Kidnap gangs 'target HK businessmen'
A Hong Kong businessman whose nephew was kidnapped by the Taliban in Pakistan has warned entrepreneurs to be on their guard when visiting the country.
Fazal Karim and his family endured three months of torment after the 10-year-old boy was held for ransom.
Tuen Mun resident Karim flew back to Peshawar in August to visit his sister and nephew.
Karim, 48, manager of car traders Sinolink Far East, left the boy in his car while he popped into a shop for groceries. When he returned a few minutes later the car and the boy, who he preferred not to name, had gone. He went straight to the police but was told they couldn't help him.
Karim said: 'The police said they could do nothing and that they themselves were under threat from the likes of the Taliban.
'They said it was too dangerous. It's a lawless place.'
The kidnappers made no ransom demands for two months in an attempt to heighten his family's sense of desperation.
Karim spent this time speaking to tribal chiefs in the region and paying for information which all turned out to be false.
Then last month the kidnappers sent a letter saying his nephew was safe and well.
Negotiations began, using tribal leaders as intermediaries, and eventually Karim paid four million Pakistan rupees (HK$357,000) for his nephew's return. He also paid 500,000 rupees (HK$44,600) to the tribal chiefs who acted as negotiators.
Two weeks ago Karim was instructed to drive along a certain route by the kidnappers and found his nephew standing by the roadside.
The boy said he had not been badly treated, despite being kept locked in a room most of the time.
'I blamed myself for what happened so I was desperate to get him back safely,' Karim said.
'The kidnappers said they were Taliban and that they needed money for jihad. Since the incident my relations have left Peshawar and moved to Islamabad, which is much safer.'
Kidnappings have risen dramatically this year in Pakistan's troubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.
The crime has grown in the chaos created by fighting between militants and security forces and is now a multimillion-rupee business.
'The kidnappers knew I worked in Hong Kong and that was why I was targeted,' he said.
'Pakistani businessmen going back to Peshawar or those just travelling there from Hong Kong on business must be made aware of this.
'It could happen to anyone. The Taliban do not discriminate. They will do anything to get the money they need.'
Simon Francis, senior director with Kroll Security Services, said: 'There is a complicated web of tribal groups in this region, so when they are trying to generate revenue for their various fatwas and insurgencies they will target those who they think they will get cash from.
'It's important that businessmen keep a low profile and that the people related to these businessmen do the same. The fact that you are coming from Hong Kong could alert possible kidnappers and make you a viable target.'
Francis said police powers were limited in this region and couldn't be depended upon. It is the tribal chieftains who have control.
'Money talks in these regions and in a situation like a kidnapping you have to grease the wheels if you are going to get anything done,' he said.
The Pakistan kidnappers' targets are mostly rich businessmen and entrepreneurs or their family members. The gangs often have a three-way set-up. One team stakes out and kidnaps the target and then hands the victim to a middleman.
The middleman then transfers the person to a third party, who keeps the victim until a ransom deal is made. This is usually in an area such as Pakistan's tribal region, where police have no control.