In the spring of 2006, Umar Farooq Zahoor received a phone call. “I was in my office, when my mobile rang. Little did I know then that the phone call I was about to receive would change the course of my life forever,” says Umar Zahoor starting with his story.
The famous case of model Sofia Mirza has made rounds in the media for many years. She alleged that her ex-husband Umar Zahoor, a successful businessman and a diplomat based in Dubai, had kidnapped his own twin daughters in 2007 and had, since then, not allowed her to see the girls. Sophia requested various authorities to help her unite with her daughters. From her narration, Zahoor appeared to be a cruel man keeping the young mother from seeing her children. Despite the negative publicity, he kept silent for fifteen years.
Now for the first time, he has decided to tell his story. And what a strange story he has to tell.
Zahoor claims that the story told by Sofia Mirza is one which started with lies and mutated as more and more characters entered into it with time. Sofia, he says, has not revealed the deep darkness in it, where greed and ambition sowed the seed of ruin and even death.
Continuing with the story of the phone call, he says that it was his ex-wife Sofia and she had very sad news to tell. She had miscarried their first child. She told him that she was in a great deal of pain. “It was as if something really heavy had gripped my chest. The loss of an unborn child is also like a bereavement and I felt a sudden sadness for an unseen, unborn baby,” says Umar Zahoor. “I told her to come back home to Dubai so that I could take care of her,” he says. “Sofia took a flight to Dubai the next day. She was in a lot of pain and did not seem to improve.” Worried, Zahoor took her to the hospital. After her examination, the doctor told him about something shocking that Sofia had done. “I could not believe it but as the doctor confronted Sofia and warned her of the dire consequences of her act, she told me the full story.”
Umar Zahoor says that Sofia admitted to him that when she went to see her mother in Pakistan, she was compelled by her to get an abortion. She went with her, somewhere in the suburbs of district Okara where an illegal abortion was performed by a quack in a dark and filthy place. The result was a botched procedure, and a nasty infection. “She said that her mother wanted her to get a divorce and continue with her modeling career in Pakistan – and that having a child would ruin it. “Sofia wept and apologised to me and said she wanted another chance,” Zahoor recalled. “I looked at her in utter disbelief. How do you move from such a point, how do you deal with such deceit?” he asked himself. How was he going to cope with the aftershocks he did not know but somehow he decided to carry on.
A few months later, Mirza became pregnant again; this time she was carrying twins. As the pregnancy advanced to the third trimester, she became agitated and asked Zahoor that she wanted to go home but he categorically refused. The wounds of the last visit were simply too raw. “Sofia started picking fights with me and continually demanded to leave. I, however, was not ready to give in,” Umar Zahoor says.
“One day as I returned home, I was shocked. The house was ransacked, the safe was open and cleaned out; my wristwatch collection, which alone was worth millions of dollars, every last piece of jewelry and all the cash. I sat down beside the open safe and suddenly realised what it meant. “The marriage had ended, actually, it had ended with the death of the tiny fetus in the dark alleys of a shady neighbourhood,” Zahoor says morosely.
“I contacted Sofia and she told me that she wanted a divorce and a settlement. I agreed to it as there was hardly anything else left to be done. I was constantly worried about the safe delivery of the twins, and so I went to Lahore after some time. My daughters were born there in the first week of June in 2007. The weather was terribly hot, and the babies needed extra care as they were so fragile, but it came as a shock to me when Sofia came to my house with the twins and handed them over to me, saying that she did not want to take care of them and I could have their full custody,” says Umar Zahoor. “I was left there, aghast, holding two, ten-day-old infants all by myself.”
Zahoor further says: “I was at my wits’ end and that is when I called my mother in Norway. Realising the delicate situation she took the next flight to Lahore. My mother is the most loving woman I know. When she came and hugged me and told me that everything would be all right, I knew I would survive it.”
The twins were just two weeks old when Umar Zahoor decided to return to Dubai with his mother and the babies, but before he left Pakistan he applied to the Family Court for guardianship of the babies. According to documents obtained by this reporter, a legal agreement was drawn, agreed upon and signed by Sofia Mirza and Umar Zahoor. Based on the settlement, Sofia Mirza handed over the sole custody of the fifteen-day-old twins Zainab and Zunera to Zahoor with visitation rights, and accepted an amount of five million rupees as compensation.
In Dubai, Umar Zahoor’s life was just as can be expected of a single father with infants. His mother stayed for the initial six months, but she had her own household, younger children and husband, and she had to return home. He was left to take care of his babies by himself.
There were the sleepless nights, milk bottles and pampers, stomach aches and colic, vomits and tears, washing and dressing up but then there were also the first smiles and giggles, the sitting up and clapping, the babies’ first steps, the bedtime stories, the cuddles and hugs and the sleeping in daddy’s lap.
As he was settling in and trying to sort things out, there was another sinister turn in the story and this time, a dead man entered the scene in Lahore. Sofia’s father, who she had previously claimed had died decades ago, suddenly appeared out of the shadows. Zahoor is convinced that when he learned that she had handed over the full custody of the twins to her ex-husband, he told Mirza that she had made a blunder by accepting a poor deal. The father believed that she could have easily gotten ten times the amount she accepted from Umar Zahoor. “Despite having signed legal guardianship documents in front of witnesses, she still lodged a kidnapping case against me,” says Zahoor.
This reporter contacted Ms Mirza for a response but she said she had nothing further to say on the matter than what she had previously said in the media.
The court gave instructions for Umar Zahoor to appear before it along with the girls, but he decided not to appear before the court in person. As time passed, the case moved from Sessions Court to the High Court and to the Supreme Court. “There was not a shred of evidence against me. It was a witch hunt and a media trial managed by Sofia,” maintains Zahoor. Meanwhile he lodged a case in Dubai’s court and got full legal custody of his children. The case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan ran for ten years. Eventually, the new Chief Justice was appointed and when it came to his notice, he was shocked to see the details and delays. After an unprecedented 89 court hearings in the SCP, the case was finally disposed of.
Umar Zahoor says Mirza never tried to meet her daughters. She requested from the SCP that she wanted to see her girls, but couldn’t afford the trip. In response, he claims that he gave Rs. 1 million to her on the intervention of the court to facilitate her visit. However, he says, she never made the trip. Another time she asked Umar Zahoor to bring the girls to Turkey so that she could meet them there. Zahoor and the girls went to Istanbul and stayed there for a week, but she never showed up. On another occasion, it was Singapore. “She kept giving me different venues to meet up, but she did not keep her word. I took the girls wherever she asked because I did not want to deprive them of the chance to meet their mother, but Sofia never came and that’s the actual truth,” says Umar Zahoor as he finishes talking.
The twins are now all grown up and turned into beautiful young women who know how to carry themselves with confidence and grace. They are living like princesses in Dubai and have the love of a doting father. They are getting the best education and upbringing. Recently they have appeared in the media. They adore their father, who loves to spoil them, and they have said publicly that they do not want to be with their mother, who they say has disappointed and embarrassed them all throughout with her dishonesty and lies.