Human drama invariably engages people — all the more so when it involves pirates, danger at high sea, diplomatic rows and, of course, the suffering of families. Even those with no personal association with the four Pakistani sailors who returned home after 10 months in the custody of Somali pirates, as part of the 22-man crew of the MV Suez, which was captured last August, could not help but be moved by the touching homecoming and the scenes witnessed at the Governor’s House, where the former hostages were taken and feted at a grand reception.
But while there is indeed reason to rejoice, we should also ask some questions. The return of the men came only after many months and the payment of a ransom of $2.1 million, 0.11 million of which had been raised in Pakistan. Worse still, the seas remain unsafe, the MV Suez came under pirate attack again, after it was rescued and the Combined Task Force comprising six countries, including Pakistan, set up to patrol the waters around the Horn of Africa remained entirely ineffective. Pakistan had indeed held command of this force from November to April — but seemed unable to work out a means to save the hostages, who have stated they suffered starvation and torture while in captivity.
As a victim of piracy, Pakistan needs to take a lead in devising a strategy to make the vital stretch of water around Somalia safer. It is currently considered the most dangerous sea zone in the world; insurance rates for ships navigating it have soared and some companies have suspended operations in the area. The well-organised operations by pirates continue; the lack of an effective government in Somalia does nothing to help while piracy has benefitted many in Somalian coastal towns. African commentators also point out that ‘piracy’ by European and Middle Eastern trawlers fishing in Somalian waters and forcing fishermen to resort to piracy to survive have been ignored. All these issues need to be addressed, otherwise we may see more abductions, with no guarantee of happy endings.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2011.
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