On 6th February, four months after his capture, Piotr Stanczak, a Polish engineer, was beheaded by his Taliban kidnappers. The geologist worked with a Krakow-based geophysics institute, Geofizyka Krakow, surveying oil and gas fields in Pakistan. The institute was carrying out surveillance work on behalf of the Oil & Gas Development Company Limited, a Pakistani oil corporation. After the abduction, Geofizyka Krakow announced on its website that work was suspended.
The engineer was taken hostage close to the Afghan border on 28th September; the militants pulled Stanczak from his car after killing three Pakistanis travelling with him near the city of Attock in northwest Pakistan. During the four months the victim was moved from one hiding place to another over the lawless region overrun by the Taliban. After futile negotiations the militants released to local and foreign media organisations a seven-minute video of Stanczak apparently being beheaded. As diplomatic and consular services have not received the body the final confirmation is still expected. A man on the film says the Pole was killed because the Pakistani government refused to exchange him for Taliban prisoners.
According to the kidnappers, the principal reason behind the abduction was to recover fellow militants who had been arrested last summer by the Pakistani army. The army had attacked the Taliban when they took over a tunnel and blocked the road that the army used to transport backups to Waziri. After a three-day fight, the Taliban lost nearly 100 people while 200 were taken prisoner. In September the militants moved to the eastern bank of the Indus River to hunt for captives for which they could ransom their fellow militants from prison. The Polish engineer fell into their hands in a village called Pind Sultani. Stanczak is the first Polish victim to be killed by the Taliban; the last kidnapped hostage was released alive.
Being a NATO member state and having sent Polish troops to Afghanistan, such an incident was bound to happen and it proved to be a litmus test for Polish responsibility and effectiveness. Shortly after the kidnapping the Foreign Ministry admitted it was one of the greatest challenges they had been faced with. As many of the details received were not reliable, but gossip spread by the local militant leaders, the Polish side focused its efforts on pressing the Pakistani government. Being aware that the region is not under the government’s control,a Polish negotiator managed to contact the founder of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ama Taliban movement, Sami ul-Haq, who played a key role in recovering Koreans kidnapped in Afghanistan. After the meeting with the Polish negotiator in January, ul-Haq spoke with Pakistan’s foreign and internal affairs officials, appealed to the militants in local media, and asked his people to put pressure on the kidnappers to release the engineer. The militants did not give in. Another point of contact for Polish negotiators was Szah Abdul Aziz, a former member of parliament politically affiliated with JUI (Assembly of Islamic Clergy). Aziz estimated the chances for the captive’s release to be as high as 60 percent. Both Raszid and Aziz stated that the Polish side proved knowledgeable about the realities and contacted adequate sources. However, the rebellious militants did not follow their religious leaders.
Whilst in talks with the Islamists, the Polish government also turned for help to the British and American intel-ligence communities, who are far better informed about the Afghan-Pakistani border situation. For the former, the region has become one of its priorities, as it is here that potential terrorists threatening Great Britain are trained. The latter certified that the most experienced negotiators were sent and American embassies in Kabul and Islamabad were engaged in the case.
Contacting both the local religious authorities and British and American intelligence were key measures to be taken by the Polish government; however, other aspects dramatically shaped the situation. The Pakistani government, following a principle learnt from the past, does not agree to terrorists’ demands to release prisoners. Although the militants reduced the demanded number of captives to be released to just two, this fundamental requirement was not met. Secondly, over the last few weeks the kidnappers were subjected to a severe offensive, and the captive might have become a burden to the terrorists. What is more, as a Pakistan daily reported, the terrorists were divided over the prisoners they wanted to be released for the captive. One of the Taliban groups even planned to take the Pole by force, which put his execution forward.
The death was the first killing of a Western hostage in Pakistan since American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in 2002. Until recently the kidnappings were ransom-driven and only local captives were murdered when suspected of collaborating with the U.S. The number of abductions is increasing and the Taliban’s strategies change as many militants return to the cradle of al-Qaeda from Iraq, where taking foreigners hostage and killing them was an everyday reality of war.
The murder of the Polish engineer not only reminded Poland about the consequences and responsibilities of alliances made, but also attracted attention to the global threat that the situation in Pakistan is posing. The country, unable to control its militants, is also a nuclear state, and its weapons could potentially be used against India as well as get into the Taliban’s hands. This being the case, experts say that the U.S., together with their allies, should put all of their efforts into weakening individual militant groups and setting their leaders against one another as well as encouraging the militants into various Pakistani forces. It would, however, require collaboration with Pakistani intelligence, which is in close contact with the Tali-ban and is said to constitute a state of their own within Pakistan. Taking this into account the solution proposed by the American president to send more troops to Afghanistan leaves little hope for the situation to improve.