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Pakistan's Beleaguered Provincial Administration Protests To End Kidnappings

Doctor's protest kidnappings in Quetta, Balochistan.
QUETTA, Pakistan, In a rare move, a provincial government in a restive Pakistani province is protesting to pressure the federal government to end kidnappings.

Lawmakers and senior politicians from across the political spectrum in the southwestern province of Balochistan protested in front of Pakistan's national parliament on January 20.

They were united in demanding Islamabad's help in curbing violence in their homeland where kidnapping for ransom has turned into a cottage industry.

Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, a provincial minister, tells RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that political parties in Balochistan are united in demanding an end to increasing lawlessness in their province, which is reeling from separatist violence, military operations, sectarian bloodshed and rising criminality.

"We wanted to tell our country and the world that on the question of protecting the life and property of our citizens, we are united," he said. "We want to see terrorism and insecurity end in our country."

Political leaders in Balochistan were prompted to unite after unknown gunmen kidnapped a politician. Arbab Abdul Zahir Kasi, a senior leader of the secular Awami National Party, was abducted in the provincial capital, Quetta, in late October.

Months later Kasi's release has turned into a rallying cry for fellow politicians. They have vowed to continue their protest until Islamabad acts to gain his release.

Spy Agencies

Usman Kakar, a senior leader of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, says that Pakistan's powerful intelligence agencies are culpable in some high profile kidnappings for ransom.

"Taliban on behalf of our intelligence agencies and security forces are frequently abducting people to demand ransom," he told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal. He says that Islamist militant factions operating out of Balochistan use kidnappings to raise funds for their campaigns.

Kakar, whose party is part of the governing coalition in Balochistan, says that provincial police and paramilitary forces cannot restore security without Islamabad's help. "We are pressuring the federal government to discipline their security forces [and intelligence agencies]," he said. "Islamabad needs to look into whether individuals or institutions under its command engage in such acts."

But opposition politicians in the province are not optimistic. Lawmaker Maulana Abdul Wasay, opposition leader in Balochistan's parliament, says that the current government is unlikely to succeed in improving security just as the pervious administration failed during its five year rule from 2008 to 2013.

"Balochistan's current situation is part of an international plot being played out in the entire region," he said. "The provincial government has no control. They do not have the resources and the authority to improve security."

Criminal Gangs

Pakistani security forces strongly deny backing criminal or insurgent groups in Balochistan. In Quetta, intelligence sources requesting anonymity told Radio Mashaal that criminal gangs in the province are linked to Pakistani Taliban factions and Baloch separatists.

Intelligence sources said that small gangs usually kidnap wealthy doctors or businessmen and then sell them on to larger insurgent groups such as the Pakistani Taliban or Baloch separatists who use them to raise funds for their campaigns.

Balochistan's politicians, however, are not convinced. Kakar says that the provincial administration will continue its protest until Islamabad recovers politician Kasi.

In recent years kidnappings for ransom have mushroomed in Balochistan. The vast desert region that borders Iran and Afghanistan is reeling from a separatist insurgency by autonomy-minded Baloch. Sectarian violence in the form of frequent targeted killings and bomb attacks against Balochistan's tiny Shi'ite minority is common.

Balochistan is also considered a key sanctuary for remnants of the Afghan Taliban regime. Kabul accuses Islamabad of backing the Taliban in fomenting violence inside Afghanistan.

Radio Mashaal correspondent Boriwal Kakar contributed reporting from Prague.