Hostage held on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier

Dear Colleague,

I would be pleased if you can help in this effort to liberate a hostage on the Pakistan-Afghan frontier. Best wishes, Rene Wadlow

Citizens of the World call for the release of Greek scholar and aid worker among the Kalasha of Pakistan held by Taliban-related insurgents in the Nuristan area

of Afghanistan.

In a statement prepared for the UN Forum on Minority Issues, 12-13 November 2009, in Geneva, Switzerland, Rene Wadlow, Chief Representative of the Association of World Citizens to the UN, Geneva, called the assembled representatives of Governments, minority associations, and non-governmental organizations to action to facilitate the release of Professor Thanasis Lerounis from the hands of hostage-takers who abducted him on 8 September 2009 from the Kalashadur Museum and cultural center of the Kalasha people in Northwest Pakistan.

“Professor Lerounis, President of the non-governmental organization Greek Volunteers is an outstanding example of a person devoted to safeguarding the rights and heritage of a small minority who carry with them an ancient culture.” The Kalasha, most of whom live in three valleys in Chitral District of Pakistan, number probably around 4000 people. They are believed by many to be related to the soldiers and merchants of the Asian empire of Alexander. Their religious practices have elements of the 4th century Helenistic faiths. As with all societies, the Kalash people have interacted with their neighbors so that the fire rituals of the Indo-European Vedic faiths play an important role in Kalash practice as does the role of shaman who are the living link between the spirit and the human world. (1)

Wadlow continued in stressing the difficulties in establishing confident relations with hostage-taking insurgencies. “Our Forum provides a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. We are united in upholding the principle that persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life. We know that dialogue with Governments on the application and safeguard of these values is not always easy. However, dealing with armed insurgencies is even more difficult, especially in these areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where there is currently armed violence. The motivation of hostage-takers is never clear — the motivations can be mixtures of ideology, desire of money, and political advantage.

“In this case, the demands of the hostage-takers are all three, but we do not know in what order. The Kalasha, who have a deep respect for the cultural and aid work of over 20 projects of Prof. Lerounis, have sent two delegations to discuss with the hostage-takers who demand $ 2 million in cash, the conversion of Lerounis to Islam, and the release of three Pakistan insurgents from jail. The Kalasha negotiators have no authority to deal with any of these demands, and so have protested in front of the Pakistani government offices in Chitral — a sign of solidarity with Lerounis but which may have only a limited impact on the hostage-takers.

“The hostage-takers are now in a part of the Nuristan area of Afghanistan where the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hizbi-e-Islami are strong. The hostage-takers may be related to his forces or not. It is probable that the Hizbi-e-Islami know who the hostage-takers are and might be able to suggest that the release of Thanasis Lerounis is the better part of widom. Since Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been an insurgent since the 1973 coup of Mohammad Daoud in Afghanistan, his Hizbi-e-Islami forces have had the most contact with Pakistani, Arab, Western, and Chinese intelligence agencies. There is, thus a special responsibility for the intelligence services of Pakistan, Arab States, certain Western Governments, Iran and China to re-establish their lines of communication with the Hizbi-e-Islami to insist on the early and safe release of Thanasis Lerounis.

The Citizens of the World will continue to follow closely the situation and will report to the March 2010 Human Rights Council. The effectiveness of this Forum on Minority Issues will be judged by its ability to protect those working for the safeguard of minority cultures.”

(1) see Viviane Lievre and Jean-Yves Loude Le chamanism des Kalash du Pakistan: Des Montagnardes polytheists face à l’Islam (CNRS-Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1990, 558pp.

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