Two cars and a motorbike were used to kidnap the son of former governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz, from Lahore’s Gulberg area while he was on his way to work on August 26. The city was gripped with panic because this was the second high-profile kidnapping, coming soon after the kidnapping of an American official from the city. Most likely, Shahbaz has been picked up by the Taliban through their affiliates such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which last February kidnapped the son-in-law of former chairman joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC), General Tariq Majid.
The police is considering other possibilities too. It could be Mr Taseer’s tenants in a plaza which he wanted vacated for repairs; it could be a rival real-estate tycoon seen attacking the Taseer family through a local newspaper; and it could be a quarrel within his circle of personal friends. However, the most credible candidate among the kidnappers is al Qaeda and its subordinate groups out to augment the fast-dwindling kitty of the global terrorist organisation.
Thirty-five year old Amir Malik, the son-in-law of General Tariq Majid, was kidnapped for ransom. He was picked up by armed men in August 2010 from his Faisal Town, Lahore residence. The videotaped message received later showed masked militants wielding kalashnikovs in the background. The price: Rs130 million as well as the release of 153 militants being held in various prisons across Pakistan. The American named Warren Weinstein, too, will most probably be returned after a big payment. An American officer similarly picked up in Quetta was rumoured to have been released after a payment.
It is unfortunate that Shahbaz Taseer did not think much of the security detail provided to him by the Punjab government. The Taseer family had a total of 17 police and five rangers personnel posted with them while Shahbaz himself had two police guards for his personal protection. Because his father, the late governor Taseer, was killed by his own police guard, he travelled without them on the fateful day. The family says they have been receiving threatening phone-calls from the Taliban and their extremist followers in Punjab.
Why should the Taliban-al Qaeda combine be interested in this kidnapping? It should be recalled that when the clergy led by the Barelvi school of thought went on the rampage in Punjab against governor Taseer’s defence of Christian Aasia Bibi’s conviction under the blasphemy law, the Taliban declared themselves resolved to take revenge from the governor. It should also be noted that the cleric who led the funeral prayer for governor Taseer was delivered credible threats till he fled to the UK to seek asylum there. The Barelvis simply don’t indulge in this kind of activity except al Qaeda is short of funds and has slowed down its attacks not because it’s ‘back is broken’ but because it needs to have money to buy weapons and explosives. This happens periodically and the kitty is replenished through kidnappings. These have taken place rather heavily in Karachi and Peshawar. In the latter city, rich people have been pauperised by the heavy ransom they have had to pay to remain alive. Those who collect include warlords like Mangal Bagh of Khyber Agency who have to finance their internecine wars. The last time al Qaeda ran short of funds, it got a retired army officer, Major Ashiq, to kidnap putatively rich people from across Pakistan for ransom. Use of explosives is the mainstay of terrorism in Pakistan and al Qaeda even tried to steal the Wah Factory explosives meant for the mining industry.
Pakistan’s record in foiling kidnapping for ransom is not very good. It is said that one senior Pakistani diplomat kidnapped by al Qaeda’s affiliates in Waziristan was released after a big payment. The same is true of an Afghan diplomat who has recently been released and lives in the palace of President Karzai for fear of being kidnapped again and is narrating his tale of woe to the world media. In the case of General Tariq Majid’s son-in-law, the negotiations may still be ongoing and one should be grateful that state agencies still have a way of reaching the kidnappers. We hope and pray that Shahbaz Taseer will be released soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.