Cana­di­ans held hostage: We can’t be com­pla­cent

Joshua Boyle’s suc­cess­ful res­cue a rar­ity in a world of kid­nap­pings, writes Gar Pardy.

Ottawa Citizen - - OPINION - Gar Pardy is re­tired from the Cana­dian For­eign Ser­vice and com­ments fre­quently on for­eign pol­icy is­sues. He has just com­pleted a re­port for the Rideau In­sti­tute on the kid­nap­ping of Cana­di­ans, to be re­leased later this year.

Suc­cess­ful res­cues of over­seas kid­nap vic­tims, such as the free­ing of the Boyle fam­ily by Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces, are rare. More of­ten than not, such ac­tions end with the death of the vic­tims or the res­cuers.

Ex­perts say less than 20 per cent of res­cue at­tempts suc­ceed.

That’s one rea­son the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment can’t be com­pla­cent when our cit­i­zens are kid­napped abroad.

Cana­dian Joshua Boyle and his wife, Cait­lan Cole­man, an Amer­i­can, were kid­napped in early Oc­to­ber 2012 as they trekked across Afghanistan.

Three chil­dren were born while they were in cap­tiv­ity.

Their kid­nap­ping was at­trib­uted to the Haqqani net­work, a Tal­iban-re­lated in­sur­gency or­ga­ni­za­tion, largely based in north­west Pak­istan but ac­tive in Afghanistan. Ini­tially, there were re­ports that a ran­som of $150,000 was de­manded, but other re­ports sug­gested a de­mand for the re­lease of pris­on­ers by the Afghan gov­ern­ment. One pris­oner in par­tic­u­lar was named: Anas Haqqani, the son of the group’s founder, Ja­malud­din Haqqani.

Anas Haqqani had been cap­tured in Afghanistan and was un­der sen­tence of death. While other pris­on­ers were ex­e­cuted, there have been re­ports that Anas Haqqani is still alive.

De­tails on the Pak­istani res­cue re­main scant. One re­port sug­gests the Boyle fam­ily had been held in Afghanistan since cap­ture but was re­cently trans­ferred to Pak­istan.

It sug­gests that Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence was able to mon­i­tor the trans­fer on Oct. 11, the fifth an­niver­sary of their cap­ture. De­tails were pro­vided to the Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties, who acted within hours to carry out the suc­cess­ful res­cue.

As with most such events in the Pak­istan-Afghanistan bor­der area, there is rea­son to be skep­ti­cal of such a neat sce­nario.

The Haqqani net­work is as much a Pak­istani or­ga­ni­za­tion as it is an Afghanistan one; there is no rea­son to doubt that the fam­ily has been in Pak­istan for some time. For rea­sons not yet known, Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties de­cided it was time to bring this mat­ter to an end. In time, we will have a more com­plete pic­ture of what hap­pened.

In a state­ment, For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land noted that “Canada has been ac­tively en­gaged with the gov­ern­ments of the United States, Afghanistan and Pak­istan and we thank them for their ef­forts.”

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald also weighed in: “This is a pos­i­tive moment for our coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son spoke of the “in­nu­mer­able lines of ef­fort” to free the fam­ily.

The re­lease of the Boyle fam­ily means that there are now no Cana­di­ans known to be held cap­tive in for­eign coun­tries.

But many have been held at dif­fer­ent times, for in­stance: Bev­erly Gies­brecht. The free­lance film­maker from Bri­tish Columbia was cap­tured in Novem­ber 2008 by uniden­ti­fied per­sons in North Waziris­tan, Pak­istan near the bor­der with Afghanistan.

There were un­con­firmed press re­ports in Novem­ber 2010 she had died in cap­tiv­ity.

Mel­lissa Fung. The CBC jour­nal­ist was kid­napped out­side of Kabul in Oc­to­ber 2008 and re­leased less than a month later af­ter pres­sure by the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan on the fam­i­lies of the kid­nap­pers.

Colin Ruther­ford. In Novem­ber 2010, he was kid­napped in Afghanistan while va­ca­tion­ing in the coun­try.

Un­con­firmed press re­ports state that he was re­leased in Jan­uary last year fol­low­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions by the gov­ern­ment of Qatar to the Tal­iban, which has an of­fice in Doha.

Com­bine this list with the suc­cess­ful re­lease of Cana­di­ans kid­napped ear­lier in Iraq, West Africa, So­ma­lia and Colom­bia, and it’s clear there is no room for com­pla­cency by Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties.

We are not im­mune from such events.

Last year, two Cana­di­ans, John Rids­del and Robert Hall, were mur­dered af­ter be­ing kid­napped in the south­ern Philip­pines in Septem­ber 2015.

Their kid­nap­pers, Abu Sayyaf, is a sep­a­ratist in­sur­gency group cen­tred in the Min­danao is­lands.

Rids­del and Hall were killed when ran­som pay­ments weren’t forth­com­ing and the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment em­pha­sized pub­licly it would not pay.

Two oth­ers, a Nor­we­gian and a Filipino kid­napped at the same time, were later re­leased.

A ran­som had been paid for the re­lease of the Nor­we­gian.

The House of Com­mons Com­mit­tee on For­eign Af­fairs and De­fence has started hear­ings on the state of gov­ern­ment ser­vice to Cana­di­ans in dif­fi­culty over­seas.

It should be ap­par­ent to all mem­bers that the kid­nap­ping of Cana­di­ans should be high on the agenda for early ac­tion, par­tic­u­larly the gov­ern­ment’s em­pha­sis on “no pay­ment of ran­som.”

Un­for­tu­nately, this pol­icy means a death sen­tence for some Cana­di­ans.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ments have used the “no ran­som” mantra as an an­swer to all kid­nap­pings. Re­search by a va­ri­ety of or­ga­ni­za­tions that have stud­ied the mat­ter has shown that this mantra is of lit­tle to no value when lives are at risk.

The pol­icy is no panacea, as has been demon­strated by or­ga­ni­za­tions that have stud­ied the mat­ter closely.

In the mean­time, all Cana­di­ans can re­joice in the re­turn of Joshua, Cait­lan and their young chil­dren.

Re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances, the gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan should be con­grat­u­lated for its ac­tions.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ments have used the ‘no ran­som’ mantra as an an­swer to all kid­nap­pings.

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