Canadians held hostage: We can’t be complacent
Joshua Boyle’s successful rescue a rarity in a world of kidnappings, writes Gar Pardy.
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.