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Zardari wants hostages in Somalia freed

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari has tasked Interior Minister Rehman Malik with taking measures for the release of Pakistani hostages held by Somali pirates, Geo News reported.
 
According to sources, President Zardari late Monday night telephoned the interior minister and directed him to leave no stone unturned for the recovery of hostages as the deadline given by the pirates ends today (May 15, Tuesday).
 
The kin of the hostages are in perpetual pain since the pirates commandeered the MV Albedo ship off the coast of Somalia in November 2010 carrying Pakistani sailors.
 
Initially, the Somali pirates had demanded a ransom worth $8 million to set the hostages free. Further negotiations brought the figure down to around $ 2.85 million by April 20, 2012. Later Ahmed Chinoy, Head of Pakistan Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, bought some more time after entreating with the hostage-takers getting the deadline extended to May 15.
 
The families, meanwhile, had been struggling to collect the money. They are short of $1.4 million, which they were desperately trying to collect before the deadline.
 
Earlier last week the families and friends of sailors even camped at Punjab Chowrangi in Karachi and literally begged the passers-by to help them get their loved ones freed.
 
Shehnaz Jawed, wife of Captain Jawed, has not slept for two consecutive days. Most of her time was spent on the phone, begging her husband’s captors to wait another few days, as the money was still being collected.

Every 20 minutes, she gets a call by the pirates asking her if the money has been collected, or should they go on and kill everyone on board.” They shout at me, and are angrier than ever, as the constant wait is getting to them. They have resorted to torture now,” Shahnaz said, understandably worried.

The deadline to pay the money, which was extended twice before, has once again been delayed to May 15, as the families are still dependent on external help to raise $1.4 million. Talking to their husbands makes them more upset than happy. “They are just clinging on to whatever little hope we give them, when we speak to them,” said Shahnaz.
Held hostage in Somalia for the past 18 months, 22 sailors from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Srilanka and Iran await their release whereas their families try desperately to gather the ransom amid “persisting apathy from people.”
Accompanying Shahnaz was her niece, Sabina Qazi. She said that the reaction the families get from people is apathetic, to say the least. “It seems like nobody is interested to take up their cause and stand with them. The general attitude is, why to help these people, when there are bigger issues waiting to be solved,” she said, adding that the least that was said about the help from media, the better.

A few famous TV celebrities had also been asked to come in and help the families’ cause. Anoushey Ashraf and VJ Mathira were among the first ones to arrive, while singer Shehzad Roy had to back out at the last minute.

Adnan Shah, aka Tipu, was among one of them. He got out on the road and asked people to give money. Although he admitted that this won’t earn them even half of what they were expected to gather, “It is just to make people understand. More scary than being tight fisted is to see people gradually closing their hearts,” he said.

He added that people standing near a bus stop handed him Rs30 and 50, “just to help,” which, he said, moved him a lot, as “those people are going through a lot under the current circumstances”.

Clad in a burqa, and quietly watching people scurrying around to help gather money, Sugrah Soomro said she had not spoken to her husband since April 2011. Hearing stories from other women of torture and stress that their husbands were going through, she felt it might be for the better.

Hailing from Agra Taj Colony, Sugrah came to raise funds with her 12-year-old daughter and a nephew in tow. A mother of two, she got her girls out of school, as she could not afford their monthly expenses.

“I live in a joint family, they are willing to help. But it is visible to me that it puts a strain on them too. I don’t want to lose whatever little dignity is left in my life,” she said, trying to hold back tears.

Sitting under a tent nearby, Neelum Naveed had traveled all the way to Karachi from Pind Dadan Khan, to raise funds for the release of her 21-year-old son Ahsan Naveed. Being the youngest on the crew, Ahsan joined MV Albedo 15 days before Somalian pirates hijacked the ship.

“He had finished his course and got a job. At times, it feels as if it’s not really happening to me,” she said. Other people who volunteered to do their bit included Abdul Sattar Edhi, who had come out recently to raise funds for the release of sailors, whereas Amjad Sabri has promised to hold a fundraiser to help the families.

With help available, Ovais Jafar, media coordinator at the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee said that there were a few days left and only a thin possibility of getting another extension in the deadline. “What is definitely required at this time, is state intervention, so that these men can be taken out alive.”


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