Safe city?

If police is unwilling or unable to investigate the kidnapping, we must hold it accountable for its failings, writes Abdul Moiz Jaferii

Safe city?
When administrators of the girls school in sector G-6 of Islamabad had CCTV cameras installed, it is unlikely they had planned for them to become instrumental in securing the freedom of a journalist.

But on the morning of July 22, these cameras recorded seven vehicles coordinate their arrival to the door of the school. This was followed by the several plainclothes men and some in elite police uniforms casually sauntering their way to Matiullah Jan’s car. They were then seen attempting to coerce Mati, who threw his phone into the school in panic whilst unsuccessfully resisting their attempts to force him into one of their vehicles. One of the abductors in elite police uniform is then recorded calmly walking over to the gate of the school, where according to the teacher and gatekeeper seen present on the video, he politely and confidently asked for them to hand over the phone to him.

The information minister termed this a kidnapping, and human rights minister voiced her concern also.

The police immediately denied any involvement, a position they have consistently maintained. It is clear that the people involved in the abduction were impersonating state officers and their identification became possible due to CCTV camera footage, after which they could be traced through the Capital City through Safe City cameras which have proven effective in the past.
After the two weeks given to the police to submit a report on the kidnapping expired, the inspector general of police told the court no one was cooperating, no footage had been made available, no comments forthcoming

It is a matter of great concern that such abductions can take place despite Pakistan’s great advances against terrorism and organised crime, in broad daylight and from the heart of its most secure city. In the past, when a kidnapping was partly caught on camera, as Shehbaz Taseer’s was, it showed a frantic and disorganised kidnapping team, scurrying around to secure their target as soon as possible before racing away. When the target was Ali Haider Gilani, kidnapped on the eve of the election in his constituency where his brother was contesting, witnesses spoke of a similar frenzy and chaos with which the kidnappers acted. The kidnappers in these past events also used only one vehicle.

It is of great concern that despite Pakistan winning the war on terror and these being far safer and FATF-compliant times, kidnappers now feel confident to carry on with their crime at a leisurely pace exhibited on the school CCTV, whilst impersonating police officers and using multiple vehicles that are conspicuously driven with coordination. That they also have access to holding facilities which look like police lockups only an hour removed from the place of kidnapping, as recounted by Mati on his YouTube channel, is further worrying.

Kidnappings from urban areas such as this one have in the past occurred for the primary motive of ransom, and Shehbaz Taseer’s flashy Mercedes was easy confirmation of a possible future pay out. Ali Haider Gilani was the son of a prime minister. Hence, it is a mystery that whilst these kidnappers are supremely confident, they are now so desperate that they are resorting to targeting people who have been refused structured employment for years, and whose car would be the modern day prop for Archie’s jalopy; with the doors a different shade from the bonnet.

However, amidst the great causes for worry there is also some relief. Although it took four and a half years for Shehbaz Taseer to return and three years for Ali Haider Gilani, Matiullah’s ordeal ended by swift action from Pakistan’s relevant agencies within 12 hours. Undoubtedly advantaged by the available CCTV footage, as well as access to the safe city infrastructure recently upgraded in the capital, the relevant security organisations acted with lightening speed on the instructions of the federal government. When Mati’s brother received the anonymous call to collect his brother from Fateh Jung, the proud sons of our country who serve it so well in anonymity did not name themselves or ask for any credit for securing such a lighting quick release from kidnappers who are now undoubtedly in their custody, all done in such a skilful manner that even Mati was not able to make out his moment of saving in his account of how he was transacted between different kidnappers. It will seal Pakistan’s victory when they are produced in court by our silent rescuers.

The suo motu hearing of Matiullah Jan’s allegedly contemptuous tweets scheduled for the next day quickly and rightfully focused on his kidnapping. The police were brought under significant pressure by the bench, and Matiullah addressed the court to say that his kidnapping had direct relevance to the proceedings before it. Whilst this is only conjecture, perhaps Mati meant that the raising of his profile in the media due to the contempt notice issued by the court had led the kidnappers to think there was money to be made with his abduction. After all, there are television personalities out there who are rich enough to pilot their own private aircraft.

After the two weeks given to the police to submit a report on the kidnapping expired, the inspector general of police told the court no one was cooperating, no footage had been made available, no comments forthcoming.

Whilst it is clear that this huge security failure on the part of the Islamabad police was surgically and efficiently remedied by the relevant state actors who later called Mati’s brother for his collection, we must ensure that such an event can never happen again. As it has now become clear that police is unwilling or unable to investigate the kidnapping, we must hold it accountable for its failings. One way to do so is to form a JIT to investigate the event, where the kidnappers are interviewed for motive and the results made public. We must also ensure that this countries bravest sons also do not go unrewarded for their silent success at bringing Mati back.

The writer is a lawyer and tweets @jaferii