According to reports, the culprits opened the door of his car, dragged him out, dumped him in their vehicle and drove away. This is the Pakistan of today, where children, young and old alike, are kidnapped everyday for ransom, revenge killings, and of course, sectarian hate.

By Dr Ghayur Ayub

Only the close relatives of Shahbaz Taseer can feel the intense pain they are going through. The rest can sympathise with them. The son of slain Salman Taseer was accosted by gunmen in broad daylight in busy Gulberg area of Lahore. According to reports, the culprits opened the door of his car, dragged him out, dumped him in their vehicle and drove away. This is the Pakistan of today, where children, young and old alike, are kidnapped everyday for ransom, revenge killings, and of course, sectarian hate. The Lahore police reported that it had traced three mobile numbers used by the kidnappers minutes before the abduction. The person who found the Chinese-made mobile was traced through the SIM cards’ International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number and was picked up by Crime Investigation Agency (CIA).Unfortunately, he deleted the data on the SIM card. The investigators retrieved the numbers used through the call history of the mobile phone revealing that the location of the phone was Gulberg when the calls were made. They also discovered that the abductors used the cell phones to update each other on the proceedings of the kidnapping. Raids are in progress to arrest the owners of the SIM cards. Would it be easy to catch the owners after losing the essential initial element of surprise?

There is another intriguing aspect of the case. As reported, the investigators took the fingerprints from the car and sent them to NADRA to find a match. What happens if the kidnappers have not been registered with NADRA? It was for situations like this that I, as Director General of Health in 1998, decided to make a computerised national database for fingerprints and blood samples. The latter specifically for DNA sampling. That was the time when terrorism was spilling over from Afghanistan into Pakistan through the porous border of the tribal belt. The first major terrorist attack in Islamabad involving a pick-up loaded with a 250-pound bomb was carried out by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad on Egyptian Embassy on November 19, 1995. It was a rare incident of high magnitude in Pakistan. The incident killed the two bombers, five diplomats, three Egyptian security guards and 12 others including Pakistani security guards. Approximately sixty were wounded. The investigation, which was based on the engine block of the vehicle with its VIN intact, led the investigators to the last registered owner of the vehicle who gave them the sketches of the two men. After sometime, six Egyptians, two Afghans and two Jordanians were arrested.

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From that date on, the terrorist attacks went on increasing. For example, in another incident on Nov 12, 1997, four American employees of Union Texas Petroleum Company were killed to avenge Amil Kansi's arrest. The number spiraled up particularly in the tribal regions. The increasing figures could be assessed from a report stating that 45 terrorist attacks took place in the seven months prior to the September 11, 2001 incidence in America – which is taken as the primary reason for terrorism in Pakistan.

In 1998/99, as director general of health, I saw a disturbing situation developing in the country, especially in the tribal belt where terrorist attacks were intensifying and becoming more frequent. It was then that I thought, why not utilize health-related facilities at hand to counter terrorism in a different but effective way? At that time, I was in-charge of a WHO program called Primary Health Care and Family Planning (PHC & FP). The program was structured on preventive healthcare at the grass roots level and depended on Lady Health Workers (LHW) who were selected from the local community. The government trained them in basic healthcare and provided them with a few essential medicines to look after the health of the people in their homes. We should remember that WHO defines health as 'physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being of a person and not merely absence of a disease or infirmity'. In that context, the LHWs became a powerful force in preventive healthcare. To achieve the objectives, they would regularly visit every family in the villages of their assigned catchment areas.

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The ministry of health had a force of 44,000 LHWs operating throughout the country, reaching even the remotest of villages. That number has expanded to 80,000 recently, aiming at 95,000. The program opened a window for a wide range of activities related to the medical field, such as the demographic structure of society. One such activity that caught my attention was making a computerized database of the population to help the country in two major ways. First, to have a health demographic picture of the country for preventive, curative, academic and research purposes. Second, to swiftly trace the background of unidentified individuals caught up in accidents. And as a by-product, it would also help the law-enforcing agencies to easily trace those elements involved in unlawful activities such as thefts, robberies, and killings as part of terrorism.

We know that the culprits such as the ones who kidnapped Shahbaz Taseer leave fingerprints or even blood samples at the crime scene making it easier to trace them quickly and effectively, provided we have a comprehensive database stored at communicative level. It means, such information should be available to the investigative agencies all the time so that they don't have to wait for days and sometimes weeks to get the results from NADRA. All they should do is to feed the sample into the computer, match it with the linked database and within minutes get the results identifying the culprits with speed. Time, in such circumstances, is of the essence in catching culprits.

A concept paper was made with the help of two competent colleagues working in PHC & FP program promising to make a comprehensive chart within four months. I discussed it with the relevant bureaucrat and the minister of health. The minister agreed in principle but the bureaucrat was lukewarm in response showing a clear shift in policy matters between the executive and the bureaucracy. Our aim was to start the project in tribal areas and spread it to the rest of the country at second stage. After getting green signal from the executive, a feasibility report was prepared to present it to foreign funding agencies. The meeting was called. It was attended by representatives of major donors, including WB, ADB, WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, DFID, CIDA, etc.

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They appreciated the report, but in the Pre-9/11 climate, were reluctant to support it, calling it “too enthusiastic”. They wanted more time. I was told by a reliable source that the bureaucracy from two powerful ministries sent messages to the donor agencies asking them to 'go slow' on it. It strengthened the notion that not only did a gap exist between the executives and the bureaucracy, but also the foreign funding agencies were in tune with the bureaucracy.

As mentioned earlier, the project was made about two years before the 9/11 attacks. While we were striving to convince the bureaucracy and the foreign funding agencies that being part of an ongoing program the project was cost effective with minimum financial implications, the government was toppled on October 12, 1999. That was the end of the project. I was made an OSD. A few weeks later, I was informed that the project was shelved by the already reluctant bureaucracy calling it a Nawaz Sharif's project to please the military regime.

If the project had been approved and allowed to flourish in 1998/99, the picture on the ground regarding identification and capture of the terrorists would have been entirely different to what it is today. The computerized data of fingerprints and blood samples (for DNA) from all over Pakistan would have made the work of the investigating agencies easy. It would enable them to identify criminals well within time, giving the terrorists very little opportunity to go 'underground'. That project can even now be reactivated in collusion with interior ministry and NADRA. The files would still be in shelves of the ministry of health, ready to be dusted and put to use. But sadly, as they say about us Pakistanis, we cannot see past the end of our nose.

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