Kidnapping of American in Lahore highlights risks for US aid efforts in Pakistan

US citizen Warren Weinstein was abducted from his home in the city of Lahore, Pakistan early Saturday morning.

K.M. Chaudary/AP
Pakistani police officers gather in front of the house of a kidnapped American aid worker in Lahore, Pakistan.

Armed gunmen kidnapped an American development consultant from his home in Lahore early Saturday, highlighting the difficulty of US aid efforts in Pakistan.

The abducted man, Warren Weinstein, heads the Pakistan office for consulting firm J.E. Austin Associates, Inc. The firm is working here on US Agency for International Development (USAID) projects, including one to set up small businesses and create jobs in the restive tribal areas. The US has pledged some $7.5 billion in civilian aid over a five year period in a bid to stem militancy and improve relations with the nuclear-armed state.

It’s unclear what motivated the kidnapping. But the incident underscores the risks and complications involved for American contractors trying to implement US aid work.

“For me it is very shocking,” says Sajid Hassan, a businessman who has worked with Dr. Weinstein on dairy projects. “He did a lot of good work for this country.”

Helping Pakistan's dairy industry

Mr. Weinstein helped import dairy chillers to boost the productivity of Pakistan’s rural farms, resulting in $63 million in new investment to Pakistan, at least 2,150 new jobs, and a 25 percent boost in producer productivity, according to the company website.

“He helped the university in the establishment of dairy facilities, negotiating with colleagues in the Netherlands,” says Dr. Muhammad Abdullah, chair of livestock at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore. “We had quite a professional interaction with him.”

Weinstein’s company also worked on helping small businesses in the gem and marble trade in the lower districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a base for several militant groups like the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda.

“When you have foreign contractors, even NGOs, coming in, they find it much more difficult” to operate than local groups, says Shandana Khan, head of the Rural Support Programme Network, a Pakistani nongovernmental organization. “We are finding now in [some areas] we have to be very careful, and if we are having these issues you can imagine [what US groups go through].”

Will this hamper foreign development work?

Some foreign developers have pulled back from the regions along the Afghan border to safer cities like Islamabad, she says. “And now this is Lahore – that’s quite serious,” she adds. As it becomes harder to dispatch people on site, the monitoring of projects suffers.

Weinstein lived in Model Town, a leafy, affluent section of Lahore that is also home to top opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. His two-storey home appeared to be a higher-security building than its neighbors, complete with eight-feet high walls and a security camera out front.

Police received an emergency call at 3:30 a.m. local time after a group of eight heavily-armed assailants broke into Weinstein’s home, says Tajamul Hussain, the Lahore police officer investigating the incident.

Three of the gunmen approached the front gate and offered food to the three guards and a driver who were about to eat. (During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, food is eaten at night.) The guards refused, but with only one gun between them, they were overpowered.

Meanwhile, five gunmen broke into the back of the two-storey house. The intruders grabbed Weinstein, beat him with a pistol, and left within 15 minutes with him, according to Mr. Hussain. No one was killed.

Police are interrogating the driver, guards, and other staff because they suspect the assailants may have gotten inside help, says a police intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity. The officer says J.E. Austin Associates was expected to wrap up Pakistan operations on Aug.15 after working here since 2005. Weinstein has worked with the company since 2004, according to his profile on the professional networking website LinkedIn.

Other police sources who asked to remain unnamed told the Monitor that Lahore police conducted several raids within Lahore overnight and through the morning, believing that he remains in the city.

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