Death-threat couple seek sanctuary

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A PAKISTANI couple whose love crossed fierce tribal lines are reported to be seeking sanctuary in Britain following thousands of death threats. The pair are currently in hiding in Pakistan after an attack which left the groom with four bullets in his spine.

The romance began when Kanwar Ahsan, 30, a clerical worker from the southern port city of Karachi, married Riffat Afridi, 19, the daughter of a powerful tribal chief from the hills of Pakistan's north-west frontier, last February.

Both knew the risks. The couple did not ask the permission of their parents, knowing that it would be withheld. They also knew that, according to tribal custom, Ms Afridi's family would feel bound to kill them both.

According to the reports, they have spoken to officials at the British consulate in Karachi and have filled out visa forms. A group of British MPs are drafting an Early Day Motion in their support although a spokesman for the British High Commission in Islamabad said recently that he was unable to confirm any application for asylum.

The couple met four years ago and, despite the bitter ethnic enmity between their communities, eloped last september.

Mr Ahsan is a Mohajir - a descendant of Muslim refugees who migrated to Pakistan after its partition from India in 1947. Ms Afridi is from the Pathan tribes whose homelands bridge the Pakistan-Afghan border.

The couple fled to Karachi, where the two ethnic communities have lived in a state of undeclared war for decades. When Ms Afridi's father led demonstrations in the city calling for the death of Mr Ahsan, and his protectors among the Mohajirs, it erupted into violence. Two died and eight were injured in three days of rioting.

When the government arrested Mr Ahsan on a kidnapping charge registered by his wife's family, Ms Afridi arrived at court in an armoured truck with a heavily armed escort.

She wore her wedding dress and defiantly told the court that she had married for love. When her husband arrived he was attacked, shot and badly injured. They have spent the nine months since in hiding.

Ms Afridi and Mr Ahsan's ordeal is by no means unique. Last year, another Pathan woman and her Mohajir lover were hacked to death by relatives after eloping, and in 1995 two tribes in the south-west of Pakistan went to war after a woman ran way from home to be with her husband.

In another recent case, tribesmen killed several of their own relatives after "rescuing" them from a rival clan.

Even if Ms Afridi and Mr Ahsan can get out of Pakistan they may not be safe.

There are numerous examples of outraged relatives following eloping couples overseas to carry out the orders of tribal elders and restore the honour of their family.