Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pakistan: Update--No Word on Fate of Two Kidnapped Czech Tourists Abducted by Taliban

As a follow-up to my previous postings concerning the March 13, kidnapping of Czech tourists Hana Humpálová and Antonie Chrástecká , both 24, while traveling by van from Iran through Pakistan's troubled province of Balochistan, virtually no information has been released by Pakistani or international media concerning the abduction of the two women 2.5 months ago.

If the Czech Foreign Ministry, foreign governments or media outlets have current information on specifically where the two women are being held, they are keeping it to themselves, as media reports on the kidnapping have seemingly dried up.

What is known is that a Taliban unit from Afghanistan is believed to have kidnapped the two young Europeans and spoke to the women in English. Additionally, the kidnap team of upwards of ten gunmen were very detailed and ensured that the luggage belongings to the two women was placed into their 4x4 vehicle.


It is believed that the Taliban unit that seized a Swiss couple, Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 29, in 2011, and held them for eight months, may very well have been the same group that kidnapped Humpálová and Chrástecká. Och and Widmer were abducted while traveling by camper van in Pakistan's volatile south-west region and had been held on the Afghan border.

COMMENT: Although Och and Widmer claimed to have escaped from the Taliban, based upon my handling of a number of kidnappings over the years, it seems very unlikely that kidnappers would successfully hold foreign captives for eight months, moving them from place to place, feeding and caring for them and avoiding capture by security forces, only to make a mistake and enable them to escape. In all likelihood, a substantial ransom was paid for the release of the Swiss citizens, albeit covert.

On January 5, 2012, British physician Khalil Rasjed Dale, who was working for the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross), was kidnapped while driving near his office in Quetta, only to be found beheaded four months later. His body was found in southern Baluchistan province, with a note attached which said he had been killed because a ransom had not been paid to his captors.  Dale had been a Muslim convert for more than 30 years.

Another prominent kidnap victim is Warren Weinstein, a US contractor who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda from his residence in Lahore on August 13, 2011. Three guards and his driver are being held in connection with his abduction, nearly two years ago.

What is so interesting about the Weinstein kidnapping is that Dr. Weinstein was scheduled to permanently leave Pakistan and return to his family home in Maryland the day after his kidnapped. Thus, it is clear that those who participated in his abduction clearly knew the details of his movements and travel plans. In September 2012, a "proof-of-life" video clip was received by US authorities. 

Roughly 25 years ago, the US Department of State used to state in all US passports the countries to which travel by Americans was prohibited. Obviously, in response to travelers' criticism of such restrictions, the practice was abolished.

Yet, in today's world, with so many countries engaged in military hostilities or conflicts involving rebel groups who challenge central governments, we have seen over and over again foreigners being abducted for months on end with some often being murdered. I could easily offer a list of the kidnappings of foreigners, yet it would be a very lengthy list.

The point that I'm attempting to get around is that the majority of foreign travelers who visit high-risk countries experiencing war-like conditions often have little comprehension of the threats they face.

In Humpálová and Chrástecká's case, they traveled from Iran into Pakistan largely to save on travel costs. Had they traveled by commercial air they very likely would not be experiencing what they now face.  

According to previous statements by the Czech Foreign Ministry, the ministry confirmed that the two female Czech tourists who were abducted from Chagai Balochistan in Pakistan have been shifted to Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Note: Balochistan is situated in the southwest of Pakistan and covers an area of 347,190 square kilometers (134,050 sq mi). It is Pakistan's largest province by area constituting 44% of Pakistan's total land mass.

Hearing nothing from kidnappers for weeks or even months is normal in developing countries, it just means that those responsible derive some pleasure in tormenting the family and friends of kidnap victims so as to increase fear and anxiety over how their loved ones are being treated. 

As I have said previously, tourists in Pakistan should restrict their activities to ONLY major cities, but they still need to be cautious and careful. They should also take steps to NOT dress as tourists.

Regarding the kidnapping of the two Czech tourists, shortly after they were kidnapped, Daud Khattak, senior editor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty authored an experience-laced piece that is a "must-read" for those concerned for the welfare of these two young travelers. Please see Daud's piece below. He can be reached at KhanD@rferl.org:

http://www.praguepost.com/news/15747-no-mans-land

Having traveled extensively in Pakistan, I can offer the following ten points to foreigners traveling to the country:


1. Travel to and from Pakistan ONLY by commercial air;

2. Read the travel warnings your government's foreign affairs agency has issued regarding travel to Pakistan BEFORE you initiate travel and follow the advice implicitly;

3. Register your travel itinerary with your Embassy. If they have a mobile phone app, download it so you can receive security updates;

4. Have a dependable mobile phone that will enable you to communicate locally and internationally on a 24/7 basis;

5. Pakistan is slightly less than twice the size of California. It is a vast country where foreigners are uniformly disliked;

6. Assume that in Pakistan you are both a terrorist and criminal target. The way in which Pakistanis view you will confirm this reality;

7. Avoid setting a pattern in your day-to-day activities. Do NOTHING at the same time each day;

8. Staying healthy in Pakistan is directly related to your personal security. Therefore, be medically prepared for any foreseeable event;

9. Avoid traveling at night, unless it is a very short distance;

10. Identify the few people you trust without reservations and place their phone numbers in your speed-dialer. Without a local support network, you are at risk. 

Finally, if you are required to work or travel in a high-risk area within Pakistan's borders, particularly in Balochistan, you should request special security support from your employer, which may very well include driving in a ballistic-resistant vehicle with an experienced and trustworthy driver.

If you are not working in Pakistan, AVOID Balochistan.