STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's go next to Pakistan, where several high-profile kidnappings remain unsolved in the city of Lahore. One missing person is an American aide expert. The other is the son of a murdered man. After Governor Salman Taseer was killed, his son disappeared. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports the trail has led investigators to militant-dominant tribal areas.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: North Waziristan, on the lawless Pakistan-Afghan border, is now believed to be a destination of choice for militant kidnappers. This new video shows a Swiss couple snatched in July in southwest Pakistan, now believed to be in the northwest tribal belt.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: They speaks calmly and call on Pakistan and Switzerland to meet their captors' demand: win the release of a Pakistani scientist with ties to al-Qaida jailed in the U.S. Masked gunmen pointing rifles at the heads of the Swiss couple leave no doubt that their lives are in danger. In the case of American Warren Weinstein, there has been no public demand nor public confirmation about the condition of the 70-year-old aide expert kidnapped more than two months ago. The same is true for 27-year-old Shahbaz Taseer, snatched from his Mercedes at gunpoint, also in an upscale neighborhood of Lahore in late August. Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah says criminal facilitators carried out the initial phase of the kidnappings. Afterwards, he says, the wealthy son of the late Governor Taseer and the American development expert were likely handed off to any one of a dozen militant groups. He says Pakistan's military spy agency, the tight-lipped ISI, has taken charge.

RANA SANAULLAH: The terrorists are in negotiation with the families of the victims. I can say this.

MCCARTHY: Do you have any sense, sir, of what they want? Are these criminal elements? Are these militants looking to fund the militancy?

SANAULLAH: They are looking for money, money and money - nothing else. But they demand such a huge amount.

MCCARTHY: Sanaullah says captors have set a ransom of more than $1 million - an astronomic sum here - for the still-missing son-in-law of Pakistan's former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The general's son-in-law was captured in August last year. It is worrisome in the case of Warren Weinstein, believed to suffer ill health, that there's been no public demand for money or a prisoner exchange or proof that he's alive. But Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, says the modus operandi of the kidnappers is usually to allow some time to elapse to build psychological pressure and put the hostage-takers in a better bargaining position.

RASHED RAHMAN: And they themselves put a lid on all information to ensure that if there are any negotiations going on, they are not prematurely revealed, which might set off alarm bells and queer the whole pitch.

MCCARTHY: The overriding concern for both the police and the kidnappers is to ensure the victim is recovered safe and unharmed. In Pakistani culture, kidnapping has long been used to settle scores. It's become more menacing in recent years as the nexus between criminal gangs and militant outfits strengthens. Senior retired police officer Pervaiz Akbar Lodhi says kidnapping is the easy part. More complicated is keeping the victim hidden and healthy.

PERVAIZ AKBAR LODHI: Only organized criminals, only organized parties, you will see these terrorist organizations, they have means to do that.

MCCARTHY: Lodhi says sophisticated kidnappers such as the Pakistan Taliban capitalize on the isolated tribal areas to sequester their victims in their own infrastructure. But Lodhi says it's entirely possible that the kidnapped Weinstein and Taseer are no longer in Pakistan, but Afghanistan. The mysterious abductions coincide with surging crime, a plunging economy, and a militancy that seems as resilient as ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

MCCARTHY: On the streets of Lahore, people complain that criminals have been emboldened by the state, which they say is unwilling or unable to protect them. Fifty-six-year-old Mohammad Akram sells textiles from a stall on this fume-choked street near Lahore's old city, and says there is no law and order.

MOHAMMAD AKRAM: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: There is no security. Here God is the protector of everyone, Akram says. The government has failed, and anybody could be kidnapped, he says. We are sitting on this road and anybody could do anything to us. Newspaper editor Rashed Rahman says the unsolved cases of foreigners and the affluent are troubling, but says the police and intelligence agencies can't be everywhere.

RAHMAN: And cannot guard every son of the rich all over the country. It's not possible, physically not possible, given also the fact that we are undergoing threats of and actual attacks by terrorists. So they are stretched.

MCCARTHY: Retired law enforcement officials admit that the police are not professionally trained to fight terrorism, nor do they compare to their counterparts in the U.S. That said, authorities report that of the 45 cases of kidnapping in Lahore this year, all but seven have been resolved. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Lahore.

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