ISLAMABAD: Bombings, kidnappings, drug trafficking and murder – welcome to a regular day along Pakistan’s most notorious highway – the Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway.
While there are scanners in place at all entry and exit points to and from Islamabad along the motorway, they are only equipped to look for bombs, grenades and other weaponry – not drugs.
“I knew taking the motorway was dangerous because of the countless kidnappings, which is why I decided to travel on it during the day … not for a second did I think it would be attacked by terrorists,” says Adnan Ahmed Khan who was taking the motorway on May 23 to head to Mardan. Just a mile or so from his destination, Khan heard a deafening explosion and all he saw before his eyes was a cloud of smoke.
Seven months on, authorities are yet to uncover the culprits behind the attack.
Casting a doubt on the notion that it was militants who carried out that attack, police officials in Mardan, believe there was some disgruntled locals who had previously protested against a portion of the motorway being shut down.
In a more recent incident, on September 24, Sajjad Memon was abducted while travelling with a friend along the motorway to Pind Nowsheri.
Memon was released after his family was able to pay off the kidnappers a hefty Rs2 million in ransom. “If you’re driving along the motorway in an expensive car, there is a very good chance that you’ll get picked up,” Memon says.
The National Highway and Motor Police (NHMP) say they do not have the statistics for all the kidnappings that have taken place along the motorway, especially since many families chose not to report the incidents, opting to pay the ransom themselves.
The NHMP usually do not have the resources to investigate the kidnappings on their own and often have to do it in conjunction with the Islamabad or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police, an official, requesting anonymity, says. Many of the kidnappings for ransom are carried out by militants, who use this as a means for lucrative source of fund-raising.
Memon says he was not kidnapped by militants but a local gang operating purely for profit. However, he adds that he has heard of other cases where militants have been operating freely along the motorway, usually kidnapping stranded motorists having car trouble.
Militants have three main objectives when carrying out kidnappings along the motorway, the NHMP official says. The first is to raise funds through ransom demands. But increasingly, he says, the ransom demand is not for cash but for the release of imprisoned.
The militants’ demands, the official says, are usually followed up on quietly. “The third reason for the kidnappings is simply because they want to create fear,” he adds.
Now, he adds, the motorway has also become a channel for the illegal transport of drugs from K-P to Punjab and then to the rest of the country. “We can check about 5% of the cars – which means we end up catching very few of drug traffickers.”
“And anyway, our priority is catching the militants,” he adds as an after thought.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2011.