Mar 19, 2009

Casual cruelty

Somewhere in – probably Balochistan but he could be anywhere – John Solecki is perhaps close to the end of his life. He is a middle-aged aid worker, posted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to head-up their office in Quetta. He was on his way to work at the beginning of February when his vehicle, clearly marked with the UNHCR insignia, was ambushed. His driver was killed and he was taken away. Almost two weeks later footage of a man believed to be Mr Solecki and rocking back and forth in distress was released by his alleged captors. They are said to be a little-known group of Baloch nationalists and were demanding, among other things, the release of over one hundred and forty Baloch women they claim have been abducted by 'government agencies.' Another month has passed and now his kidnappers are saying that unless their demands are met his life is forfeit and he will be killed, butchered in the same way as was a Polish engineer taken by the Taliban at Attock last year. Mr Solecki is known to suffer from a heart condition and require regular medication and his abductors claim that his health is deteriorating. The government for its part has said that it knows where the kidnappers are and has them 'surrounded' but has not yet moved for fear of provoking them into killing their victim. Kidnappings everywhere are notoriously difficult for law-enforcement agencies to handle and resolve satisfactorily; and the American FBI are said to be aiding local agencies in the attempt to free Mr Solecki. Kidnapping for money is increasingly common in NWFP and elsewhere, but ideological kidnappings, people taken to use as bargaining chips by their captors in their attempt to right whatever wrongs they believe has been done to them; is the crime that hits the headlines. There are credible reports that extremist groups have a 'tariff' of potential victims, grading them by their public profile and relative value. 'Cheap' targets are no longer of interest. As fewer and fewer foreigners choose to work here their market value is increased by their scarcity and they have become a high-value commodity to be traded for the best price. Mr Solecki was one such target and is paying the price today. He is also paying the price of neglecting his own security – he was travelling without a guard when he was taken. His chances are slim. It would be comforting to think that either a rescue could be effected or a deal done, but neither looks likely. The government has strongly denied holding any Baloch women and the casual cruelty that goes with kidnap is sadly likely to claim another victim. As they stand over the bodies of their victims kidnappers invariably say that they bear no responsibility for the dead and headless body at their feet – it was all the fault of the government for failing to accede to their demands. They were 'forced' to act as they did. No they were not – they are murdering butchers who should be caught and prosecuted for their crimes no matter what they claim as 'justification'. Cloaking cruelty in nationalist rhetoric ennobles no cause.

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