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The Known Unknowns In The Boyle Family Story Are Hard To Ignore

There is more to it than what we know so far.

10/17/2017 12:51 EDT | Updated 10/17/2017 13:48 EDT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Joshua Boyle speaks to the media after arriving at the airport in Toronto on Oct. 13, 2017. Boyle, his wife and three children had been held hostage for five years by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

It's hard to tell what's transpiring outside when your vantage point is limited to the trunk of a moving car.

Joshua Boyle and his family's return to Canada brings joy and relief to all Canadians. However, the conflicting accounts of their rescue in Pakistan raise more questions than they answer.

As a former journalist in, and a resident of, Pakistan's troubled Frontier province, I struggle to understand why the Taliban relocated the family from Afghanistan to Pakistan, why the Americans didn't ask the Afghan government to assist with the rescue, and why all kidnappers were able to escape.

Mr. Boyle revealed that the kidnappers had confined his family to the trunk of a moving car as they were being transported from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan to a place in Pakistan. He spoke of a shootout between the militants and Pakistan's security forces. He mentioned that some kidnappers, if not all, were killed.

Here lies the problem. The chief spokesperson of Pakistan Armed Forces, Major General Asif Ghafoor, confirmed yesterday that the kidnappers fled even after being surrounded by the security personnel while being monitored consistently from the above by unmanned drones.

It is possible that the family's release, welcome as it is, could have been a part of a deal that involved either money or exchange of detained militants.

The news media reports offer conflicting accounts of what happened to the kidnappers and where exactly the rescue took place. It is critical to determine why the kidnappers decided to relocate the family from the relative safety of ungoverned parts of Afghanistan to Kohat, a city in Pakistan where the police and security personnel are deployed.

The hostage-takers crossed the Pak-Afghan border in Pakistan's tribal areas (Kurram Agency). The hazardous road from Kurram Agency to Kohat passes through tribal areas dominated by the Taliban-affiliated Sunni tribesmen who are used to attacking the passing convoys to target Shiite tribesmen living in Parachinar, the primary town in Kurram Agency.

It must be quite a feat for the kidnappers to cross into Pakistan in Kurram Agency and successfully drive for several hours to Kohat (also reported by CBC) while the five members of the Boyle family were locked inside the trunk of a vehicle.

Earlier media reports and the testimony by Lt. Col. Jason Amerine before the U.S. Senate revealed several attempts to negotiate an exchange in which the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Group asked for money ($150,000) or the release of Anas Haqqani, a militant in custody of the Afghan government.

Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press
Joshua Boyle and one of his kids play in the garden at his parents' house in Smiths Falls, Ont., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017.

It is not yet clear if the Boyle family's sudden rescue in Pakistan was part of a quid pro quo involving the release of Taliban militants or payment of a ransom. The location of their rescue in Pakistan suggests that there is more to the story than we know.

The Boyle family was reportedly rescued near Kohat in Pakistan. All along, American drones kept a watch on the vehicle from the above. Residents in Kohat, in fact, panicked when they spotted the U.S. drones, which in the recent past were dropping bombs in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Given the lack of trust Americans have repeatedly expressed about Pakistan's intelligence services, it seems odd that the American authorities patiently tracked the vehicle carrying the hostages from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Moreover, instead of asking the Afghan government to rescue the hostages, the Americans waited until the vehicle had crossed into Pakistan and made its way to Kohat.

So far, no details have emerged of the type of vehicle involved in transporting the family or where they have been kept for years in Afghanistan. What is known for certain is that Mr. Boyle heard shots while he was confined to the vehicle's trunk.

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This could have all been staged because the kidnappers are neither dead nor in custody. It is possible that the family's release, welcome as it is, could have been a part of a deal that involved either money or exchange of detained militants. Why else would the Taliban have moved the family from Afghanistan's relative security to a well-guarded city in Pakistan?

General Ghafoor, Army's chief spokesperson in Pakistan, dispelled the impression that the Boyle family's release was part of a deal involving either prisoner exchange or ransom." However, it is too early to tell what really transpired given that the Afghan government remains silent on the issue.

The known unknowns in the Boyle story are hard to ignore. There is more to it than what we know so far. Already, the Taliban have refuted allegations of rape and murder. There is no need to trust the Taliban. Still, the Taliban have not acted as such with hostages in the past. Also, given the unfortunately very high infant mortality rate in Afghanistan (66 per 1,000 live births), newborn children regrettably expire for lack of medical attention.

For now, we should be relieved that the Boyle family has made it back to Canada. And even though some American and Canadian leaders earlier declared their respective Afghan missions a success, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan continue to be under the control of religious extremists who have no qualms about taking children and women hostages.

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