Shahbaz Taseer, murdered Pakistan governor's son, found alive

Shahbaz Taseer after his release (tweeted by Inter Services Public Relations) Image copyright ISPR
Image caption Shahbaz Taseer seen after he was found, in a photo released by the military

The kidnapped son of a Pakistani governor assassinated in 2011 has been found alive, just over a week after his father's killer was hanged.

Shahbaz Taseer was seized by gunmen in Lahore in August 2011, months after his father Salman was killed for opposing Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

The assassin, his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, was hailed by many as a hero.

Counter-terror police said they recovered Mr Taseer from a compound north of Quetta, following a tip off.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Security forces say they received information Shahbaz Taseer was at this hotel near Quetta

Analysis: M Ilyas Khan, Islamabad

Shahbaz Taseer's dramatic release came barely a week after the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri. So are the two developments linked?

If they are, then it would suggest that the Pakistani security agencies are getting serious about the state of lawlessness in the country and this may be their first big break.

But many aspects of the raid in which Shahbaz Taseer was recovered are still unclear - Why was he being kept in a hotel? Who were his kidnappers? Was there a shoot-out between the kidnappers and the security forces? Were any of the kidnappers arrested?

Mr Taseer was the son of an influential politician and businessman, and was considered to be his political heir. But the family's hopes were dashed when his father was shot dead, and he himself was kidnapped months later.

Soon after his kidnapping, there were rumours that his captors had demanded a huge ransom. But then the case went cold.

It now appears that he may have been freed for ransom. Reports from Quetta suggest that on Tuesday he walked into a restaurant in Kuchlak, ordered food, then asked for a phone to call Lahore.

Official confirmation is still awaited.

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Image copyright Handout
Image caption Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped from Lahore in 2011
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, was assassinated in 2011

Aitzaz Goraya, head of the Counter-Terrorism Department of south-western Balochistan province told AFP: "Intelligence forces and police went to a compound in Kuchlak district some 25km (16 miles) north of Quetta.

"We surrounded the compound and we raided it. We didn't find anyone. A single person was there and he told us, 'My name is Shahbaz and my father's name is Salman Taseer'."

The Balochistan Frontier Corps, the government paramilitary group behind the operation, tweeted to announce that Mr Taseer had been safely recovered.

Few other details were available about the operation or how Mr Taseer came to be at the compound alone.

Some reports suggested a ransom may have been paid to the Pakistani Taliban, which is suspected of involvement, or that holding Mr Taseer had become too burdensome.

The governor's son may have spent time in the custody of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) before troops drove the group out of North Waziristan into Afghanistan in an operation that began in 2014, Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai told BBC Urdu. Mr Taseer then apparently ended up in the hands of the Afghan Taliban following clashes with the IMU.

Mr Goraya described the rescued hostage, who is in his early thirties, as being in "feeble" health.

Qadri was hailed as a hero by Islamists after killing Salman Taseer in Islamabad over the governor's opposition to blasphemy laws.

Thousands of people protested last week following the execution of the former police bodyguard.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri protested in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities following his execution
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The protesters blocked this road into Islamabad

Shabaz Taseer's brother Shehryar said just after Qadri's hanging that the execution was a victory for Pakistan but not his family.

"The safe return of my brother is the only victory my family wants," he wrote on Twitter on 29 February.

Former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who belonged to the same Pakistan People's Party as Governor Taseer and whose own son was kidnapped by suspected Taliban militants in May 2013, told Geo News on Tuesday: "It is a very big day for Salman's family."

He added: "After this release, I am very hopeful that my own son will be freed."

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