x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fresh concerns about security in Pakistan

Police competence is questioned as a man held captive four months before being beheaded when Islamabad refused militant demands.

A frame grab from a video showing Piotr Stanczak at an unknown location after he was abducted.
A frame grab from a video showing Piotr Stanczak at an unknown location after he was abducted.

LAHORE // Early on Sept 28 Piotr Stanczak, a Polish engineer, climbed into his Jeep along with a driver, translator and one bodyguard. At 5am, the town of Jand, about 15km from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, was even quieter than usual. There were no cars on the road and the only sound was of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the mild late autumn breeze. Stanczak, 42, had been living in Pakistan for almost two years but had not seen much of the country outside of the Attock district, where he was carrying out surveying work for Geofizyka Kraków, a Polish geophysics institute, on behalf of a Pakistani oil company. The group had travelled only about seven or eight kilometres down the road that day before the vehicle was ambushed by armed men and Stanczak's three companions were shot dead. The engineer was taken hostage and held for four months before being beheaded on video last week. From accounts pieced together by police it appears the kidnappers, members of the local Taliban, drove Stanczak from Attock to the tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan, passing through the crowded city of Peshawar along the way. Critics have questioned how the Pakistani police could have failed to catch the kidnappers on such a long journey on public roads and through towns and why Stanczak left the camp with only one security guard. The killing has strained relations between Pakistan and Poland, which accused some elements in the Pakistani government of sympathising with the extremists. Coming six years after Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was killed in a similar style, members of the foreign community are once again asking themselves whether Pakistan has the will and resources to protect them. Malik Muhammed, a district police officer in Attock, said he had strict orders from his superiors to provide the highest level of security to foreigners working in the area. "We were very careful," he said. "Every single foreigner had his own security guard who was always armed. The protocol was that whenever these engineers would go out on site visits, they would be heavily accompanied." According to Mr Muhammed, once a foreigner told the police he was leaving the camp, he would be accompanied by four officers from the Frontier Corps, one head constable, four constables, one sub-inspector and six police officers. But this was only the case if they were informed prior to the departure. "If we are not told, even then the foreigner is accompanied at least by one Frontier Corps official, two drivers and a translator," he said.

In the case of Stanczak, there was no prior warning he was going out and so he had only three locals with him, said Mr Muhammed. Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier general, who is an expert on security in North West Frontier Province, said the inability of the police to track down the killers was "shocking". "To have kidnappers travel a distance of about two to three hours in broad daylight, through public roads and thoroughfares and not be intercepted is just shocking. It's a sign of poor intelligence and poor governance and poor policing." But Kashif Alam, the assistant inspector general of police in NWFP, said there was little more the police could have done. "We don't have the facilities or the equipment required to conduct any sophisticated operation in Peshawar," he said. "For more than a year we have been asking for tracking and monitoring devices but the federal government has paid no heed to our requests." Muslim Khan, the spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban, speaking exclusively to The National from an undisclosed location said his organisation had not wanted to torture or hurt Stanczak. "He was our guest and we treated him well." Police investigations have shown the Polish engineer was held in a safe house in the tribal areas for more than four months. During that time, the Taliban demanded the government release more than 60 militants captured in Bajaur, Peshawar and other areas in the NWFP. "I don't understand why the government didn't comply with our requests," said Mr Khan, sounding dismayed. "It's not as if we were asking them to release terrorists: these people are our Muslim brothers and deserve to be released." After an initial Jan 30 deadline passed, the Taliban issued a new ultimatum: free the militants or the engineer would be executed. When Islamabad failed to comply, the Taliban issued a statement on Feb 7 that they had beheaded Stanczak. On Sunday, a video released by the Taliban shown on local TV showed Stanczak sitting cross-legged on a carpet wearing local tribal dress. He was flanked by masked men and looking directly into the camera. He made a brief statement in English urging his government to withdraw its 1,100 troops from Afghanistan. Minutes later he was beheaded. A masked man then spoke directly to the camera and said Stanczak was killed because Islamabad had not met their demands. Saranjam Khan, a member of the NWFP parliament, said the government "should have tried harder to achieve a middle ground and at least release some prisoners if not all. Having a foreigner be killed in this manner on our soil is a huge setback to our international policy." The Pakistani government has still not confirmed the incident and the Taliban are refusing to hand over Stanczak's body until some of their demands are met. Poland has blamed Pakistan for the engineer's death, saying government officials were apathetic about dealing with the issue. The country also called off a visit of Pakistani senators which was due to take place next week. While Stanczak's abduction sparked a rush of foreigners leaving the country - Poland pulled out all of its engineers after the kidnapping - some foreigners say the risks are worth it. "It's very lucrative for me to continue to stay here," said Samar Links, an Australian who works in IT in Lahore. "I make great money because the country lacks qualified labour which is why my skills are greatly in demand." * The National