Mon, Jun 08, 2009 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE : Surge in kidnappings plagues Pakistani cities


The three gunmen forced a car carrying a Hindu filmmaker to stop along a bumpy street, then injected him and his driver with a sedative.

The driver woke up a few hours later. The filmmaker was gone.

Six months later, in April, Satish Anand was recovered in Bannu in northwest Pakistan, said an official involved in negotiating his release. He is one of the most prominent Pakistanis yet to be abducted, and militants are suspected.

The rise in kidnappings comes as a foundering economy leads more people to commit crimes in this country of 170 million people. It’s also a result of the overall erosion of security as Pakistan faces spreading Islamist militancy. Criminals are suspected in most kidnappings, but the Taliban and other militant groups are thought to earn a slice of the money — possibly millions of dollars, officials say.

Police say militants and criminals are hard to separate, making it difficult to trace the money obtained through ransoms. Some criminals call themselves Taliban to inject more fear into negotiations.

“There’s a nexus between these miscreants, these militants and the criminals,” said Malik Naveed Khan, top police official for the North West Frontier Province. “The police do not have enough resources to fight militancy and crime at the same time.”

Although there have been some high-profile kidnappings of foreigners, including the eventually recovered UN employee John Solecki, most abductions target Pakistanis.

The kidnapping wave is especially acute in Peshawar and Karachi, two major cities that have long been magnets for militants.

Peshawar is the main town in Pakistan’s northwest, a region along the Afghan border that is most troubled by the insurgency.

Businessmen and entertainers are favorite targets.

The number of kidnapping for ransom cases registered in the North West Frontier Province rose from 57 in 2006 to 147 last year, police said. So far this year, 71 cases have been recorded in the region.

Last year, a 27-year-old male model from Peshawar decided things had gotten so tense that he started to carry a pistol to protect himself. It came in handy months later, when three men grabbed him and shoved him into a car.

“I was just like: ‘What’s happening?’” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “At first, I was just blank. Then I realized I had my gun. I pulled it out, put it at the back of the driver’s head and threatened to blow a hole in it.”

The men pushed him out of the car.

He asked to remain anonymous because of security fears.

The southern port city of Karachi is also a prime hunting ground for kidnapping rings because it is home to many of the business elite. It is Pakistan’s most populous city, with more than 16 million people.

The Citizens Police Liaison Committee, a well-established and largely volunteer-run organization that works with police to retrieve abductees, said the number of kidnappings for ransom last year in the city was 92, up from 64 the previous year. In 2006, the figure was 28.

In any case, official statistics are probably too low. Many families don’t file complaints because of threats by the kidnappers.

Sharfuddin Memon, the head of the committee, gave the account of the kidnapping of the filmmaker, Anand, who is not speaking to the media.

In April, a young Karachi man belonging to a family involved in henna production was snatched.

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