ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Gunmen in the eastern city of Lahore staged the second high-profile kidnapping there in two weeks Friday, abducting the son of Salman Taseer, a leading liberal politician who was assassinated early this year after criticizing the country’s blasphemy laws.
Relatives and colleagues of Shahbaz Taseer, a 27-year-old businessman, said he had been threatened repeatedly by Islamist extremists because of the family’s refusal to withdraw the case against his father’s confessed killer. “It seems they are behind it,” Shehryar Taseer, Shahbaz’s younger brother, told the Associated Press.
On Aug. 13, armed men abducted Warren Weinstein, 70, an economic-development consultant from Rockville, from his Lahore residence, and he is still missing. Police have not speculated publicly about the motive for the attack.
No group has asserted responsibility for either abduction.
Lahore police said four men, riding in a van and on motorcycles, forced Shahbaz Taseer from his Mercedes-Benz in an upscale neighborhood Friday morning and took him away at gunpoint. A friend riding with him was beaten. They were traveling without guards, police said.
Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province and a leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was gunned down in January by a member of his security detail. The confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, cited Salman Taseer’s opposition to laws that required a Christian woman to be sentenced to death for allegedly blaspheming Islam.
A group of 500 Muslim scholars, along with many ordinary Pakistanis who span the religious spectrum, lauded Qadri as a hero. The outpouring of support for the assassin shocked secularists, liberals and moderates who fear that the government has coddled the Pakistani Taliban and other hard-liners to the point of fatally destabilizing the country’s democracy.
Last week, after mounting death threats, the Lahore family of Muhammad Afzal Chishti, the cleric who led the funeral prayer for Taseer when no one else would do so, petitioned authorities for police protection. Chishti himself recently fled the country after months in hiding, his son told the Press Trust of India.
Shahbaz Taseer, a director in several of the companies his father founded, was not known to have spoken out on political or religious issues. But his sister Shehrbano Taseer, a journalist, who like her father has made a cause of tolerance, expressed frustration with the slow progress of the case against Qadri.
His brother Shehryar, in a message posted on Twitter later Friday, wrote: “The family is remaining strong. ... We have not lost faith. We love our country and are not going anywhere. [God willing] my brother will be home soon.”
In a statement expressing alarm over Shahbaz Taseer’s kidnapping, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said, “Such brazen crimes reflect a general deterioration of law and order and add to the sense of insecurity that the people have now grown accustomed to.”
Kidnappings, bombings and killings — whether for religious, ethnic, political or criminal reasons — have become a fact of life in this increasingly fractured nation. Thousands have died in an anti-American, pro-Taliban insurgency targeting many segments of Pakistani society, not just the government. In recent days, more than 100 people have been killed in violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city; many have called for the army to intervene to restore order, blaming a weak government led by the Pakistan People’s Party for a country that seems to be spiraling out of control.
Lahore authorities said it was too soon to establish who was behind Shahbaz Taseer’s abduction. “He may have been kidnapped by religious extremists, or his abduction could also be the result of some business disputes,” said Abdur Razzaq Cheema, a senior police superintendent.
Special correspondent Aoun Abbas Sahi in Lahore contributed to this report.