Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights, Religion

PAKISTAN: Abductions For Ransom Blamed on Taliban

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Jun 3 2008 (IPS) - A spate of kidnappings in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and areas adjoining Afghanistan are being blamed on Taliban militia.

“A 14-year-old boy, Mohammad Khan, was abducted by four persons on May 17 from a Peshawar locality, but it didn’t succeed as the police gave chase,” a police official, Raza Khan, confirmed.

Khan said four persons were arrested and the boy was recovered. “The kidnappers are Taliban belonged to Kunar province of Afghanistan, who staged the kidnapping for ransom,” he told IPS.

“The kidnappers are in our custody. We received threatening calls from the Taliban to free them,” he said. He also asserted that the Taliban were behind most of the robberies taking place in the city.

The same evening, militants released Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, after holding him in captivity for 97 days. Apparently, his release came after protracted negotiations between the government and militant leader Baitullah Mahsud, with tribal leaders acting as go-betweens.

Azizuddin was kidnapped from the Khyber tribal region on Feb. 11 while on his way to Kabul.

“There has been no ransom paid for his release,” interior ministry official told a news conference.

But Pakistan’s authoritative Dawn newspaper reported that the government had paid 2.5 million dollars for his release.

On May 25, unidentified persons kidnapped an unnamed official of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Mohmand Agency, who according to some reports was released after a ransom amount of 5 million rupees (roughly 150,000 dollars) was paid.

But the Taliban spokesman has told local reporters that the WHO official and his kidnappers are in their custody, and they would decide their fate.

According to the Taliban, the kidnappers were bringing a bad name to the Taliban by claiming that the abductions were by Taliban. The men will be given “exemplary punishment” to deter others from using the Taliban name to make money through abductions.

However, most people see a Taliban hand in the abductions. Relief agencies and individuals have been regularly targeted by the militants in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan as an easy source of money for their activities.

On Apr. 24, prominent resident, Dr Noorul Wahab, and his driver were abducted from the Matani area in Peshawar, capital of NWFP, by unidentified men.

“I was kept in South Waziristan by Taliban and released when my family paid 5 million rupees to them,” he told IPS. South Waziristan is in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghanistan border.

Dr Mohammad Akram, who was kidnapped from Peshawar on Apr. 25, is still in the custody of Taliban somewhere in South Waziristan. “My brother has spoken to us twice, but the Taliban demands 20 million dollars (700,000 dollars) which is beyond our reach,” his brother, Mohammad Anwar, said.

A political officer and a pro-government elder of the Mohmand Agency were kidnapped on Mar. 13 and were released after three days on paying the ransom demand.

“Those Taliban say they were doing this to raise money. Raising money for Jihad isn’t a sin,” Taliban spokesman, Maulvi Omar, told Ajmeer Khan, a local journalist in Mohmand tribal agency.

A senior official of Mardan district, which has suffered two suicide attacks by Taliban only last month, told IPS that massive corruption has crept into the rank and file of the Taliban. He said criminal elements from elsewhere in the NWFP and FATA had joined the Islamic fighters and were indulging in loot and plunder of the people.

“It is very reasonable to say the Taliban are corrupt,” he argued. “If they aren’t minting money through these illegal means then how do they own the newest vehicles and weapons!” he asked.

Pakistan’s English newspaper The News reported on May 30 that Mahsud, leader of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan, had distributed 400 bags of wheat flour and 10 million rupees (300,000 dollars) as compensation to tribesmen, who had suffered losses during the military operation in South Waziristan.

Sources in Peshawar’s FATA secretariat told IPS that the government had agreed to give compensation to the tribesmen that would be distributed through Baitullah Mahsud. “The tribal jirga had recently asked the governor to distribute the compensation amount through Baitullah”, he said, without elaborating. Both the NWFP government and Pakistan’s federal government are trying to restore peace in the area. On May 21, after several rounds of negotiations, the NWFP government brokered a peace deal in Swat and Malakand, NWFP, with a radical Taliban faction.

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