Taliban's brisk trade of kidnapping in Karachi
- 23 March 2012
- From the section Asia
In Pakistan's largest city, 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. For security reasons, we are not revealing his identity.
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."
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 behind bars. Police suspect them of involvement in four other abductions.
Claim of support
Kidnapping is just one business venture for the militants. Police say they are also involved in bank robberies and protection rackets. Pakistan's financial capital - a megacity of 20 million - offers rich pickings.
We 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."
While the militants undoubtedly have some willing benefactors in Karachi, locals say that when the Taliban come calling, you don't say no. What the militants call "donations", others call "bhatta" - protection money.
Back on the streets
As night fell, we joined the police anti-terror unit as they headed into Taliban territory - a lawless sprawl called Gadap, where the doctor was found. The operation was lead by Senior Superintendent Mohammad Aslam Khan - a veteran police chief who fights fire with fire. (He denies allegations of involvement in extra-judicial killings.)
Last September the Taliban targeted his home with a 500kg (1,100lb) bomb. Though his family survived, eight people were killed. Supt Khan has vowed to fight the militants until his last breath.
"We are ready to die for this country any time," he said, holding a cigarette in one hand, and his Glock 19mm handgun in the other. "We are not scared of these people. They should be scared of us."
Under cover of darkness, his heavily armed squad advanced down a dirt track towards a remote house. They closed in on their quarry - a militant suspected of involvement in bank robberies. He was arrested without a shot being fired.
As the suspect was taken away for interrogation, Supt Khan said they would be back out on the streets again the following night - targeting the Taliban and their coffers.
"They are destabilising our country," he said, "killing innocent people, and giving a bad name to our religion. We will not spare them at any stage."
With his kidnap ordeal behind him, the doctor has already returned to work. He now tries to vary his routine, and make his movements less predictable. He knows the Taliban could try again.