Rising kidnapping of diplomats in Pakistan creates ripples‏

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(Photo: US Aid Worker Stephen Vance gunned down in Peshawar)

LAHORE: The rising number of terrorist attacks on foreigners as well as the kidnappings of diplomats from various parts of Pakistan by Taliban-linked Islamic militants, have created ripples in the official circles of Islamabad which believe that all such incidents were part of a conspiracy to tarnish the image of Pakistan.

The series of ongoing attacks on important foreigners and diplomats began with a daring attempt on life of the principal officer of the US Consulate in Peshawar in August 2008, which was followed by the kidnapping of Afghan Ambassador-designate Abdul Khaliq Farahi in September 2008. Since then, four high-profile people belonging to Afghanistan and another from Iran have been kidnapped by Taliban linked militants. The Pakistan government is much perturbed over these incidents as every attack or kidnapping of a diplomat risks affecting Islamabad’s diplomatic relations with the country to which the kidnapped person belongs. The law and order problem has worsened to an extent that Pakistan, which was once used to be known for its friendly people and hospitality, is now referred to as a place where outsiders are unwelcome and at risk.

Such an impression has been reinforced due to the recent spate of kidnappings of several foreigners as well as the murder of Stephen D Vance, the 52-year old US contractor for USAID, who was tasked to bring aid to the tribal areas of Pakistan. His broad day light killing last week has raised questions about the advisability of posting Americans in Peshawar and in the rest of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Already, there are fears in the official circles of Islamabad that in case the Americans associated with the US-funded $750-million development project for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are not able to stay in Peshawar or visit the sites of the schemes due to security concerns, the project could be wrapped up.

Of particular concern for the Pakistan government are the recent kidnappings of Iranian and Afghan diplomats and Chinese engineers. While the government and its scores of intelligence agencies and law-enforcement departments are still struggling to locate Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate Abdul Khaliq Farahi, who was kidnapped from Peshawar’s Hayatabad area on September 22, another kidnapping took place, and this time it was an Iranian diplomat. Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, the commercial attaché at the Iranian consulate in Peshawar, was too kidnapped from Hayatabad. His Pakistani police guard, Sajjad Hussain Shah, was shot dead by the kidnappers. The ruthlessness of the kidnappers could be gauged from the fact that Farahi’s driver, who was an Afghan national, was killed and so was Vance’s Pakistani driver.

Two other important Afghans have also been kidnapped in Pakistan who are still untraceable. One is Ziaul Haq Ahadi, the younger brother of Afghan finance minister Anwarul Haq Ahadi, who was snatched from Hayatabad, and a former media adviser to Afghan government, Akhtar Jan Kohistani, who was kidnapped in Chitral and reportedly taken to his native Nuristan province in Afghanistan. As if this was not enough, two Chinese engineers were kidnapped in the NWFP’s Upper Dir district and spirited away to the Taliban-held area in Swat’s Matta town. One of them, Long Xiaowei, subsequently escaped but Zhang Guo is still in the custody of the kidnappers after getting injured in his escape bid. One can visualise how miserable he would be feeling all alone in the clutches of the Swati Taliban.

A Polish engineer was kidnapped from the Attock district in Punjab last month but if one were to believe the claim made by the Taliban from Darra Adamkhel, he has been brought to the tribal areas and is now probably with the Baitullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). A deal will have to be cut with Baitullah Mahsud and his TTP now to secure his release and that of the Chinese engineer and others, and this would entail releasing most wanted militants and paying ransom, as had happened on November 5, 2008 when three Most Wanted Taliban prisoners, including Baitullah Mehsud’s deputy Maulvi Rafiuddin, were released after the Taliban released 10 soldiers taken hostage in Hangu district in the last week of October 2008.

As things stand, each incidents of diplomatic kidnapping is affecting Pakistan’s ties with its neighbouring countries, be it Afghanistan, Iran or China. The Afghan government is already suspicious of Pakistan’s role in cross border terrorism and the non-recovery of its abducted ambassador Farahi is clearly sending the wrong signals to Kabul and poisoning the uneasy ties between the two countries. The Iranian government too is anxious about the safety of its 57-year old kidnapped diplomat and has made a strong demand for his recovery. The Chinese don’t say anything in public concerning Pakistan, even if they are repeatedly being harmed in a country that is supposed to be China’s old and sincere friend. And then there are the Americans, who no doubt are not liked by most Pakistanis but are surely giving money to develop the under-developed tribal areas.

The government circles in Islamabad maintain that every foreigner present on the Pakistani soil is a guest and must be treated as such. Killing and kidnapping them is wrong and unacceptable. The fact, however, remains that the Pakistani government is weak, as shown by its failure to stop their killing and kidnapping or secure the safe recovery of those kidnapped.

amir.mir1969@gmail.com

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