“Even the Nazis would not have kept their enemy soldiers during the Second World War in such inhumane conditions as the captors of my son, Babar Jamali, have done,” says Ghulam Hussain Jamali, a 60-year-old farmer in Badin. “Have you ever heard of a man being kept blindfolded, even while he uses the toilet, with no exposure to daylight for five months?” he adds that this is how his son was treated in captivity. This could happen only in our ‘dear homeland’, Ghulam Hussain Jamali says with anger.
Former and serving police officers will tell you that three kinds of people or groups are involved in kidnapping for ransom. The first category comprises organised criminal gangs which kidnap people mainly for money. These gangs are mostly involved in the abduction of wealthy businessmen. Sometimes, these gangs are hired by people to settle personal scores with rivals. Most of these gangs keep their victims within the settled areas, but some transfer their prey to the tribal areas where, according to police officials, “all shades of criminals blend into one another.”
The second category consists of those trained by banned militant groups, often linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Such groups use kidnapping as a source of revenue for their activities or as a pressure tactic to secure the release of their arrested activists or both. Police believe that the militant groups involved in kidnappings have developed close links in recent years with criminal gangs that “provide temporary lodging and logistical support” to the kidnappers in return for money. Usually it is the militant groups that select the targets and timings but police officers say they are also “open to suggestions from their local facilitators”. A retired police officer, who has worked on kidnapping-for-ransom cases, explains that criminal gangs make money by facilitating the militants in reaching their target and helping the kidnappers in transporting the abducted person to the tribal areas. “Militant groups cannot successfully carry out this kind of operation, especially in [the] case of high-profile kidnappings, without the help of their local facilitators,” he says.
Sometimes militant groups are also available for “hire”. A Lashkar-e-Islam activist, for example, was arrested in January 2012 for abducting Syed Feroze Hasan, a Lahore-based businessman. According to the police, Hasan, the owner of a paper mill, was kidnapped at the behest of his business partner and was recovered while he was being shifted to Peshawar.
The third category of kidnappers consists of individuals or groups who get involved in kidnapping for ransom to settle business or family disputes. Police say such kidnappers are very “dangerous” because they usually do not have the infrastructure to hold their victims for a very long time and kill them before or after receiving the ransom money. In Lahore alone, at least four kidnapped persons were killed in 2011. In each case, police suspect the involvement of people who the victims knew quite well.
Police have also discovered many “fake” cases of kidnapping for ransom in which, according to a police source, the “kidnapped persons hide themselves for some time because of business problems or family disputes or to extort money from their own families.” Some 18 fake cases were reported in Lahore alone last year.
Throughout Pakistan, kidnappings for ransom are on the rise. But as the number of victims snatched for ransom is increasing, the number of registered cases declines: the victims’ families are more scared than ever before that even a modicum of contact with the country’s bumbling and inefficient law enforcement agencies could be a costly mistake.
Even in instances where they are involved, the forces of law and order appear curiously ineffective: the Herald’s investigations reveal that most abduction cases are resolved not through courageously-conducted raids but by coughing up the demanded ransom. But police officers gripe that even when arrests are made, it is usually only a matter of time before the perpetrators roam free due to flaws in their prosecution.