Kidnapping for ransom: a family’s ordeal — by Farhat Taj

The Pakistan Army is conducting an operation in Bara, Khyber Agency. Thousands of people of Bara have become IDPs due to the operation. Despite the operation, the Mangal Bagh group is active and kidnapping people for ransom as usual

Various jihadi outfits based in FATA generate revenues through kidnapping for ransom. One of them is Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam led by Mangal Bagh in Khyber Agency. Villagers in the neighbouring areas, Badaber and Behzad Khel, have made lashkars to protect the communities from kidnapping by this group.

The group has kidnapped many people. Some were released after their families provided the demanded ransom. Others are not that lucky because their families could not afford to raise the demanded amount of money.

Qaid Hussain, a teenager from Parachinar, is believed to have been kidnapped by the militants linked with Lashkar-e-Islam. He was kidnapped in January 2010 from Peshawar where he was a first year student at a local college. I had a chance to talk with his grieving parents, Kamal Hussain and Raz Bibi. Amid tears they narrated their ordeal.

The kidnappers demanded Rs 10 million as ransom for release of their son. The amount is simply beyond the parents’ reach. Kamal Hussain runs a grocery shop in Parachinar and this is his only source of income to support his family that consists of 10 people. The family has been requesting the kidnappers to reduce the amount. Finally, the amount was reduced to Rs 2 million. But this amount too is out of reach for the family. The kidnappers have refused to cut down the amount any further.

The kidnappers have called Kamal Hussain about 70 times since January 2010 to negotiate the price or threaten the family. Once the caller informed that they have put new clothes on Qaid Hussain. “I began to cry. I thought my son has been killed and the metaphor ‘new clothes’ implied that he has been wrapped up in a kafan (shroud),” said the father. The caller responded that he was free to draw any conclusions from the metaphor, but he should remember that even the boy’s dead body would not be given to the family if the ransom had not been paid.

A few days later, another call came to inform that his son has been kidnapped because he is a Shia. Shias are kafir and his son will be killed. A month later, another caller threatened that Kamal Hussain must immediately pay the ransom or they will take the kidneys out from his son’s body and sell them. The caller informed that they have contacts with doctors who can operate upon the boy and also buy his kidneys for a very good price.

Many a time, the kidnappers call to hurl abuses at Kamal Hussain and hang up the phone without listening to him. The kidnappers say that Hussain is an irresponsible father who cannot arrange the money to win the release of his son. Hussain and his wife said they would already have given the money to the kidnappers if they could have arranged for it.

Different people in the group of kidnappers have been contacting him on the phone. Each time the caller speaks Pashto language with Afridi or Waziri accent. Qaid Hussain has never been allowed by the kidnappers to talk to his family on the phone. The family has been begging for a few words with him, but the kidnappers never heeded. They keep saying that the boy has been kept in the mountains where there is no phone.

Kamal Hussain informed that the police in Peshawar have been able to trace the location of the calls. All calls have been made from Bara, Khyber Agency, in FATA and various localities of Peshawar, like Hayatabad and Defence Colony. The police, however, have not been able to arrest the kidnappers even when they have been calling from within the limits of Peshawar.

Qaid Hussain’s kidnapping has made his mother ill. She is sick with high blood pressure and at times has headaches and fever. She informed me that life has become hell for the whole family. Day and night the family weeps for Qaid Hussain. No one can eat or sleep in peace. Two of his youngest sisters, one in class two and the other in class four in a local school, cry for their brother every single day.

The parents request the president and prime minister of Pakistan, chief minister, governor and police high ups of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to help in the release of their son from the kidnappers. The parents said they simply do not have the means to arrange for the money the kidnappers ask for. If they had the means, they would have straightaway handed the ransom amount to the kidnappers. They are helpless and out of sheer helplessness they plead with the state authorities and everyone in Pakistan to help them win freedom for Qaid Hussain from the captivity of the kidnappers.

The Pakistan Army is conducting an operation in Bara, Khyber Agency. Thousands of people of Bara have become IDPs due to the operation. Despite the operation, the Mangal Bagh group is active and kidnapping people for ransom as usual. This brings us to the question: who is the Pakistan Army fighting with if the Mangal Bagh group continues to kidnap people or torture the relatives of those already kidnapped? It is unbelievable that our strong army has not been able to kill or capture Mangal Bagh and destroy his gang of thugs! Is the army helpless or is the whole operation a farce?

The perception in FATA is that the jihadi outfits are the assets of the intelligence agencies to create chaos in the area and generate the impression in the world that the people of FATA are savages and the Pakistan Army is doing a great favour to the world by fighting them. The ultimate aim is to make the Americans run away from Afghanistan through jihadi militancy. Once the US is out, the intelligence agencies would be in a position to impose a jihadi government on Afghanistan. The people of FATA, like Qaid Hussain and his family, are paying the painful price of this policy.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at\04\24\story_24-4-2010_pg3_5