A campaign of high-profile kidnappings has reportedly provided the Pakistani Taliban and its allies with new resources, arming insurgents with millions of dollars, threatening foreign aid programs and galvanizing a sophisticated network of jihadi and criminal gangs across the country.
The New York Times quoted Pakistani security officials, as saying that wealthy industrialists, academics, Western aid workers and relatives of military officers have been targets in a spree that, since it started three years ago, has spread to every major city, reaching the wealthiest neighborhoods.
For many hostages, the experience means a harrowing journey into the heart of Waziristan, the fearsome Taliban redoubt along the Afghan border that has borne the brunt of a C.I.A. drone-strike campaign.
A young Punjabi businessman who spent six months there in Taliban hands last year described it as a terrifying time of grimy cells, clandestine journeys, brutal beatings and grinding negotiations with his distraught, distant family, the paper said.
"Their mantra was: 'One button and you go to heaven,' " he recalled.
Kidnapping is a centuries-old scourge in parts of Pakistan, from the tribesmen who snatched British colonists in the 19th century to the slum gangs that have preyed on Karachi business families since the 1980s. The national total has varied only slightly in recent years: from 474 kidnappings for ransom in 2010 to 467 last year, according to Interior Ministry figures. (ANI)
The Pakistani Taliban are allegedly unapologetic, saying the kidnappings earn valuable funds, offer leverage to free imprisoned fighters and are a political statement against longstanding American efforts to drive Al Qaeda from the tribal belt.
"We are targeting foreigners in reaction to government demands that we expel the foreign mujahedeen," the paper quoted the deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman, during an interview at his North Waziristan stronghold, as saying.
The kidnappings are reportedly continuing even as Pakistani security forces have seemed to blunt the militants' ability to inflict mass casualties: suicide attacks fell by 35 percent in 2011, according to the annual report of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, while the number of people killed in attacks fell from 3,021 in 2009 to 2,391 last year. (ANI)