Child kidnap boom that shames Pakistan

by Robert Fisk


Thousands die from bombs but now, says Robert Fisk, the young are targets

Pakistan ambushes you. The midday heat is also beginning to ambush all who live in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province.

Canyons of fumes grey out the vast ramparts of the Bala Hisar fort. "Headquarters Frontier Force" is written on the ancient gateway. I notice the old British cannon on the heights -- and the spanking new anti-aircraft gun beside it, barrels deflected to point at us, at all who enter this vast metropolis of pain.

There are troops at every intersection, bullets draped in belts over their shoulders, machine guns on tripods erected behind piles of sandbags, the sights of AK-47s brushing across rickshaws, and rubbish trucks and buses with men clinging to the sides. There are beards that reach to the waist. The soldiers have beards, too, sometimes just as long.

I am sitting in a modest downstairs apartment. A young Peshawar journalist sits beside me, talking in a subdued but angry way, as if someone is listening to us, about the pilotless American aircraft which now slaughter by the score -- or the four score -- along the Afghanistan border.


"I was in Damadola when the drones came. They killed more than 80 teenagers -- all students -- and, yes they were learning the Koran, and the madrasah, the Islamic school, was run by a Taliban commander. But 80! Many of them came from Bajaur, which would be attacked later. Their parents came afterwards, all their mothers were there, but the bodies were in pieces. There were so many children, some as young as 12. We didn't know how to fit them together."

The reporter -- no name, of course, because he still has to work in Peshawar -- was in part of the Bajaur tribal area, to cover negotiations between the government and the Taliban.

"The drones stayed around for about half an hour, watching," he says. "Then two Pakistani helicopter gunships came over. Later, the government said the helicopters did the attack. But it was the drones."

An Islamabad garden now, light with bright oak trees and big birds that bark at us from the branches, beneath which sit two humanitarian workers, both Europeans who have spent weeks in the Swat valley during and after the Pakistani army's offensive against the Taliban.

"There were dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- executed by the army. They were revenge killings by the soldiers, no doubt about it. A number of people we had reported to us as arrested -- they were later found dead. What does that mean? The Americans and the Brits were aware of this, of course they were, and they intervened with the government. But what does this say about the army? In one village, two bodies lay in the street for two days -- it was a way of showing the local people what would happen to them if they supported the Taliban. What does this say about the army? Can they control Pakistan like this?"

The drones dominate the tribal lands.

They killed 14 men in just one night last month, at Datta Khel in north Waziristan. The drones come in flocks, and five of them settled over the village, firing a missile each at a pick-up truck, splitting it in two and dismembering six men aboard.

When local residents as well as Taliban arrived to help the wounded, the drones attacked again, killing all eight of them. The drones usually return to shoot at the rescuers.

But where do the drones come from?

When Afghan President Hamid Karzai flew into Islamabad last month, what struck Pakistanis was his astonishing statement that the devastating missile attacks by pilotless US drone aircraft were not being launched from inside Afghanistan. Karzai was (for once) telling the truth. The drones attacking Pakistan come from -- Pakistan.


The Institute for Peace Studies in Pakistan has been recording every act of violence in the country since the 2001 attack on America, and concludes that just in 2009 12,632 men and women -- civilians, soldiers, Taliban militants, even victims of inter- tribal battles -- were killed. But perhaps it is Pakistan's ability to do harm to itself that most struck me -- symbolised, I fear, by the latest and most terrible affliction to strike it: child-kidnapping. Steal a little boy or a little girl, ask the parents for money, and kill the infant if they don't pay.

When Sahil Saeed, the British-Pakistani boy, was taken, the police and the British embassy helped to bring him home. But journalists covering the story found that the family home was sometimes overwhelmed with other parents, like those of six-year-old Mahnoor Fatima, who was stolen from his family in October of last year and never seen again.

"This shows the difference between rich and poor," Mahnoor's mother said. "No one even came to my house to console me. Everything is done here for the rich, but nothing for Pakistanis and the poor."

Near Peshawar, a three-year old girl called Fariha was taken from a wedding party last month, her kidnappers demanding £8,000 (€9,100) for her life. The parents couldn't pay. So Fariha was killed and thrown into a canal.

In Faisalabad two days later, another kidnapped child, seven-year-old Samina Ali, was found dead in a drain after her parents failed to pay a ransom for her. They complained that the police later demanded £120 for handing over her body.

A kidnapped boy, a six-year-old identified only as Sharjeel, was also found dead in a drain a few hours earlier.

In the first two months of this year, 240 people -- almost all of them children -- have been kidnapped in Pakistan. Only 74 have been recovered alive.

There -- not in the suicide attacks and the venality of politicians-- lies the worst statistic in Pakistan.


No comments:

Post a Comment