Kidnappings for ransom drop to new low in Pakistan

By Javed Mahmood

Pakistani troops conduct a raid in Gilgit-Baltistan August 21. They arrested two suspected terrorists. [Courtesy of ISPR]

Pakistani troops conduct a raid in Gilgit-Baltistan August 21. They arrested two suspected terrorists. [Courtesy of ISPR]

ISLAMABAD -- The number of kidnappings for ransom in Pakistan has dropped to the lowest level in nine years because of on-going military operations against militants, security analysts say.

The incidence of kidnapping for ransom by militants began rising in 2007 and peaked in 2014, before plummeting in 2015 and 2016, according to the Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).

Police recorded 1,510 abductions for ransom by militants in Pakistan from 2007 through May 2016, PICSS said. In 2014, militants perpetrated 355 such kidnappings, but in the first five months of 2016, only 46 such known cases occurred.

"Militants use kidnapping for ransom ... to generate money," the PICSS report said, adding that kidnapping has been a major source of income for militants in Pakistan.

"Militants face financial constraints when kidnapping for ransom activities are on the decline," the report added.

Militants had a variety of uses for kidnapping, PICSS said: bargaining with the government, seeking concessions, settling scores with rival militant groups and establishing their writ in certain pockets, it added.

"Military operation Zarb-e-Azb destroyed the command and control centre of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda and their allied groups in North Waziristan, while security forces' intelligence-based operations in Karachi, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Lahore and other cities dealt a blow to the might and network of the militants," Abdul Khan, managing director of PICSS, told Pakistan Forward. "That led to a sharp drop in kidnapping cases."

The army launched Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014. It continues today.

The TTP abducted residents of major cities like Peshawar, Karachi and Islamabad to raise money, Khan of PICSS said. Ransoms in some cases reached millions of rupees.

In some cases, brutal militants kidnapped more than 20 victims at a time and killed those whose loved ones could not raise the ransom, he said.

Now, with troops eliminating their ability to kidnap at will, the militants find their funding choked off, he added.

Other funding sources are choked off

One alternative, bank robberies, has become more difficult too, observers say.

"Militants robbed banks in Karachi to raise money for militancy, but the Karachi operation eliminated this source of income for the terrorists," Karachi-based security analyst Col. (ret.) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt told Pakistan Forward.

The para-military Rangers in September 2013 began a city-wide crackdown that continues today.

That operation wiped out militant strongholds in Karachi and minimised their ability to perpetrate kidnappings, he said.

However, keeping up the momentum requires security personnel and the government to allocate more resources and to step up co-ordination, he said.

In long-suffering Karachi, which endured kidnappings and other terrorism for years, residents welcome the improvement in security.

"The business community is feeling relieved after the crackdown on kidnappers and militants who used to extort money from businesspersons," said Rozina Jalal, chairwoman of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) committee on social security and special tasks.

"The Karachi operation has eliminated [those] networks of militants and gangsters," she said.

Street crimes against businesswomen, such as robberies, have declined significantly because of the progress in securing Karachi, she said.

FPCCI representatives frequently confer with security officials on ways to tighten security even more, she added.

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