Page last updated at 19:19 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

How Sahil's kidnap was viewed in Pakistan

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News

Sahil and Raja Saeed
After more than two weeks, father and son were reunited

Kidnappings for ransom in Pakistan are so common they have become a statistic in the annual police reports rather than a human interest story.

Pakistani newspapers rarely use a kidnapping story as anything more than a single-column, three-paragraph filler in the inside pages.

The electronic media seldom report a kidnapping incident unless a high profile individual is involved.

So the kidnapping and subsequent recovery of the five-year-old British boy, Sahil Saeed, did not make the top headlines during the boy's two-week ordeal.

But it still made it to the front page of many newspapers, and was among the top five or six headlines of the television bulletins immediately after the kidnapping as well as on the day of his recovery.

Cut-throat media

Much of this was due to official interest in the case, which in turn was prompted by the focus of the international media, and the fact that Sahil was a British national.

Foreign journalists flocked to Jhelum, Sahil's native town, to cover the story, and many stayed on until the boy was recovered two weeks later.

The case not only brought Pakistan some bad press, but also forced the highly competitive Pakistani electronic media to rush for a share of the limelight.

Akila Naqqash
Sahil's mother Akila Naqqash spoke to him by phone after he was freed

The pressure on the Pakistani officials was great.

On 11 March, Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of the Punjab province where Jhelum is located, jumped the gun and said the boy had been found.

Pakistan's High Commissioner in the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, forwarded the reports to the media in the UK.

It turned out to be a false report.

But in Pakistan the debate generated by the kidnapping was completely different from discussions in the West. Many asked whether the abduction would have attracted the same official and media attention had Sahil been Pakistani.

At least one TV channel dug out cases of UK-based Pakistanis whose kidnapping in Pakistan had gone unnoticed "just because they held 'dual' nationality".

Unanswered questions

One senior official told me he was worried Taliban militants would use Sahil's case as another example of Pakistan being the West's poodle.

Now that the case has had a happy ending, many questions remain.

Was this an "inside job", as both Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Hasan, had suggested?

Did Sahil's father leave Pakistan in the middle of the crisis to raise money for ransom?

Was it really an international gang that kidnapped Sahil, as Pakistani officials claim, or was it just a band of Pakistani tribesmen?

Many here feel the "robbers" that broke into the house of Sahil's grandmother in Jhelum two weeks ago took the boy away as a last resort.

They are also asking what they were looking for during the six hours they spent at the house.

1. 4 March: Sahil Saeed seized 2. Date unknown: Phone call from Spain instructs Raja Saeed to return to UK, and then to Paris with ransom 3. 8 March: Raja Saeed returns to UK 4. Date unknown: Two suspects drive to Paris where Raja Saeed hands over ransom. Suspects return to Spain, tailed by police 5. 16 March: Sahil freed 6. 16 March: Spanish police arrest three suspects in Tarragona 7. 17 March: French police arrest two suspects in Paris 8. 18 March: Raja Saeed returns to Pakistan. Reunited with Sahil



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