Since kidnapping for ransom or due to personal rivalry is commonplace in Pakistan, there appeared to be nothing unusual when four individuals suddenly went missing from different cities across the country between January 4 and January 7, 2017. However, though seemingly unrelated, these cases had one thing in common- all those abducted were what Human Rights Watch [HRW] correctly described as “vocal critics of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment.” So, it was evident that these kidnappings were either the handiwork of some “militant religious group,” or orchestrated by the “military establishment.”
Since the abducted bloggers refused to provide any information regarding the identity of their captors or the likely motive of their enforced disappearance, the rumour mill went wild. The uninitiated summarily ruled out Pakistan army’s involvement in these abductions, contending that being a highly disciplined organisation, Rawalpindi would never indulge in such a brazenly criminal act just to silence its detractors. They also cited the utter disdain that “militants of religious groups” have for the law as well as their perverted system of disciplining critics, as an indication that some such group was responsible for these kidnappings. Being derived through logical assumptions, this inference does make sense. But then, there’s always the ubiquitous exception that proves the rule!
Those familiar with the functioning of Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] and conversant with the ways of “militant religious groups” operating in Pakistan have an entirely different take. For one, they outrightly rule out involvement of militant groups for two very compelling reasons. One, since such groups rely on unbridled use of violence to terrorise people into submission, they ensure meting out ‘immediate justice’ and hence seldom ever release those they kidnap. Two, in order to showcase their prowess, terrorist groups are quick to take responsibility-something that no such group did in this case.
However, the most clinching evidence of Pakistan army’s involvement in these abductions came from the military precision with which four bloggers were methodically picked-up from different cities within 72 hours. On the one hand, while this staggered time frame gave an impression that these abductions were unrelated, it also ensured that the victims got no inkling that they were the next ones on the list. Another equally important indication of ISI involvement was the fact that the otherwise extremely ‘efficient’ Pakistan police couldn’t ferret out any information regarding those who abducted the bloggers and no progress whatsoever has been made as regards investigation of this case.
Three out of the four abducted bloggers subsequently fled Pakistan and sought asylum abroad. This is irrefutable proof of them being well aware that their kidnappers were above the law and hence could do as they pleased with them. Critics of Pakistan army often ended up as corpses like the harrowing 2011 broad daylight abduction of investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, from Islamabad and the subsequent recovery of his battered corpse from a canal more than 150 km away. So, it was patently genuine fear of physical harm that forced the bloggers to leave their motherland, family members, relatives and friends.
Ahmad Waqass Goraya is one of the three bloggers who after fleeing Pakistan went to the Netherlands and continued his social media campaign against Pakistan army’s excesses in Tribal Areas and Balochistan. On June 21, 2018, Goraya tweeted “Men from Pakistani intelligence agency ISI visited my elderly parents in Pakistan yesterday 20th June. They said loud and clear that they have orders to abduct and torture my father and attack my family to teach me a lesson. This is not the first incident.” Though the Pakistan army denied these accusations, it was clear that Goraya was in the ISI’s crosshairs and even though thousands of miles away from Pakistan, the physical separation provided him no additional security.
Several Pakistani exiles like Goraya who continued to antagonise Pakistan’s powerful military establishment reported intimidation by ISI agents and their proxies. Some others like the journalist Sajid Hussain living in Sweden and human rights activist Karima Baloch living in Canada were found dead under mysterious circumstances. Though it is widely believed that the ISI was involved in these targeted killings, there was no evidence to substantiate the same. However, with UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) having filed a case against British Pakistani named Muhammad Gohir Khan for accepting a £1,00,000 bounty to eliminate Goraya, skeletons may finally tumble out of ISI’s cupboard.
ISI would obviously refute allegations of masterminding this murder plot, being linked to Khan or having made any payment to him. However, as Khan has reportedly admitted that his intention was to only take the bounty and not kill Goraya, it’s clear that someone from Pakistan had put out the ‘hit’ on Goraya and offered money for the same. Since he now resides in the Netherlands, Goraya could not have created any personal enemies in Pakistan-certainly not someone so rich or desperate who is willing to pay £100,000 for getting rid of him. This is no small amount-when converted into Pakistani currency, it amounts to a whopping 24,06,07,965 rupees, and so, it doesn’t require rocket science to deduce who would be willing to pay such an incredulously exorbitant sum of money just for silencing an anti-Pakistan army blogger.