LAHORE – Since last year, the incidents of high-profile kidnappings, including those of foreigners, are on the rise in the Punjab, the country’s largest province. The phenomenal rise in that category of crime has not only shaken people’s confidence in the police, but also has exposed the role of the police.

Till recent past, most of the abductions were aimed at earning big ransoms, though few were done to satisfy personal grudge. While the trend continues to exist but since July last, the kidnappers have changed their style of operation — and targets. The new drift involves kidnappings of high-profile personalities, particularly foreigners.

For example, the police record says that at least 15,114 cases of kidnapping have been registered across the Punjab during 2011. Out of these, the record says, 1,635 are still being investigated. At least 7,293 cases were cancelled after investigation, though 277 cases remained untraceable. The Punjab police also registered 277 cases of kidnapping for ransom last year. Out of these, 31 cases are still being investigated. Four cases, the police say, are untraceable. As many as 136 others were challaned.

In most recent incident of kidnapping, masked gunmen barged into an office-cum-residence in Multan last Friday and winched a German aid worker and his Italian colleague. The two foreigners had been working for the NGO/aid group Welthungerhilfe helping flood victims in Southern Punjab. The German Bernd Johannes, 70, had reached Multan on January 11, while Giovanni, 24, came here from Islamabad on January 17. According to Miss Julia, a woman residing with the abducted foreigners, the kidnappers identified themselves as Taliban. Threatening to kill them, the abductors also showed the victims their suicide jackets, Julia further told police. Initial investigations have revealed that one of the abductors spoke in Urdu and English, while the other three talked in the Pushto language. Police found a bag, said to be belonging to the abductors, from the crime scene. It contained ropes, injections and toxins. Some of the injections came out to be used ones — possibly administered to the victims before they were taken away.

The fresh kidnappings bring to three the number of Westerners abducted since July last year in the Punjab, apart from another high-profile abduction of Shahbaz Taseer, the son of slain Governor Salman Taseer. These kidnappings have jolted the public’s confidence in the country’s police. Like previous incidents, the police once again said that the motive and identity of the kidnappers were yet to be known. However, security experts and intelligence sources say that the militant groups are behind these abductions. “It seems that the Taliban are stockpiling their swap horses in order to get back their commanders (arrested by security forces),” the sources said.

In August 2011, militants abducted American development expert Warren Weinstein, 70, from his office-cum-residence in Lahore’s Model Town area. Government officials say the Taliban are holding foreigners and Salman Taseer’s son and Amir Malik, the son-in-law of an ex-General. After the two abductions in Multan, the IGP and Home Secretary of the province dashed into the South Punjab city to visit and examine the crime scene. According to police sources, IG Javed Iqbal himself is monitoring the investigations. The task looks difficult as people have seen police efforts fails during past abductions. Instead of going after the kidnappers, the government should take some concrete steps to stop such abductions before it gets too late.