A tale of kid­nap­ping

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Rahimul­lah Yusufzai

SHAH­BAZ Taseer's kid­nap­ping in Au­gust 2011 and re­cov­ery about four and a half years later on March 8 pro­vide us with a few in­sights that are worth re­call­ing. First, there is the dis­turb­ing fact that Pak­istan's in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, in­clud­ing the premier one with a rep­u­ta­tion for ac­com­plish­ing tough mis­sions, were un­able to gain ac­cess to the Uzbek kid­nap­pers and their ac­com­plices. This meant the spy net­works couldn't play any role in the re­cov­ery of Shah­baz Taseer.

This raises ques­tions of whether the re­cov­ery of well-known peo­ple kid­napped in the past was made pos­si­ble due to an 'in­tel­li­gence-based op­er­a­tion' or a 'deal' based on pay­ment of ran­som and re­lease of mil­i­tants. Be­sides, the rush by govern­ment of­fi­cials and de­part­ments to claim un­due credit for re­cov­er­ing Shah­baz Taseer only led to fur­ther ques­tions about pre­vi­ous such claims.

There is no doubt that our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have gen­er­ally per­formed well and foiled ter­ror­ist at­tacks, but they have also had their fair share of fail­ure. In Shah­baz Taseer's case, the kid­nap­ping took place in broad day­light in a rel­a­tively se­cure city, La­hore. He was kept there for a few days and then driven in Pun­jab and Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa all the way to North Waziris­tan with­out be­ing de­tected. For three years, Shah­baz Taseer was held hostage in Dan­day Darpakhel vil­lage lo­cated so close to Mi­ramshah, the civil and mil­i­tary head­quar­ters, but was still be­yond the reach of the Pak­istan Army, Fron­tier Corps and Khas­sadar force.

On the eve of the Zarb-e-Azb mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion launched on June 15, 2014, he was shifted to the moun­tain­ous and forested Shawal val­ley, but this too has al­ways been a part of Pak­istan and should never have be­come an in­ac­ces­si­ble place with no writ of the state. Hope­fully, the on­go­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion should es­tab­lish a sem­blance of state au­thor­ity in Shawal, though con­stant at­ten­tion would be needed to re­tain its con­trol due to the ease with which it can be in­fil­trated by Afghanistan-based mil­i­tants.

The govern­ment's in­abil­ity to help prompted Shah­baz's wor­ried fam­ily to take the mat­ter into their own hands and es­tab­lish con­tact with the kid­nap­pers through pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, mostly tribes­men from North Waziris­tan and also Afghans with ties to the mil­i­tants. This chan­nel proved use­ful as the Uzbeks, af­fil­i­ated with the Is­lamic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan (IMU), be­gan com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the fam­ily - pri­mar­ily with Shah­baz Taseer's father-in-law Suleman Ghani, a se­nior civil ser­vant who had re­tired as a fed­eral sec­re­tary.

Se­cond, the on-again, off-again con­tacts with the kid­nap­pers showed how the IMU built al­liances and at­tracted both Afghans and Pak­ista­nis to its fold. This helped it to gain lo­cal sup­port and build sanc­tu­ar­ies. A Pak­istani Pakhtun who in­tro­duced him­self as Mo­ham­mad and a Pak­istani Pun­jabi who gave his name as Sharif be­came in­volved in the tele­phonic ne­go­ti­a­tions in late 2014-2015 for a pos­si­ble deal with Shah­baz Taseer's fam­ily. Both spoke Urdu but their ac­cents be­trayed their eth­nic­ity.

Danyal Aqa, the IMU in­tel­li­gence head who re­mained in touch with Shah­baz Taseer's fam­ily and the media­tors un­til he was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziris­tan, had mar­ried the daugh­ter of a lo­cal cleric and thus be­come a son-in-law de­serv­ing the fam­ily's sup­port.

The kid­nap­ping too was a joint op­er­a­tion. An Uzbek, Mo­ham­mad Ali, and his brother were in­volved, along with ac­com­plices from a Pun­jab-based sec­tar­ian mil­i­tant group in­clud­ing Us­man Basra, Farhaj Butt, Hafiz Waqas and Rana Ab­dur Rah­man. The last-named was bailed out and is re­port­edly liv­ing in a Gulf coun­try while the other three are in jail. The kid­nap­pers wanted them freed at any cost and they were listed among the 22 men who had to be re­leased in ex­change for Shah­baz Taseer. The list was later cut down to 10-13 and the names of Mum­taz Qadri and oth­ers were ex­cluded in a bid to make it palat­able for the govern­ment.

Third, the ter­ror un­leashed by the IMU made it a feared out­fit. It be­came in­dis­pens­able to mil­i­tant groups such as the TTP by of­fer­ing fight­ers to take part in ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Nei­ther the TTP chief Hakimul­lah Mehsud and his deputy Wal­iur Rah­man nor Al-Qaeda and the North Waziris­tani mil­i­tant com­man­der Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur could re­proach the IMU. The IMU erred by of­fend­ing the Afghan Tal­iban in the lat­ter's strong­hold of Zabul prov­ince in Afghanistan and had to pay a heavy price. Fourth, we should see the kind of im­pact made by Op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb on the lo­cal and for­eign mil­i­tants - los­ing sanc­tu­ar­ies in North Waziris­tan and ear­lier in South Waziris­tan due to the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in 2009. They lost towns and ter­ri­tory they had used to or­gan­ise ter­ror­ist at­tacks all over Pak­istan, at­tract re­cruits and run their kid­nap­ping and ex­tor­tion rings. Most of the mil­i­tants es­caped to Afghanistan be­fore Zarb-e-Azb, but their ca­pac­ity to strike back was di­min­ished.

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