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American’s abduction in Pakistan: police cite few leads

Pakistani police say they have no leads in the abduction of an American aid worker, despite initial optimism they could solve the case quickly.

A group of eight gunmen snatched Warren Weinstein early Saturday from his home in an upscale neighborhood of Lahore. The news has surprised Pakistanis who collaborated with Dr. Weinstein on projects funded by the US government to boost job creation here.

“I am really shocked to hear that,” says Ehtesham Ullah Khan, a gemologist who knew Weinstein. “He was a very nice person and, to me, he made many friends as compared to no enemies.”

Professor Khan met Weinstein many times to set up a gemology training center in Peshawar. He did not know Weinstein had been abducted, meaning investigators have not reached out yet to some of Weinstein’s main associates, two days following the abduction.

Faisal Ali, a long-time crime reporter for Dawn newspaper, observed that Pakistani police might not be well equipped to trace the assailants.

“They are probably waiting for the culprits to issue ransom demands at this stage,” says Mr. Ali.

Deputy Inspector General of Investigations Amir Malik says multiple teams had been assigned tasks to help recover Weinstein. The guards have helped compile sketches of the attackers. Dawn reported that Weinstein’s guards were former commandos hired through a private company. As of Monday, though, Mr. Malik says, “We have nothing to disclose at the moment.” The case has the potential to impact the tense relationship between the US and Pakistan, depending on who is responsible and the level of Pakistani assistance. As the country director for a private firm working on US-funded projects, Weinstein operated in an increasingly common gray area between official and private citizen.

According to the US embassy in Pakistan, such distinctions do not matter in how the US responds to hostage situations. “Everyone is equal. He is an American citizen – that’s all we look at,” says embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez.

Weinstein served as country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a consulting firm based in Arlington, Va. At least two of their efforts – boosting dairy production and expanding the gem trade – received funded from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), according to the company website.

Interviews with three Pakistanis involved in these initiatives revealed satisfaction with Weinstein’s work and the American assistance. One of Weinstein’s roles appeared to be identifying helpful technology in both sectors and importing it from abroad.

The gemology center that Weinstein helped Khan set up is at Peshawar’s University of Engineering and Technology. The mountainous border with Afghanistan is rich in minerals, providing a source of jobs in a region that is a breeding ground for Islamic militants.

The US has paid for 20 students from the tribal areas along the Afghan border to get five-month diplomas at the center. They now have jobs or have started their own businesses trading gems mostly online, says Khan.

Khan says the US unexpectedly cut funding for more students to come from the tribal areas this year. The students had already submitted all their paperwork and were chosen when word came that the money was cut, he says. Instead, the university is offering limited scholarships and serving students from other parts of Pakistan.

The lab funding was part of a larger USAID effort called the FATA Livelihood Development Project that was set to close Aug. 15, says Khan. Police say Weinstein had been planning to depart the country soon.

Khan sees no reason why Weinstein’s work in Peshawar would have created any enemies.

“He brings people together. When there’s no compromise between people in a meeting, he brings people to one point,” says Khan. “He wants things to be done practically. He’s not like a paper man who likes reports and keeps [himself buried] in the files.”

Khan adds, “I pray everything goes well and he gets released and gets home as early as possible.”

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