Across the border

The return of Salmaan Taseer's abducted son gives Pakistan another ray of hope

The young businessman is recovered after five years in captivity, the week after his father's assassin was executed.

The best news coming out of Pakistan this week was about the recovery on Tuesday of Shahbaz Taseer, the abducted son of slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. The businessman, in his early thirties, had been taken captive in August 2011 as he drove to his office in Lahore.

The family had already been under tremendous strain since Salmaan Taseer’s assassination in January 2011 at the hands of his official bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri for alleged blasphemy. Qadri, who threw down the murder weapon and surrendered to the other guards, had been booked for murder and convicted. He was hanged on February 29, 2016.

The news of the hanging elicited anger among religious conservatives for whom Qadri had become a poster-boy. But Pakistan’s progressive groups welcomed the move, some unconditionally exuberant and others with reservations about the issue of capital punishment.

There was, however, agreement among progressives that the execution symbolised Pakistan’s move away from the culture of impunity that prevails particularly whenever a crime is committed in the name of religion. This was the first time that the courts had upheld punishment for a blasphemy murderer.

Shahbaz’s younger brother Shehryar Taseer had tweeted:

Some reservations

In an analysis published on the progressive blog Pak Tea House the day before Taseer was recovered, Imran Ahmed Khan wrote about the need for an honest dialogue in Pakistan to introspect about who committed blasphemy after all: "Taseer, who asked for an end to the misuse of the law? Or Qadri, who violated the law and took it in his own hands to protect the same law?”

The joy at Taseer’s recovery is tempered by the continuing absence of another high-profile kidnap victim, Ali Haider Gilani the son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, abducted from Multan in May, 2013, outside a Pakistan People’s Party office before the general elections that year.

Gilani has congratulated the Taseer family on their good news and called for the security agencies to also take measures to recover his son about whom there is no news.

After Taseer’s abduction, there was speculation that the action was due to a business rivalry or an unpaid debt. As often happens with kidnap victims in Pakistan where criminal mafias have links with militant groups, the original kidnappers were believed to have sold or passed him on to another group. At various points, there were reports that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had demanded Rs 500 million to Rs 2 billion for his release, that a group in Waziristan negotiating the release of Qadri and other prisoners held him, and that he had been killed in a drone strike.

News about his recovery began filtering out on March 8, barely a week after Qadri’s hanging. His family has undergone nearly five years of uncertainty and trauma. He had been married barely a year earlier. His wife Maheen Taseer, as well as his siblings and mother Aamna captured the imagination of many with their tweets remembering him and praying for his release.

Mysterious conclusion

At session of the Pakistan Senate, People’s Party Senator Sherry Rehman, a friend of Taseer’s mother Aamna, asked the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan about the rumour. Briefing Senate about Pakistan’s counter-terrorism National Action Plan, Khan confirmed the news, which Rehman promptly tweeted.

In the absence of any comment from his family as yet, the circumstances around Taseer’s recovery remain as mysterious as his abduction.

The Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations issued a press release saying that the intelligence agencies recovered Shahbaz Taseer from Kuchlak district, some 25 kilometres north of Quetta, Balochistan. The area still has a heavy population of Afghan refugees and is known for its Taliban sympathies.

Aitzaz Goraya, the head of the Counter-Terrorism Department, Balochistan, told reporters that on a tip-off, intelligence forces and police went to a compound in Kuchlak that they surrounded and raided it. “We didn’t find anyone,” said Goraya. “A single person was there and he told us my name is Shahbaz and my father’s name is Salmaan Taseer.”

However, according to other reports, the kidnappers, under pressure from the military offensive, abandoned the place where they had held Shahbaz Taseer leaving him free to go. He walked to a small roadside restaurant, Saleem Hotel at Kuchlak.

The restaurant owner told reporters that a man in grey shalwar kurta, with an overgrown beard and long hair, ordered food and tea. He then asked to use a phone, but the establishment didn’t have one. The man paid his bill of Rs.350 and went out to find a phone. Shortly afterwards, security personnel arrived and took him away.

Shahbaz Taseer was taken to the Civil and Military Hospital in Quetta for a full medical checkup and found to be in good health and stable.

Major General Asim Bajwa released the first photos of Taseer after his being recovered.


“There is too much confusion about his recovery,” said political analyst and former director general Pakistan Radio Murtaza Solangi, a senior journalist who now works for a private TV channel. “No encounter. No arrests. Whatever the facts, it doesn’t arrest my joy. Qadri goes to hell. Shahbaz comes out of it.”

Even as Pakistanis erupted with joy at the good news, some journalists tried to speculate, based on the long beard and hair, that Taseer had gone over the “the other side”.

These speculation was soon put paid by Major Gen. Asim Bajwa’s pictures of him the following day, shaved and wearing a t-shirt and trousers.



Slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s daughter, rap singer Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari used emojis of a Pakistan flag and heart in her tweet.

For Pakistanis starved for good news, Shahbaz Taseer’s recovery was the third major event to cheer about within a week, following on the heels of documentary fimmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s second Oscar win, justice served with the hanging of Qadri, and now, the son of an assassinated blasphemy victim reunited with his family.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.