January 4, 2012
Jihadi kidnappings: As the year ends, a new trend in crime reveals itself to experts

Epaper version published in The Express Tribune on Jan. 1, 2012 here

Online version here
KARACHI: 

At least five of over a hundred kidnappings in 2011 have been committed by “jihadi” groups, according to the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) — an increase from just one or two last year.

The links between kidnappings and jihadi groups are often exaggerated, but Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies director Amir Rana says, “After the military operations in Orakzai and South Waziristan there has been a sudden rise in groups using kidnappings as a way to gather resources for their activities.”

According to Rana, this trend has proliferated in Pakistan since 2007. The CPLC chief, Ahmed Chinoy, says it is still hard to establish which groups are responsible. “When we investigate kidnappings we can determine what kinds of gangs are involved because of the nature and location of the calls. The ransom amounts tend to be exaggerated,” said Chinoy. “They also take longer to negotiate with than regular criminal gangs.”

SP Ghulam Subhani at the Anti-Violent Crime Cell (AVCC) says ransom demands are higher “because they use the money for explosives, arms and ammunitions.” In a recent case, Subhani says, they were able to trace some of the leads to Afghanistan and managed to negotiate the initial demand of Rs10 million down to less than Rs3 million.

Profiles of the victims vary, and many tend to be small business owners. Rana points out a disturbing trend in certain parts of Pakistan. “Some groups have started targeting businessmen from minority communities.” CPLC’s Chinoy says militant groups do carry out reconnaissance on their targets but they aren’t necessarily targeting members of certain communities. “These are criminal gangs after all, jihadi or not. We treat them as such and they generally target victims, or even banks, because they can exploit a gap in security.”

The most frequent kidnappings in Karachi took place in Surjani Town, Gulshan-e-Maymar and Gadap this year. In its annual report on crime in Karachi, CPLC found that 101 of 106 cases of kidnapping have been solved and 23 gangs have been apprehended. In 2010, there were 112 kidnappings in Karachi and CPLC says all the cases were solved.

Rana assesses that since the Pakistani military has claimed successes in South Waziristan and Orakzai, “This has probably led to resources becoming closed for Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and smaller groups that affiliate themselves with the TTP and al Qaeda might be responsible for raising resources in cities across Pakistan, including Karachi.” According to Rana, the rise in these kidnappings has been quite sudden and that these groups are commonly referred to as the “Punjabi Taliban”, a claim supported by SP Subhani.

While militants may be using these resources to attack the state, CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy says, “I don’t believe in these theories that these groups go after government-related targets, they simply go where the money is.”

The number of kidnapping cases reported in the last five years has been high, and 2010 and 2011 have had nearly the same number of cases. While there is no foolproof way to prevent being targeted, there are some ways to prepare, including varying commute routes, installing vehicle tracking systems in cars and pre-emptively identifying a negotiator in the family in case of ransom negotiations. While the number of ‘jihadi’ groups committing kidnappings has risen in Karachi, the number is still a small percentage of the total. Even though CPLC says the majority of the cases have been solved, it rings alarm bells because it hints that while the military may experience success in militant strongholds, these successes can have a trickledown effect in one of Pakistan’s most volatile cities.

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