Kidnapping culture: They show no remorse
He was left in shackles and wasn't allowed to use the bathroom; he ate, drank and passed excreta in the same place.
Just like all the other crimes, this one is a part and parcel of life in Karachi. Hearing about a case of abduction did not really give me goose bumps before. However, all this changed the day one of my own kin got kidnapped.
Being a professor at a medical college, lecturer of another and a doctor, Reza* possessed all the qualities of being the perfect 'victim.'
He was kidnapped on the outskirts of Karachi, on his way to the university along with the driver of the university car. His family did not know for hours and only tried to contact the police when he did not answer his cellphone for eight hours. The police confirmed the abduction one day after it took place, once they traced the abandoned vehicle.
What happened during the next few weeks was enough trauma to last a lifetime. Being a diabetic on insulin and having other comorbidities, Reza's family had enough reasons to worry about his health.
The Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) was approached by the family and they immediately set to work.
Fortunately, for the family, the CPLC came as the much-needed light at the end of the tunnel, and with their step by step support and directions there were some negotiations with the captives. Mr Ahmed Chinoy presides over each kidnapping case himself. He trains, counsels and helps with negotiations with the kidnappers while his team tries to work on the location of the victim. They are professional in their work and have helped recover quite a few kidnapped victims. Mr Chinoy’s assistance in the safe recovery of my dear relative Dr Reza will never be forgotten.
However, what brings me to write these words is the absolutely abhorrent ideology of the kidnappers.
During the whole episode, I was able to listen to multiple taped conversations between the kidnappers and the victim’s son. The sound of their voices sent chills up my spine and their demeaning tone made me shake with fury. However, what distressed me the most was their attitude.
For these criminals, kidnapping for ransom is not just their profession, it’s their birthright; it is their inheritance, their culture and their custom; it is their livelihood, their sole mode of income and their ultimate right.
They do not believe that kidnapping is unjust, illegal or against the laws of the land. They eat, breathe and live this profession, just as their ancestors have for centuries.
They have no conscience.
They go about their heinous activity with such incredible impunity, that it makes one actually wonder whether the victim is at fault for pursuing a profession like medicine and earning a legal and honest living.
The kidnappers argued over the ransom money, bargaining over the amount just like a salesman in Sunday bazaar - only with alarmingly explicit vocabulary.
They repeatedly stated:
Kidnapping is our livelihood and and our demands are absolutely justified and non-negotiable.
One of them - the less hot tempered one - said he would pray for the safe transaction of the ransom, from one party to another, in juma namaz (Friday congregation prayers)!
Once, during a conversation, he also said he would ask his ailing mother for the safe recovery of the victim. At other times, they would threaten and abuse the person on the other line. There was more than one person who called. If they had to make the victim talk, they would ask another person to call and join the two conversations, possibly from where they were holding the victim captive. This makes tracing the location very difficult. Sometimes they would threaten to kill the victim or tell the family that he had passed out and has been in a state of coma. These were all tactics to hurt loved ones and cause them to panic. This always led to hastened efforts for collecting the hefty sum and the family kept losing their thin line of patience.
On the other hand, the CPLC would continue to convince the family to keep negotiating with the kidnappers over the asked ransom, and keep delaying the handover of cash while they tried to locate and tighten the noose around the gang.
If I had thought that the kidnappers wouldn’t hurt their ‘bounty,’ I was in for a nasty surprise. The treatment meted out to the victim has left heinous marks on his body - marks that will scar him for life. What is worse is the emotional trauma he suffered. This is something he will surely never recover from.
The verbal abuse never stopped, and the physical abuse came daily. From punches, kicks, whips, sticks to iron chains, Reza was tortured by these barbaric men endlessly. He was left in shackles and was not allowed to use the bathroom. Hence, he ate, drank and had to pass excreta in the same place. They would give his medication, which they understood was vital for the survival of their ‘prize’. But if this torture had continued for a few more days, Reza would not have made it.
About the gang
From the initial (and later final) investigation of the police and CPLC, the people who kidnapped the doctor belonged to a tribe from the largest province of Pakistan - the same tribe which incurred the wrath of former President General (retd_ Pervez Musharraf. They operate in gangs in the outskirts of the city and are involved in abduction and kidnapping and often merciless killing of many innocent, hard-working, unfortunate citizens of Pakistan.
This particular gang has an impenetrable communication network extending from Mastung to Lahore, that makes tracing their exact location by cellular network impossible. They are in contact with other gangs from adjoining areas of Karachi to those in the South Waziristan. The supply chain of victims is maintained by many intermediaries, who rent their small huts in ‘goths’ and villages near the city.
Even after securing the doctor’s release, after a combined police and CPLC raid at the abandoned hut, the kidnappers are still at large and continue to harass the family till this day. They send death and kidnapping threats if the ransom they owed was not paid. The victim’s son had to finally replace his SIM to avoid their harassment. As for Reza, he eventually left the city of lights in fear of his life for a few months. He still suffers from the post-traumatic stress disorder, and worries endlessly about being kidnapped again.
Reza eventually quit his job at the hospital. He thought if it were best for him to leave the country; but the love for his motherland did not let him leave Pakistan. He has become a prisoner in his own home town.
The crimes continue
Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are aware of these criminals and most often know the whereabouts. The conversations are recorded and often traced. Yet, these barbaric men are running a network of gangs that have not been brought behind bars yet.
Often, the police is aligned with the gangs and withholds information or avoids patrolling areas where they know such elements are active. This can be safely concluded after one of the policeman involved in the ‘misreporting’ of the doctor's car was found lying through his teeth about him not seeing the car there a few hours ago, while his associate confirmed they had seen it together. This led to a delay in the police pursuit.
One explanation to the kidnappers ‘free hand’ lies in the protection and nurturing of such elements by influential men within the power corridors who have provided them a safe haven in their goths and villages across the province. These groups are armed by the leaders of the tribes implicated in this kidnapping. The reason claimed by the LEAs is that before the CPLC and LEAs are able to secure the release of one victim, another gets kidnapped and the escaped kidnappers are no longer the priority for the police.
A few months ago, the ex home-minister of Sindh, Dr Mirza gave a fiery press conference in which he implicated Mr Chinoy as a sympathiser of a popular political party of Pakistan that he thought was a ‘terrorist party’. His calculations were based on a website that showed Mr Chinoy to be a donor to the Khidmet-e-Khalq Foundation, a welfare wing of the MQM. Whatever reasons he had for his verbal diarrhea against Mr Chinoy, it was widely perceived to be a reaction to CPLC’s attempt to recover a few kidnapped victims who were unfortunately traced to a location in Lyari. Rumours were that the location happened to be the headquarters of the notorious Peoples Amn Committee. Whether this was fabrication or an attempt to malign Dr Mirza, several politicians in the past and present have played their parts in protecting these criminals and keeping them ‘safe’ from the police for their own personal or party agendas.
This is one reason why kidnapping for ransom continues to be a profession in Pakistan.
The attitude of some policemen is also a disadvantage, as most of the times the families of the victims end up paying an agreed sum of money to the kidnappers to secure the safety of their loved one. The police take it for granted that the families are rich enough to afford paying the amount. They however, do not miss an opportunity to collect their ‘tips’, sadqas (charity) and ‘rewards’ from the families. Obviously, the kidnappers get bolder each time a family succumbs to their demands.
The recent death of a prominent neurosurgeon in a police operation against the kidnappers is another nail in the coffin - hopefully not the final one for health care professionals. The handful of neurosurgeons left in Pakistan, and other specialists, are wondering whether it is worth healing others at the cost of risking their lives. They are reassessing their priorities and weighing between Pakistani citizenship and their choice of profession. The choice is not easy, but hopefully their resilience will prevent this batch of skilled professionals from moving abroad.
Someone who claims that it is his birthright to abduct innocent people and ask for ransom cannot just be stopped; it isn't as simple as that.
What needs to be defeated is their mindset, and that can be done by eliminating those who protect these criminals and use them as pawns to terrorise and cause ethnic rifts for their personal gains. These monsters are equally responsible for this culture and should be brought to justice.
If this inhumane, distressing and grim situation does not justify the brain drain, then what does?
*Name has been changed to protect victim’s identity
Read more by Jahanzeb here.