Over 50 Hindus kidnapped in Balochistan province

The rise in kidnappings has forced Hindus to migrate from Balochistan to other parts of the country.

Islamabad: Over 50 Hindus have been kidnapped
in Pakistan`s restive Balochistan province over the past four
years, forcing members of the minority community to migrate to
other parts of the country.

Basant Lal Gulshan, the Human Rights and Minority Affairs
Minister for Balochistan, said over 50 members of the Hindu
community were abducted across the province in four years.
"Among those are two assistants from my own pharmacy,
abducted two days ago," he said.

"While Musharraf was in power for nine years, there were
only seven instances of kidnapping," Gulshan told The Express
Tribune. The alarming increase in kidnapping of Hindus was
confirmed by Balochistan Chief Secretary Ahmed Bakhsh Lehri.
Of a total of 72 people kidnapped in the past few months,
24 were Hindus, he said.

Twenty-one people had either been released or recovered
through the efforts of the Hindus themselves, Lehri said.

Balochistan Home Secretary Naseebullah Bazai too said
incidents of kidnapping for ransom and other heinous crimes
have increased in the province.

The rise in kidnappings has forced Hindus to migrate from
Balochistan to other parts of the country, Bazai told the
media yesterday. Balochistan and Sindh provinces have sizeable
Hindu populations.

Over the past few years, dozens of Hindus, most of them
petty traders, have been kidnapped for ransom in Balochistan.
Several cases of forced conversion of Hindus have been
reported from Sindh.

Human Rights Minister Gulshan said Hindus were targeted
because the community is perceived to be "financially well off
but weak". The Hindus are mostly traders and businessmen, and
the community comprises two-thirds of Balochistan minority
population of 300,000, he said.

Most Hindus live in the Baloch-settled areas of Sibi,
Nasirabad, Bhag and Dhadar, said Lehri.

Most of the Kidnappings, however, take place in Kalat
which is home to a major Hindu temple dedicated to goddess
Kali, said the Chief Secretary.

Those abducted are taken to Khuzdar, a tribal district
bordering Sindh, which has limited police presence, Lehri
said. The district has the Levies militia but they are
ill-equipped to confront kidnappers, he added.

Contrary to popular perception, the abductors are not
separatists, Lehri said.

"These are common criminals, mostly unemployed men, who
demand a high ransom for the Hindus," he added.

Around 50 Hindu families have moved from Quetta to
Karachi in the past two months, said Gulshan. More than 150
families across Balochistan have moved out in the past few
years. Most of them went to India on a visit visa but have not
returned, he said.

"The exodus may still be reversible. Most have left their
business behind under caretakers or managers, and not sold
them off," Gulshan said.

Besides Hindus, other minority communities who have been
the target of crimes are on their way out of Balochistan.

Zoroastrians, who are a negligible minority, no longer
live in Balochistan, said Tahir Hussain of the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan.

Faridoon Abadan, a former provincial minister and owner
of Quetta Distillery, was kidnapped over 10 years ago and is
yet to be traced. His wife Nilofer was the first woman to be
kidnapped in Balochistan in February last year.

She was freed after paying Rs 30 million in ransom and
her family is now moving out of the province. After several
high-profile targeted attacks, the Shia Hazara community too
is quitting the province.

"Around 16,000 people from the Hazara or Persian-
speaking community left Quetta last year," Hussain said.
Their plight gained national prominence when a ferry
carrying asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan
capsized off the coast of Indonesia.

Around 55 young men from the Hazara community of Quetta
were among those who drowned.


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