Extortionists are the bane of the business community’s existence in urban centres across the country and the city is no exception.
Refusing to pay up could easily result in a grenade being hurled at the home of a trader. The threat posed by these criminals has forced businessmen to leave the city as they claim the police have done little to curb the activity of extortionists.
However, it is not only traders who are in danger. A wave of attacks this month targeted the homes of a lawyer and some politicians.
Advocate Kundal Khan tells the harrowing tale of the day a grenade was lobbed at his residence. “Extortionists demanded Rs4 million. When I failed to pay up, they threw a grenade at my house in Pishtakhara on June 20,” he says. The lawyer reveals threatening calls were made prior to the attack from a number which was traced back to an Afghan SIM.
“Widespread extortion was making certain criminals millionaires overnight.”
A Pishktakhara police official says Khan’s complaint against the threatening phone calls was registered three days before his house was attacked.
Hasnain, a resident of Kohati, jokes that the simplest way to “get rich quick is to follow a three-step formula adopted by extortionists.” He says the first step is to buy an unregistered SIM card, the second to make a threatening phone call to a wealthy individual and if these fail, the third step is to lob a hand grenade at the residence of your target to instil fear.
Hasnain points out that one of the areas badly affected by extortion was the walled city of Peshawar. “Criminals introduce themselves to traders as members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and demand extortion.”
Apart from the attack on Advocate Kundal Khan’s house, grenades were lobbed at the residences of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA Khayal Zaman in Hayatabad Phase-III on July 13 and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Misbahuddin in Bhanamari on July 10. The police said the latter had been receiving threatening phone calls and an FIR was registered a couple of days before the attack.
Earlier in the month, the Gulbahar residence of Mumtaz, a businessman associated with PTI, was attacked on July 7.
Life has not been much better for traders residing in Sarband. Extortionists lobbed grenades at the houses of Tariq and Inayat on July 6 and June 30, respectively.
Although cases have been registered, the police have yet to make a single arrest in any of them.
“We are facing difficulties due to a number of reasons,” says a police official requesting to remain anonymous.
“The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police do not have GSM locators,” he said. The official adds that unregistered and Afghan SIMs are easily available, a fact that criminals are making the most of. He says it is essential to address both these issues to curb extortion.
Meanwhile, traders say the police should also arrest people found selling unregistered SIMs. They ask that FIRs be lodged against telecommunication companies whose SIMs are used in criminal activity.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2014.