Taliban’s brisk trade of kidnapping in Karachi


In Karachi, police say the Taliban are generating funds through bank robberies, protection rackets and kidnappings.
Abductions are particularly lucrative, with ransom demands sometimes running to millions of dollars. The BBC’s Orla Guerin reports on how the militants are making inroads in Pakistan’s financial capital.
When the doctor had a gun put to his head by a man on motorbike in the evening traffic last month, he thought it was a robbery. He readily handed over his mobile phone and his wallet.
But when he was forced from his car, he realised that he was the prize. A routine journey to his clinic ended with imprisonment in a Taliban hideout.
“They blindfolded me and tied my hands behind my back. I was kept in a small space, with a low roof, but they gave me food and a pillow to rest on,” said the softly spoken father of four.
Kidnapping is a traditional industry in Karachi, and it’s on the rise. Last year there were more than 100 recorded cases of kidnap for ransom – a record high. While gangs from Balochistan are often involved, militants are fighting for a share of the market.
“With local criminals, kidnaps can take six weeks to resolve,” says Sharfudding Memon, an adviser to the government of Sindh province. “With the Taliban it can take six months, or a year. They demand payment in foreign currency and they do their homework quite well.”
Under surveillance: The doctor was abducted by kidnappers who told him they had been watching him for weeks. Police say this is typical.
“They carry out recces [reconnaissances] and they know where to snatch people,” said Deputy Superintendent Jahangir Khan Meher. “They know the best time to strike, when there are no police are around. They check all the locations, and pick the most secure ones, and when the time is right, they do it.”
As well as being organised and tenacious, the militants are greedy. They demanded more than $6m (£3.77m) for a prominent local industrialist abducted late last year. In that case, there was no pay-out. The businessman was freed by a police raid, in which three of the kidnappers were killed. The ransom demand for the doctor was $80,000. When his family did not pay immediately, the kidnappers telephoned his brother, and said he had already been killed. They even gave directions to a location where they said his remains could be found.
While his loved ones were tortured with claims that he was dead, the doctor was locked in his own private hell. “Those six days were like 60 years,” he said. “I couldn’t see the outside world from morning until night. The most painful thing for me was knowing my family was watching the door, waiting for me to come home.”
The doctor believes he narrowly escaped death, when police stormed the militants’ hideout.
“When the raid started, they shifted me to another place,” he said. “In seconds they would have killed me, but there was a noise and I slipped out of their hands.”
Two of his abductors – Taliban foot soldiers – are now being bars. Police suspect them of involvement in four other abductions.
The BBC travelled to the outskirts of the city to find out more about the militants who make money here. Through a trusted local contact, we arranged a meeting with a militant codenamed Younis – who used to fight in Afghanistan and now works for the Taliban finance department.
We met in a rundown district, dotted with dilapidated apartment blocks, roadside food stalls and patches of waste ground.
Younis claims “donations” bring in $80,000 a month.
“We get help from university students and college students,” he told us. “Big businessmen also support us and help us. We cannot mention their names. People give freely. We use that money for our wounded, or for other needs.”