I can just imagine them now; mothers looking out the windows of their homes, their eyes searching for a familiar face or a boarded car out of which authorities might appear, bearing some news about the missing persons search operations. On an impulse, they might even head out the door, calling the names of their sons; what if they’ve come home? What if they’ve finally returned?

Thousands of people are abducted in Pakistan every year – kidnapped for ransom, sold into sexual trafficking or begging gangs, whereas most of them are killed. On average, five persons per day are being kidnapped and kidnappers continue to lift youngsters, employees and traders every time, it seems, they get the chance.

The volume of kidnappings over the years has increased drastically. In 2012, the United States State Department website, which tracks worldwide crime trends, warned of “alarming increases” in kidnapping cases in Venezuela and Pakistan with the ever-surging trend of transporting people against their will.

There are two types of kidnappings; one performed for ransom and the other for human trafficking or slavery. The highest rate of kidnapping for ransom and commission of suicide was recorded in Sindh during the last five years as approximately 6,589 people were kidnapped in the province last year for ransom, (which is 35.8 percent of total offences). In Punjab, the NCD indicated that overall about 3,876 people were kidnapped last year.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 540 people have been victims of kidnappings, known as “kill and dump”, in Balochistan in 2012.

This increase in the number of kidnappings over the years only brings forth the increased number of terrorists. USAID contractor working for JE Austin Dr Warren Weinstein as well as slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer, were kidnapped in 2011. It has been 1000 days since Shahbaz Taseer was taken. Police have yet to recover either of the abducted victims. Former Pakistani PM Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani has been missing for over a year now. We might know for a fact that either Al Qaeda, the Taliban or the Al Mansuri Brigade might have either of them but the questions, especially for family members, remain as simple and as complex as they always were; Where are they? And most importantly, how are they?

Recently, the missing persons protest in Islamabad, which resulted in baton charge and teargas attacks on protestors, was blamed on the government. Taking serious notice of the incident, PM Nawaz Sharif ordered the authorities concerned to release the detained protesters at the earliest. He said protesting peacefully was every citizen’s fundamental right, which cannot be taken away from them. Sharif also ordered the authorities to look into the incident and punish the culprits for mishandling rights activists and journalists with an iron fist.

The government has even set up an anti-kidnapping squad in Islamabad and equipped it with modern technology to trace the criminals. Police can only trace the location of the caller (culprit) who actually uses a mobile phone, but in some cases, culprits have used satellite phones in order to get the ransom amount from tribal areas. Previously, gangs usually operated the rackets of kidnappings from interior Sindh or from Balochistan. But now they are making calls from Wana or Waziristan, and the police are having a difficult time tracking them down.

Despite the government’s efforts, tens of thousands of people are missing; kidnapped and held for various reasons. Their mothers need answers, their siblings need clues, their friends need reassurances. Perhaps what the government says is true. Perhaps the PML-N is doing all it can to negotiate with these barbarians, in an attempt to reach some kind of understanding and allowance for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in captivity. But beneath the talks, the national security and policy issues, the only question that really means anything to the parents staring out of windows, remains, “Where are the children?”

n    The writer is a member of the National Assembly (PML-N)