The Czech Republic has intensified diplomatic efforts to try to secure the release of two Czech women kidnapped in south-west Pakistan last week. No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction or asked for a ransom. Although the Pakistani authorities are working on the case, previous kidnappings in the troubled province suggest it may take weeks to find them.
The two young women, both in their mid-20s, were on the road to Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’ south-west Baluchistan province, accompanied by a police escort, when their van was stopped by a group of armed assailants and all three were seized. The police guard was later released and the young tourists were forced into a brown Land Rover and smuggled away to an unknown destination. The identity of the assailants remains unknown and no request for a ransom has so far been made. The Czech Foreign Ministry says that while communication channels with the local authorities are open no immediate results can be expected. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzeberg:
“We are in contact with all the relevant authorities in Pakistan, including the intelligence service. They are on the case but obviously they need time to send people out in the field to obtain all the relevant information. That kind of investigation cannot be undertaken in a matter of hours, we may know more in a week’s time.”
Kidnappings are not a rare occurrence in the insurgency-hit province where criminals looking for ransom abduct foreigners, sometimes passing their hostages on to Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups. Petr Přibík, a former ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan, says the Czech tourists were most likely snatched for money.
“This region is notorious for such kidnappings. Getting across the border to Afganistan is not difficult if you know the terrain so there’s a chance they may have been smuggled there. In any case Baluchistan province is extremely unstable and conditions have deteriorated further in recent months. It may be that the women will be held captive for some time while the assailants take time to figure out what to do next.”
A crisis team of 30 people is working on the case at the Czech Foreign Ministry, including members of the country’s intelligence service. On Monday President Miloš Zeman met with the Pakistani ambassador to Prague and handed over a letter for his Pakistani counterpart, President Asif Ali Zardari, asking for assistance in the matter.
With hopes of a fast rescue dwindling, there has been a huge wave of sympathy for the families of the abducted tourists here in the Czech Republic. A special Facebook page has been set up where people who have been to the region or have contacts there share information. Thousands of people are offering to pool money to help pay a ransom should such a request be made. The authorities have warned the families and friends not to set out on a rescue mission of their own saying such a move would be doomed to failure and would only put more lives in danger. Seasoned journalist and war reporter Petra Procházková confirms that local investigators who have their own contacts in the field are far more likely to succeed in tracing the abducted tourists.
“When something like this occurs in this region the news spreads among the locals. Everyone knows something, but no one is willing to speak.”
In the wake of the kidnapping last Wednesday, the Czech Foreign Ministry placed a warning on its web page advising Czechs against travelling to Baluchistan province.