Ali returned home late evening on 20 October, 2012 after spending 45 days without sunlight. He and his family are convinced that his return was divine miracle rather than the outcome of an ill-afforded ransom put together through borrowings
‘Ali’ was kidnapped from Karachi on 5 October, 2012 while running minor errands for his home. It began as an armed robbery, with some low level bandits attracted by the tatty luxury vehicle that he dared to drive on the pernicious streets of Karachi. Once the thugs realized that they had a senior level banker on their hands, the decision was taken to sell him down to more professional hostage takers who would then hold Ali and bargain with his family for ransom.
Orphaned at a young age, Ali is a self-made man from a modest background. His hard work and charisma took him to a mid-level banking position in the Middle East. He returned to Pakistan at the first possible opportunity in the mid-2000s, drawn by the banking boom at home at the time. He missed Pakistan, and he believed in Pakistan, and continues to remain convinced that a country with a population exceeding 180 million cannot go wrong.
This optimism flies in the face of rationalism, and even more so when considering the harrowing episode that he and his family were put through. Such occurrences are now an integral part of the Karachi experience; the citizens of Karachi are well aware that there are people on the streets who are out to cause them harm or suffering for their own, however petty, reasons. Karachi dwellers also realize that the state of Pakistan does not care about what happens to them, and that if kidnapped or murdered, the only consequences would be for their loved ones and dependents.
As the family waited for any news or update, Ali was traded down to his ultimate captors. The first phone call came two weeks after the kidnapping with Ali’s voice relayed to his family through several phones on speaker. The bargaining process was tedious, and the CPLC of Karachi advised the family on how to proceed. The family made a lapse in judgment a few weeks into the negotiations which resulted in silence from kidnappers for several days, each second of which was deafening for Ali’s wife and three children.
Ali was kept within the city limits of Karachi and could hear ice cream peddlers from the windowless room where he was confined. He was perpetually dosed with muscle relaxants, the soporific effects alleviating the stress of being in captivity. Meanwhile, his family continued to consult officially with police officers and unofficially with intelligence officials from other arms of the state of Pakistan.
An aspect of achieving a moderate amount of success in Pakistan is that one sooner or later connects with people of import in the state, no matter how ineffectual such a relationship might turn out to be. The family discovered, through the same ineffectual sources, that Ali was in the hands of a feudal landlord of the Sindh province where the price paid for his release would eventually be delivered.
Upon his return, Ali explained that the intelligence apparatus is more concerned with the use of ransom proceeds, and pursues cases with diligence where the funds might be used against Pakistan. Ergo, funds which would be gathered for mere cupidity do not merit immediate actionable consideration by the state. This fatuous stance deserves its own coda, as it should be pointed out that this same state apparatus bullies and murders journalists and destroys families (in Balochistan and elsewhere) even where there are no illegally gained funds being generated for use ‘against Pakistan’.
Once the phone calls resumed, the kidnappers’ threats took on increasing severity and included threats of bodily harm to Ali. As the kidnappers sensed that the family was reaching its breaking point, they relented and a deal was reached. Cash was arranged and a road trip was organized by some of Ali’s closest well-wishers to deliver the ransom. Particular care was taken to keep the negotiations and the final outcome from law enforcement officials.
The car delivering the ransom made its way to a district of interior Sindh about three to four hours drive from Karachi, with instructions being constantly received over the cell phone. The passengers were then asked to disembark at a coffee shop in a small city off the National Highway, where they waited an hour for further instructions. They were subsequently asked to drive deeper into the bowels of the city. One passenger was then asked to carry the cash on foot and walked down several meandering streets until he finally came face-to-face with the persons who would take delivery of the ransom.
Ali returned home late evening on 20 October, 2012 after spending 45 days without sunlight. He and his family are convinced that his return was divine miracle rather than the outcome of an ill-afforded ransom put together through borrowings. As a salaried professional, Ali is not able to claim repayments of loans taken to fund his ransom as a deductible expense in his tax filings. This puts additional burden on his now substantially weakened financial position. Meanwhile the state, after failing to provide security for this citizen, now also collects tax on the consequences of its failure.
Ali still believes in Pakistan, and counters any arguments against his convictions by stating that lightning can strike anywhere. The emerging tragedy, however, is that to be honest and moderately successful in Karachi is to be a lightning rod for dangers.
[Editor’s Note: Certain details including ‘Ali’s’ real name have been altered for security reasons.]
|Ahab Minhas is a Pakistani national and works as Vice President at an investment bank in Saudi Arabia