Release of Owais Ali Shah builds confidence in Pakistani security forces

By Zia Ur Rehman


Various bar association leaders gather in Karachi July 18 to demand the freeing of Owais Ali Shah, the kidnapped son of Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Pakistani forces rescued the younger Shah one day later in Tank District. [Zia Ur Rehman]

KARACHI -- The Pakistani legal community is praising law enforcement and intelligence agencies for the safe rescue of Owais Ali Shah, son of Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, after 29 days as a Taliban hostage.

The intelligence-based rescue signals the government's rapidly growing ability to protect judges, lawyers and their families, legal observers say.

A successful operation

Unidentified masked men kidnapped Owais, a lawyer, in Karachi June 20.

On July 19, Pakistani security personnel rescued Owais in Tank District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

After a shoot-out that left three kidnappers dead, security forces found Owais inside a vehicle with the three abductors' bodies, Pakistani army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa said.

Tank is close to South Waziristan and lies in an area where the Pakistani army has been conducting Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a counter-terrorism offensive that began in June 2014.

A splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and members of al-Qaeda were involved in Owais's kidnapping, Bajwa said.

The troops who killed the kidnappers -- who might have been plotting to transport Owais into Afghanistan -- found weapons, explosives and ammunition in the terrorists' possession, Bajwa added.

Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif commended the forces who launched the Owais rescue and congratulated Owais's parents, Bajwa said.

High-profile kidnappings attempt to spread terror

In recent years, terrorists have staged other high-profile abductions, including those of Shahbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, and Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Security forces rescued Shahbaz in March in Balochistan Province after almost five years of captivity. Afghan forces freed Ali in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, in May after about three years of captivity.

"They wanted to spread terror," Bajwa said of the abductions of Shahbaz and Ali.

Owais had a joyful reunion with his family late July 19 in Karachi.

Owais's kidnapping had spread fear among Karachi residents in general and the local judiciary in particular, Islamabad-based journalist Tahir Ali, who monitors security issues, told Pakistan Forward.

"They might have wanted to use Owais as a bargaining chip to trade for high-profile captured militants," Ali said.

Owais's rescue has restored public trust in law enforcement and the government, Ali said.

Lawyers praise operation

Since Owais' abduction, civil society groups and lawyers' associations in Karachi had organised several protests urging his speedy recovery.

Various courts' bar associations July 18 in Karachi decided to launch a protest movement if Owais was still a hostage one week later, Mehmood Hassan, president of the Karachi Bar Association, told Pakistan Forward.

Owais's rescue just one day after that meeting ended that incipient protest. Hassan expressed the appreciation of bar associations for the government's hard work in returning Owais safely to his family.

"It shows law enforcement agencies are now capable of resolving any kidnapping case," Syed Majid Hussain, a Karachi lawyer, said outside Owais's house.

"Unlike in the past, kidnappers ... no longer can hold hostages for a long time," he told Pakistan Forward, crediting counter-terrorism operations in Karachi and the tribal areas for that progress.

Improved security for judges, their families

Authorities have started making efforts to provide improved security for judges, lawyers and their families.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali, at a July 18 conference in Islamabad of legal and security officials, ordered all provincial chief secretaries and provincial police chiefs to provide more protection to judges and their families.

The Sindh government has been working on a plan to protect judges and their families, Karachi-based barrister Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui, law advisor to Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, told Pakistan Forward.

Shah on July 17 ordered the formation of a separate police force to protect the judiciary.

"About 1,200 police officers have been deployed to protect judges of upper courts, and more than 2,600 police officers have been appointed to lower courts," Siddiqui told Pakistan Forward.

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