And they never came back

Ayazullah, an 8th grade student from Khyber Agency, went to Yakha Chena (a picnic point) on September 4, 2017 — the third day of Eidul Azha — near the Pak-Afghan border along with 15 other friends. However, none of them returned home that night.

They were enjoying the third day of Eid when a dozen gunmen arrived there and kidnapped them. One of the boys, Mehraban, later managed to escape from his abductors. He told the media that they were busy in their meals when armed men surrounded them. “They took us to an unknown location. We stopped for a little rest in the dark and I moved away and hid. When the militants started moving ahead with the hostages, they could not find me. After they travelled some kilometers towards the Afghan side, their voices fell silent. I started running toward the Pakistani side. I passed through dense forest and rocks and travelled for hours to reach home. I handed over myself to Pakistan security forces and later they sent me home safely,” he said.

Abdul Malik, a father from the Landi Kotal area whose two sons have been missing, told Daily Times that Ayazullah and Bashir were abducted by the militants. “They have been missing for five months. Only the parents can imagine our pain. Our families are in mourning. However, no government official is taking the incident seriously,” he said. Ayaz’s mother has now become mentally unstable due to the grief, he said.

“I pray to Allah that our children are found and reunited with us. We don’t even know whether they are alive or dead right now. We have no hope of their returning home because they are in the hands of cruel people,” he said.

Torkham is the busiest border town of Khyber Agency. It connects Nangarhar province of the Afghanistan with Pakistan tribal area of the Khyber Agency. On both sides, Shinwari tribesmen live with the same Pakhtun customs and traditions.

Naseer Ahmad, who sells LPG gas in Torkham Market, said his son was a student in grade 10. “He went to the grandmother’s house for Eid’s celebration, but never came back to their home. Abubakar along with his cousin and friends went to that picnic point and they were abducted on the same day. “If I was aware that Abubakar will go missing, I will never have allowed him to go. He left our whole family in pain,” he said. He said Abubakar was a well-read boy and always got good grades in school, hoping to secure a bright future for their poor family. “Every time I remember him, I am heartbroken. I am shocked that the abductors were able to kidnap our kids in broad daylight from the Pakistani border and then shift them to Afghanistan. I urge the government to form a commission to investigate the incident,” he said.

A tribal jirga, led by the tribal elders and relatives of the victims, returned home empty-handed after they did not get access to the abductors. However, they met some influential people, who were in contact with the militants across the border. One of the jirga members said that they had got information from the people who were linked to militants across the border. “They demanded Rs 50 million for the return of the children. Later, they reduced it to Rs 30 million. We are so poor that we cannot pay such a huge amount of money,” he said. Abdul Malik said that they could not pay so much ransom to the abductors. “We can only pay them Rs 0.1 Pakistani rupees. How can a daily wager arrange Rs 30 million to free his children? Our only hope is the government. We want it to help us arrange the ransom,” he said.

The Pakistan Army has started fencing the border. There is also strict monitoring to counter the movement of militants from across the border in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas.Despite several attempts, Assistant Political Agent Muhammad Niaz refused to comment on the issue.

Published in Daily Times, February 4th  2018.