Taliban terrorise metropolis on edge of tribal badlands

Salar Jadoon was kidnapped on the school run, his sister was shot in the head and his driver was killed in the sort of attack that is increasingly common at the gateway to Pakistan’s tribal badlands.

The nine-year-old son of wealthy parents, Salar wanted for nothing and lived a life of comfort in Peshawar on the edge of a tribal belt thick with Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists allegedly plotting new terror attacks on the West.

To the Pakistani middle class of Peshawar, the city was until about a year ago a refuge of flowers and gardens, where families would pass balmy summer evenings enjoying barbecues and green tea at river-side restaurants.

Today, people rush home soon after sunset.

On the outskirts of the metropolis, police barricade themselves inside fortified stations when dusk falls, too frightened to venture out when the Taliban come roaming.

“We are really scared. The Taliban are coming closer and closer to this city,” said Hidayat Khan, a salesman in a downtown garments shop.

Intelligence and security officials said that kidnapping for ransom has become a good source of income for the militants groups.

Salar’s father doesn’t know who was responsible for his son’s kidnapping, but the five months and six days from October 30 when his son was snatched until police recovered in April were the worst days of his life.

“The driver was shot and killed. One of the guard’s was seriously injured. Half his body is paralysed,” said Zafar Rashid Jadoon.

“My three-year-old daughter was hit in the head but God saved her.

“It was the worst period of my life. It was a death one minute and life another. One moment it was hope my son was alive and the other moment we started thinking that he may be killed.

“Once they called and said ‘we have killed your son and you should recover his body’ and they mentioned a place on the outskirts of Peshawar.

“I wandered around like a crazy man. It was unbearable. I can’t describe it to you. The pain we endured in those days, it was unbearable.

Salar was eventually discovered in a police raid on a den south of Peshawar and handed over to his parents, said police official Umar Daraz.

The boy’s kidnappers negotiated a ransom of 60-million rupees ($747 000) which his father managed to pull together but his son was rescued before he paid.

Two kidnappers were arrested in Salar’s case and their homes demolished by police, but the abduction cartels are booming.

“I’m worried about why these kidnappers are still active in the city and why the courts, the law enforcement agents, the police don’t punish them. They should be sent to jail for life. These people are a curse,” said Jadoon.

Traders are worried about the sudden rise in kidnapping incidents.

A milkman was killed when he tried to fight off would-be kidnappers last month and a watchman from the local bazaar was injured in the crossfire.

“We are facing severe problems. There is no trade, there is no safety and everyone is upset about the future of this city,” said Sharafat Ali Mubarak, president of the provincial chamber of commerce.

“Eighty percent of business is finished, 70-80% of workers have either left or changed jobs because industries are closing.

“More than 45 people, mostly traders, were kidnapped for ransom in March and April, this number may be more as people try to keep these incidents secret.

“We have demanded the government declare this province ‘war affected’ and announce a special package for the people,” he said.

Last year, Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate to Pakistan and an Iranian diplomat were kidnapped in Peshawar, and a US development worker was shot dead.

As elsewhere across Pakistan, power failures put temperatures on the boil. In Peshawar electricity lines have become a militant target, affecting businesses and depriving some households even of the minor pleasure of watching TV.

Cinemas are on the verge of collapse. The only theatre in Peshawar has been closed for six years. Snooker clubs and CD shops have been bombed, and militants prey on internet cafés as another easy target.

Militants have bombed scores of schools in the Swat valley, a four-hour drive north, but last year the first school in Peshawar was bombed.

“Only schools were considered safe, but militancy growing like wildfire in urban areas has made them unsafe,” said Qasim Khan, the head teacher of a private school.

“Peshawar is surrounded by tribal areas and that is the real problem for us,” said police official Abdul Ghafoor Khan. “We have flushed out militants from the outskirts but they are coming from Fata and we are battling them.”

Infamous crime districts of Badabher, Mattni and Mathra, about 10km from Peshawar are under routine attack by militants.

The violence makes the roads no-go after dark. The suburban ringroad is also becoming unsafe as militants stage frequent attacks on the 13 Nato supply terminals strung out on this road. – AFP

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