On June 9, in an idyllic farmhouse owned by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf legislator Aurangzeb Khichi, many unsuspecting guests tucked into the delicious food prepared by Muhammad Rafiq, a cook who had served the family for 37 long years.
It transpired recently that 27 of those people are now dead. Why? The food was poisoned.
But who poisoned the food?
The family cook, Muhammad Rafiq, confessed on Wednesday that he had poisoned the food, which over 50 people consumed. Police investigations reveal that Arsal Khichi, who contested the May 11 elections as an independent candidate against Aurangzeb, paid Rafiq to poison his relatives for defying the family traditions and joining the PTI.
Fatal familial squabbles
The Khichi family is a strong feudal dynasty in sub-district Mailsi of district Vehari. After conflicts within the family, many of the members, including Aurangzeb, joined the PTI.
Investigations into the string of deaths and motives reveal that Alamgir Khichi, who filed an FIR, claimed that Rafiq was bribed by their cousin, Arsal Khan Khichi. Arsal’s father, Afzaal, contested the May 11 elections as an independent candidate and lost to PTI’s Jahanzaib Khichi.
While records indicate that the change of familial allegiance to the PTI may have been the root cause of poisoning, sources also suggest that certain property disputes may also be at play.
A sordid tale
The food at the farmhouse was prepared by two cooks, Rafiq and Muhammad Nawaz, on a regular basis, while Nawaz’s son, Allah Dita, also helped.
Arsal apparently paid Rafiq Rs50,000 upfront to poison the food, while the deal between the two was set at Rs2.4 million. Seemingly, Nawaz was forced into this transaction, and told that his entire family would be killed if he did not comply.
Rafiq and Nawaz cooked the food. Only Rafiq knew that the food was poisoned. Nawaz and his son Allah Dita inadvertently ate the tainted food and died.
The victims also included 10 members of the same family from Burewala who were guests at the farmhouse.
While the FIRs referred to 20 deaths, and initial investigations by health officials stated 23 deaths, the number has now increased to 27 in a week, as dead bodies have arrived from Lahore. Even earlier testimonials of relatives of 18 victims reveal that they died of natural causes. However, autopsy reports have conclusively stated that the deaths occurred due to the consumption of poison.
Taking to task
The police have taken Afzaal into custody and raids are being conducted across southern Punjab for the arrest of the remaining accused. Drivers and other staff were also arrested during the raid on Arsal’s residence in Lahore, while all airport and immigration staff has been alerted to halt any attempts by Arsal to flee the country.
“The criminal will be arrested soon,” said Malik Daud, the deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Mailsi. “Separate FIRs, based on several applications, have been registered.”
According to District Police Officer Sadiq Ali Dogar, two separate teams have been constituted to arrest the culprits.
Help from high up
According to officials, timely steps taken by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif helped avert further deaths. The chief minister ordered medical examination of more than 200 residents in the vicinity known as Fada Town in Mailsi. This saved more than 20 people who had consumed the food.
Shahbaz has personally monitored the inquiry, while provincial health and food ministers have also visited the area.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2013.
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