PESHAWAR – Perceived as the other name of fear in Pakistan, Taliban has turned out to be a savior for many citizens in Peshawar, and elsewhere in the Northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) province, which borders neighboring Afghanistan.
Sabir Ali Awan is one of those saved by the Islamist group.
“I had borrowed a loan of Rs 200,000 (2000 dollars) from a local person to cope with a loss in business I incurred on 10 per cent monthly interest rate in January 2012,” Awan, a local small shopkeeper in Matni, a suburban locality of Peshawar, told OnIslam.net.
Striking the deal at RS 10,000 monthly interest for a period of one year, he could not strictly follow the loan schedule due to poor business conditions.
“For initial three months, everything was as per schedule, however after that, I could not pay the full amounts due to poor business conditions,” Sabir recalled.
As a result, he said, the loaner started multiplying the interest with every passing month, and by the end of the year, he still had to pay not only a huge interest but the principal amount as well.
“I protested over this blatant excess, but he (the loaner) did not listen to me, and insisted that I have to pay the interest and the principal amount or get ready for the consequence,” Sabir narrated.
The loaner sent some criminals to Sabir threatening him to either follow the revised loan schedule otherwise he might be deprived of his shop and home.
“I had no other choice but to follow the revised schedule, which was two-time higher than the preliminary schedule,” Sabir said.
But, he had to pay installments as per revised schedule only for three months as the person who lent him the loan suddenly disappeared.
“On inquiry, I found that he left the area following death threats from Taliban he had been receiving for quite some time to either quit this illegal business or get ready for death,” Sabir explained.
Private loaning is common in many parts of Pakistan, especially in KP province, where hundreds of wealthy and influential persons are involved in this illegal business. Initially, they lure the needy people for borrowing loans from them on “easy installment,” but later, they tighten the noose around them through different illegal tactics.
Usually, they hire the services of criminal groups who threaten the borrowers in different ways if they refuse to follow the loaners’ conditions.
In some cases, these criminals abduct the family members of a borrower to force him to bow to the loaner’s demands. Peshawar and Afghan capital Kabul are considered the hubs of private loaning system, which has centuries-old roots there.
Running for Life
Though, the private loaners also enjoy the support of criminal groups, however the fear of Taliban have forced them to run.
“I initially, had ignored a couple of letters I received from purported Taliban warning me to quit this Harram business,” Tehmasib Khan, who had been involved in private loaning system for last two decades, told Onislam.net.
“I thought it was a tactic from some defaulters (who could not follow his loan schedule),” Tehmasib, currently hiding in southern port city of Karachi, added.
“But after few days, some masked persons opened fire on my car just a hundred meters away from my office (in Peshawar), and injured my two guards,” he recalled.
“Next day, I received a call from a purported local ameer (head) of a local Taliban group threatening that I would be their next target.
“This was just a trailer. We did not hit you deliberately but next time it will not be the case,” Tehmasib quoted the Taliban ameer as saying.
Islam forbids Muslims from usury, receiving or paying interest on loans.
Yet, Tehmasib defended his private loaning system, saying there was nothing wrong in that.
“It’s very much like official banking system. The only thing which you can call illegal is that we do not have the government license for that”.
“Interest is Harram for banks and companies as well. But no one complaint about heavy interests charged by banks just because they have government’s backing,” he argued when asked to comment on Taliban’s objection on interest charged by private loaners.
“He, however, admitted that he had hired “staff” to ensure the smooth receiving of installments.
“I have heard about these allegations that we threatened our clients through criminals, and in a few cases, it might be true. But we do not do that with every client.”
“It’s only meant for those clients, who are very small in numbers, when they flatly refuse to pay back the loan despite repeated reminders,” he claimed.
“You have to understand that this is a business. If we do not receive installments from borrowers as per schedule then how would we be able to run this business,” he opined.
Tehmasib blames the police for turning a blind eye to Taliban threats against private loaners.
“I used all my contacts in police. I even approached the top police officials but they did not take any action to protect me and other s(loaners),” he complained.
“After a few weeks of this futile exercise, I understood the fact that Peshawar was not safe for me anymore. Therefore, I moved to Karachi along with my family,” he added.
“I have lost a huge amount of money as the borrowers are not ready to pay the installments because they know I could not do anything against them for the moment,” an apparently helpless Tehmasib said.
Confirming death threats, a senior Peshawar police official stressed that the police are not supposed to provide protection to illegal businesses.
“Security forces are already engaged in grappling with a number of security threats. Frankly speaking, we do not have resources and workforce to tackle this issue,” the official told OnIslam.net wishing not to be named.
“This private loaning system has no credibility. It’s just between a loaner and a borrower. They never follow the banking rules and regulations,” he opined.
He added that the police have received various complaints against private loaners for threatening and physically harassing the borrowers in case they could not pay installments on time.
“We ask loaners and borrowers to go to the courts to settle their issues. Do not involve police in these matters,” he maintained.
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