A manhunt is underway in Pakistan's second largest city as the police scour Lahore in an attempt to recover a son of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was brutally slain by his own bodyguard for his opposition to the country's draconian blasphemy laws.
Armed gunmen abducted Shahbaz Taseer, the fourth of the late governor's children, yesterday morning soon after he left his home. The captors were driving a black SUV, according to the police and the family. They stopped Shahbaz in his car, forced him out at gunpoint, and dumped his iPad and mobile phones before fleeing.
It is not clear whether the abduction of Shahbaz was for ransom or connected to the slain governor's outspoken opposition to religious extremism. Governor Taseer was shot 27 times by Mumtaz Qadri, who confessed to the killing with chilling pride. Religious extremists twisted the governor's opposition to the blasphemy laws and cast it as an act of blasphemy itself.
Lahore police officer Abdur Razzaq Cheema suggested that the kidnapping was carried out by suspected militants. "It seems they are behind it," he told reporters at the scene where Shahbaz's car was abandoned in an up-market Lahore neighbourhood.
The family has not yet received any word from the captors. This is the second high-profile kidnapping in the city of Lahore in the space of a month. On 13 August, Warren Weinstein, an American development expert, was snatched from his home by gunmen. Mr Weinstein has not been heard from since.
Rights campaigners said the kidnapping was further evidence of Pakistan's weak stand against religious extremism. "The government set a very bad precedent in the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer's death by not seeking to hold his murderer accountable," said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch.
"There has been no movement on the case and the failure to prosecute and convict the self-confessed mur- derer is a sign of both incompetence and an appeasement of extremists."
In the nearly nine months since the governor's assassination, Qadri, has not been convicted. Despite his con- fession, the trial has been drawn out, revealing a reluctance to offend extremists in Pakistan. Qadri is lauded as a hero by religious extremists and many mainstream Pakistanis. Earlier this month, the imam who led the governor's funeral prayers fled the country, citing threats to his life.
The family, however, have continued to pursue justice for their father and speak out against religious extremism.
Governor Taseer was a liberal poli-tician who belonged to the ruling Pakistan People's Party. He was one of the few politicians who campaigned for the freedom of Asia Bibi, a poor farmhand who became the first Christian woman to face the death penalty after she was dubiously accused of blaspheming.
The blasphemy laws, human rights campaigners observe, are vaguely worded and used to persecute religious minorities. Two months after the governor's assassination, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minorities minister and the only Christian member of the cabinet, was shot dead outside his mother's home in Islamabad.