs to school students

Tariq tells me that he does not want to start a “slanging match” where the two warring parties trade personal allegations and indulge in character assassination.

“Our focus is to separate the truth from deceit as evidenced by the facts that show a suspicious collusion between the respondents I’ve named in my petition.”

Every living moment, the Afridis grieve for their son. But they want to save others whose children are on drugs. Children like Karim who have a history of drug abuse need help from family and society. “No parent deserves to lose a child.

Karim is dead, but his name will live forever in the Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation (KKAWF) that we have set up.

Our signature message is: ‘Stay Clean’. Discussing drug addiction is a taboo in Pakistan. “When someone chokes on the drug Ecstasy, the family says it was a heart attack!” says Christina who heads the foundation.

She wants the government to provide facilities for recreation where the youth can use their spare time in some healthy pastime, like playing sports. Calling drug abuse the “weapon of mass destruction”, she fears that Pakistan is in danger of losing its young to this fatal addiction.

Examine: Thousands of Ecstasy pills seized

Three years ago, there were 860,000 addicts who used heroin regularly and 320,000 were opium users while 1.06 million people, aged between 15 to 64 years, were using opiates and controlled substance including misuse of prescription drugs. “It has jumped many times since then,” she says.

Drugs kill. There are two types of people who fall victims to drug abuse: the very rich and the very poor. The former use drugs for fun because they are bored; the latter use drugs to numb the pain of poverty.

The foundation’s quest is to “spread knowledge on prevention of drug use, equip parents, teachers and families on early signs and symptoms of drug use at home, schools and among friends”.

Karim’s school friends staged Shattered Dreams, watched by 2,200 people in which 1,600 were students from 28 schools. The students were then asked to write an essay on what they gained from the play. The prize-winners were nominated as ambassadors for the Foundation.

The death of Karim has changed his parents’ lives forever. Tariq says: “Every night I prayed to thank God for granting me a son. I was 56 years old when he came. Since his death, I’ve stopped.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 27th, 2016



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