There is dire need for an inter-provincial strategy to deal with a sharp rise in kidnapping for ransom cases across the country.
Kidnapping is a business for organised crime syndicates and terrorist organisations alike, who often work in tandem across inter-provincial borders. Law enforcement authorities, on the other hand, are yet to work in perfect coordination and often complain of ‘bottlenecks’ in the system.
According to the interior ministry, 474 people were reportedly kidnapped across the country in 2010 and 467 in 2011. According to an official, for 2012, the current figure has already easily crossed the 100 mark.
However, many cases remain unreported. For example, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 2010 report quoted police figures of 581 registered cases of kidnapping for ransom across the country.
However, another 16,977 cases of abduction were also registered by the police.
Kidnappings on the rise in Balochistan
Furthermore, Balochistan is seeing an upward trend in kidnapping for ransom cases.
According to an official Balochistan government document, available with The Express Tribune, between June 2011 and February 2012, 170 people were abducted in the province, out of which, 142 were recovered. Between 2010 and 2012, 11 gangs involved in kidnapping cases were busted. Between 2011 and March 15, 2012, 54 cases were registered in the A areas and 63 in the B areas of the province.
Prisoner exchange and high-profile cases
Senior police officer SSP Farooq Awan said a trend of getting prisoners released in exchange for hostages has emerged ever since jihadis entered the business.
In Punjab, there have been a series of high-profile kidnapping cases carried out by well-trained militant groups in collusion with local criminal gangs. Investigators say the demand in most of these cases involves exchange of prisoners.
The high-profile cases include former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer; a relative of a retired four-star army general (now recovered) and American citizen Warren Weinstein.
Furthermore, a large number of pro-government lashkar heads as well as army personnel have been kidnapped in the north of the country.
In Sindh, however, four reported cases that directly involved the Taliban and its affiliated groups were for ransom and not for an exchange.
Former Central Investigation Agency head Lahore SP Saddar Liaqat Malik said that the red tape involved in booking a culprit from another province is tedious and often takes months.
For example, if a suspect caught in K-P is wanted by the Punjab police, the nominated investigation officer in Punjab will first write a letter to his DSP, which will be forwarded to six officials before reaching the K-P home department, after which the entire process will be repeated in reverse.
Officials in Sindh and Punjab often claim that if a victim is taken to Fata or K-P, there is little one can do for their recovery.
However, SSP Tahir Ayub from Peshawar dismisses this assertion. “Officers in other provinces should look around their own province for the victims – they’ll find the victims were being held within their own jurisdictions.”
Targeting minorities and aid workers
HRCP’s Zohra Yusuf, meanwhile, expressed her concern over members of minority communities being targeted in kidnapping for ransom cases. She said the situation was alarming in Sindh and Balochistan.
Aid workers are also being consistently targeted. According to the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, since 2009, at least 19 aid workers have been murdered and more than 20 abducted across Pakistan.
The CPLC model
According to senior police officer Farooq Awan, there is a clash of interest between the police and the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC).
Policemen complain that the CPLC takes all the credit for successful release of hostages. “But if they mess up, the entire blame is put on the police,” says Awan.
One such mess includes the case of a kidnapped neurosurgeon in Hyderabad who was killed in a police raid conducted to release him. Forensic reports have shown that the doctor was killed by bullet wounds of the police personnel and not the kidnappers. CPLC Chinoy led the raid and was alleged to have not informed the area police. However, Chinoy denies the charges.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.