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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Taliban’s strategy of kidnapping in Pakistan

Terrorism’s strategy of kidnapping

The Balochistan head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), John Solecki, was kidnapped on Monday when he was going unguarded in his car to his office in Chaman in Balochistan. Mr Solecki was an extremely “valuable” victim because of his status as a UN official and his American nationality. Therefore the reaction from the UN will be most inconvenient for Pakistan in so far as the UNHCR is crucial to Pakistan’s efforts to take care of war-displaced refugees. The UN has the option of terminating its missions if its personnel are not seen to be even minimally secure.

Terrorism thrives on kidnapping for ransom. Its operations need money even if each branch-line cell has its own independent revenue through extortion. We have seen the rise of one warlord after the other when their kidnappings and “extortion notes” were either ignored or not effectively opposed by the state. The rise of Baitullah Mehsud is owed to the kidnapping of Chinese engineers from a project in the Tribal Areas. The problem with high-profile abduction is that the state can no longer adhere to its stance of “not negotiating” with the terrorists when it comes under pressure to pay off and get the abducted person back.

Baitullah Mehsud’s second colossal addition to his treasury was the untold sum he received from Islamabad for letting go of Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul.
Mr Tariq Azizuddin was released in May last year by the Taliban after three months of capture, and the government kept on denying that it had succumbed to both “swap” and “payment”. But the facts are certainly otherwise. When the victim is an important person the terrorists will additionally want the release of its militants arrested by the state.

Kidnapping therefore provides funding and the recovery of arrested activists. The Taliban have an Iranian diplomat — Hashmatullah, an Iranian Commercial Attaché in Peshawar — in their custody. Desperate to find him, the government last raided a locality in Karachi to retrieve him alive. In the battle that ensued, two policemen died while 35 men belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other banned religious outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were arrested. The last named ally of Al Qaeda routinely resorts to kidnappings in Karachi for revenue. The Iranian diplomat is still missing. The conclusion is inescapable: until the state becomes strong enough in the face of the terrorist challenge, “normal” activities, like trade, sports and finally diplomacy itself, will come under risk.

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