PESHAWAR: “Don’t worry about anything,” he said. “Just call me, I will tell Billu [younger brother Bilal] to bring everything your family needs in your absence.” This was the last gesture of help I recall from Zakir Khan Afridi, a member of the special police force who was killed on Canal Road Friday by assailants for protecting anti-polio vaccinators. We lived in the same neighbourhood and he never shied away from lending a helping hand.
The 22-year-old was the second eldest of the six sons of Jan Akbar, a Tirah Valley resident who had migrated to Peshawar. The family had been living on Dora Road near the Government College of Technology on Kohat Road for around 16 years. Their time in the locality allowed the cultivation of good relations with locals, and few could tell that they were migrants.
Engaged to be married, Afridi died just weeks before his wedding day on December 16. “Everything was ready and even the gold ornaments for his wife were at home. We had been planning his wedding, not his funeral…” he trailed off.
Afridi’s longing for joining the police force was not deterred despite several failed attempts. When he did not manage to land a spot in the regular police force, he joined Peshawar’s special police force on contract for Rs10,000 a month. For the last five months, he was reporting to the Bani Marhi police station.
From daily wage worker, taxi driver to being a member of the street patrol, Afridi began to work at a young age to support his family, as his father had died over a decade ago. His elder brother Amir says he treated him more like a friend than younger brother, largely because Afridi was a jovial and good-humoured young man.
With duties ranging from guarding mosques during prayers in Ramazan, shielding Muharram processions and protecting polio workers, Afridi’s peers say he never refused to be in the front and was always in the good graces of his officers.
A young man with a smiling face, he was known to almost everyone in Shareefabad, the area where he lived on Dora Road, mainly because he played good cricket. His big sixes would always attract a crowd, even during night matches in Ramazan.
“He would always smile at bowlers even when he was angry. I loved his style of playing cricket and he was famous as Shareefabad’s Shahid Afridi,” said his friend Saddam Hussain.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2013.