ISLAMABAD - The families of abducted high profile figures are much concerned about the safety and recovery of their loved ones, especially after the launching of much-hyped military offensive in North Waziristan against militant factions.
Among the abducted persons is Awami National Party’s (ANP) former provincial president from Balochistan, Arbab Zahir Kasi, who was kidnapped by unidentified armed men from Quetta on October 23, 2013. Now, it has been established that he was abducted by Pakistani Taliban who are currently keeping him in restive North Waziristan.
“We are holding him, now it is up to his family and party members whether they meet our demands or not,” a senior Pakistani Taliban commander told this scribe on condition of anonymity via cellphone using an Afghan mobile SIM. “We have contacted his family and party members for ransom but have found no positive response so far. It could certainly keep his life at stake.” He said that the militants also spoke to a senior ANP leader and former provincial minister from KP to pave the way for his safe release after meeting their demands. “The leader replied that the party doesn’t care even if the hostage was cut into pieces,” he added.
According to the commander, they also spoke to another ANP leader from Balochistan regarding Arbab Zahir Kasi’s release but he asked for time to discuss it with his family members.
Sources in North Waziristan revealed that Kasi has been facing severe health issues and he is anxiously waiting for successful negotiations that could ensure his early release. Kasi is not only facing hardships in captivity but the military operation is another factor adding to his troubles.
The spokesperson of ANP Balochistan Syed Zubair Shah Agha said, “The government is showing non-seriousness in the case of Kasi; even a single person is not arrested in connection with his abduction.” According to Agha, the party leadership held meeting with President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Balochistan Abdul Malik Baloch, and all assured about his safe recovery but the support was not put into practice.
According to a relative of Kasi, “The family is negotiating the issue with the kidnappers in its personal capacity and they are near to make a decision. However, the ongoing military assault could delay the process which is going to be a test of patience for the entire family.”
In another such case, the family members of Professor Ajmal Khan, vice-chancellor of Islamia College University Peshawar, are worried about his safety. Ajmal Khan, a renowned academic, is a close relative of Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan. He was kidnapped on September 7, 2010 near his residence in Professor Colony in University of Peshawar.
The family of Professor Ajmal was hopeful about his safe release when the government initiated peace talks with the warring militants but after the launch of the military operation, the family members are worried about him. “During the negotiation process, the family members were expecting the release of Professor Ajmal but now they are praying for his safety during the operation,” said Kamal Khan, a family friend of Ajmal. “Anything could happen to him, especially when the militant hideouts are being targeted during the aerial strikes,” he said.
Prof Ajmal has appeared in a number of videos calling on the government to agree to the militants’ demands for his safe release. The Taliban have time and again demanded the release of two militants arrested in connection with Ajmal Khan’s abduction, however, the government is not ready to fulfil the requirements.
Apart from Ajmal and Kasi, Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the late Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, and Haider Gillani, the son of former PM Yousuf Raza Gillani, are reportedly in the custody of militants.
Kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative business for the militants that provides them with resources to buy arms and train more and more people for insurgency.
The rich among society like industrialists, politicians, academicians and foreigners working in Pakistan are ideal choices for the militants. After kidnapping usually the hostages are taken to Waziristan and some other parts of the tribal belt.
—The writer is a freelance contributor.