There is perhaps only one person whom Khateeb Hussain had informed before he decided to kill his English professor on March 20. On that ill-fated day, the 21-year-old Bachelor of Science student stabbed Professor Khalid Hameed to death in a small office next to the English Department staff room at the Government Sadiq Egerton College, over reservations about a farewell event scheduled to be held the following day. "No one in my family or at the college knew what was going to happen," Hussain told Dawn from the lock-up where he is currently being held.
Bahawalpur police have stumbled upon one individual with whom Hussain shared his sinister plot. The man is Layyah-based lawyer Zafar Hussain Shah Gilani, an active senior Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leader who was picked up by the district police this week in connection with Professor Hameed's murder. In the course of their investigation, authorities arrested Gilani when Hussain's mobile phone records revealed that the student had constantly been in touch with him through phonecalls and social media. Three mobile phones linked to this case are now being analysed by digital experts at the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA).
Hussain's eagerness to take credit for the murder paints an alarming picture of a boy who was inspired by videos of preacher Khadim Hussain Rizvi and possibly radicalised through social media. Even a few days after being in police custody, Hussain said he had no qualms about taking the law into his hands. "I am not from a maulvi family and I am not a Hafiz-e-Quran either. My father owns a motorcycle showroom in Bahawalpur," he said, eager to take credit for Professor Hameed's murder. He confirmed his friendship with Gilani and hinted that he had shared his desire to kill the professor with him on at least two occasions.
Although he was unable to give clear reasons for his growing resentment towards the professor other than some vague discussions held in their Literature classes, when Hussain talked about Gilani, his face softened and his voice lowered out of respect. He said they connected over Whatsapp when Hussain joined groups which primarily discussed religious topics. They had never met in person. "We were in touch almost daily. I offered to help him manage his social media accounts so I used to create basic photo shares and pictures for him.I have basic skills." The night before the murder, Hussain via private Facebook messages told his confidante Gilani what he was about to do. Hussain claims he did not see his friend's response, but that authorities who saw his mobile phone have informed him that Gilani gave him the go-ahead.
DSP Shams Khan, who is supervising this investigation, does not name the group Gilani is linked to, but says he is an admin on 15 or so groups on Whatsapp. "On Twitter, Zafar Hussain Gilani has 8 accounts through which he propagates his campaign for a religious group. He is very active. After the murder of the professor, some messages have been deleted from his social media accounts." Khan confirms that Gilani was informed by Hussain about his plans, and that he responded saying that the professor should be punished.
Gilani's profile photos on his various Twitter accounts bear the unmistakable TLP branding. In one of the public photos, he is seen meeting with TLP leader Khadim Rizvi. Gilani contested the 2018 election on the party's ticket for NA 187, securing 7,425 votes and coming fifth place. He was arrested a few months ago when he staged a sit-in in Layyah and blocked roads over the Supreme Court's dismissal of a petition against Aasia Bibi's acquittal. He was later released on bail. In December last year, he petitioned the Lahore High Court for the acquittal of Rizvi.
DPO Amir Taimoor Buzdar is reluctant to link any group to the crime. "It is the act of one individual but we are not treating it as a routine murder case as section 7 ATA has been applied. We are hoping for a speedy trial in a special court."
The family and well-wishers of Professor Hameed are devastated by his shocking death. At the college, a row of floral bouquets tagged with names of students who gifted them are kept outside the locked door of the office in which he was brutally stabbed — 13 times, according to the autopsy report. No one can understand what offended Hussain or how someone could hate Professor Hameed so much.
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Professor Mohammad Yousaf shared that, after the incident, some students reported to the faculty that Hussain had been going into isolation. "He was speaking against 'liberals' and was becoming extremist minded."
According to Professor Hameed's family, he earned a gold medal in his Masters Programme in Library Sciences, which is what helped him get a job as a professor.
"Why are we having to prove ourselves as Muslims?" asks one family member. “We are in unimaginable pain but society's mentality is making it worse. There is a video being shared which is wrongly attributed to him which is hurting us — that video is not of him [Hameed]."
"If he had said something so controversial, wouldn't other students have spoken against him?' said Professor Waseem of the English Dept. "The entire student body has condemned his murder in the strongest terms."
On Tuesday, the male staff room where Professor Hameed used to sit was packed with professors. They talked about their late friend and greeted visiting professors from the university as well as other colleges who had come to offer their condolences. Several felt the need to mention how often Hameed performed Haj and how disciplined he was about prayers.
"He was so soft spoken and wonderful," said his colleague, Professor Asif Dewan. "He was one of those lenient teachers who would find a way to pass a student so his academic life is not derailed. We often shared jokes together over a cup of tea." Dewan says he is perplexed as to why Khateeb targeted Khalid Hameed specifically.
As they sat together, they thought of what could have angered this misguided youth. “If you are discussing Milton’s Paradise Lost, students may have objections [as it includes stories of the rebellion of Satan],” said one English professor. “In our classrooms, we don't discuss religion or sexuality — even though these themes very much exist in literature.”
Another chimed in: “In Doctor Faustus, he sells his soul to the devil; now, someone can feel offended by this notion but then they should raise an objection. This boy never brought anything to the attention of anyone at school.”
Assistant professor Rashid added, “All I can say is that we are in utter pain. Today, I tried my best to speak and deliver my lecture but I couldn't utter a single word. I had to say sorry to my students and leave the class.”
A day prior to the murder, an anonymous letter was posted on various bulletin boards across campus. Addressed to the DCO, the letter undersigned by “SE college students” objects to the scheduled farewell event on account of “being immodest” but does not mention any teacher or student. Khateeb denies being behind the letter.
DPO Taimoor says there was resentment within the faculty about the event as well. “The principal was aware of the resentment. There was an issue in the staff room which we are investigating. We have written to the vice principal to conduct a high profile inquiry.” He adds: “If the college was aware that this hostile environment exists, then what was their action?”
In response to criticism, Principal Haji Wali Mohammad said, “People who put the pamphlets never tell anyone when they are doing it. I was aware of the pamphlet - but it had no name and the event had been postponed in its aftermath.”
“Now you tell me, there are 6,000 students here — how can the principal know what is going on in someone's mind without any complaint?”