March 18th, 2011
03:05 PM ET
By Nick Paton Walsh, for CNN
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - He was abducted on the outskirts of the city, snatched as he drove alone, and vanished without trace.
She was grabbed nearly a decade later, also from her car, on the way to work at the distillery they owned together.
Her kidnappers, in testament to the anarchy gripping the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta, didn't even bother to hide their faces when they pounced, and let her driver go.
The kidnappings of husband and wife Faridon and Nilofar Abadan - both abducted from the streets of Quetta about nine years apart - highlight to many the collapse of law and order in the restless Pakistani province of Balochistan.
But because the couple are from the minority Parsi community - part of the Zoroastrian religion, a minority faith founded in ancient Persia - their fate highlights, some say, how prejudice against outsiders in Balochistan makes them easy targets for increasingly powerful criminal gangs.
Observers say it provides further evidence of how difficult life is for minorities, as Pakistan grows increasingly fundamentalist and lawless.
Christians often complain of persecution in this Islamic country, and two high profile politicians have been assassinated this year for suggesting that a radical and controversial anti-blasphemy law - which can result in someone sentenced to death if they are accused of insulting the Muslim prophet Mohammed - be softened.
Police say there are 78 different criminal groups operating kidnap rings in Balochistan today, who are growing in their power since the first kidnap blighted the Abadan family in 2002. The gangs prefer not to target the main ethnic groups of Baloch and Pashtun in the province, because they would risk reprisals from their victims' tribal networks.
"It's easy for kidnappers to abduct a minority member compared to local people," Sayeed Ahmed Khan, the director of the Ministry of Human Rights in Balochistan, told CNN. "Minorities don't have tribal support, and don't have the security guards and weapons that locals do."
He added that in the past the tribal system would have protected minorities, but that was not now the case.
It was this, coupled with the vast wealth the Abadan family had from the local distillery they owned, that made Nilofar attractive to the kidnappers.
"She was on her way to the distillery when she was picked up by kidnappers on March 8th in the morning," said Abdullah Afridi, superintendent of police for Quetta.
Five days later the kidnappers telephoned her home in the afternoon, telling her domestic help the ransom would be about $2.3 million in rupees.
Clearly impatient for a payment, they rang back five days later, March 17, to halve the ransom payment. Yet the family is still struggling with both the payment and the shock.
"She was like my sister, we were together all the time," her relative, Roshan Khursheed Barucha, told CNN in her first comments on the abduction. "She had no enmity with anyone, no property disputes," she added, referring to a common cause of kidnappings.
"Nilofar never thought this might happen," she said. The Parsi community in Quetta - once up to 600 strong - has dwindled in recent years to about five or six families, Barucha said, many choosing to leave as the region becomes more dangerous.
Local officials have condemned the abduction. "Kidnapping of minority woman is against Baloch traditions and it is an inhuman practice," Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani said.
A police spokesman told CNN: "A high-level team headed by the Deputy Inspector General has been formed to ensure her recovery. The kidnappers released her driver but there is still no clue as to her whereabouts."
A source close to the investigation said the kidnappers spoke on the telephone with thick Brahvi accents, common to the local Baloch ethnicity. Separately, they said that nothing has been heard of Faridon Abadan since his abduction on February 17, 2002.
Zahoor Shahwani, a local human rights activist, said that Mrs. Abadan - as a wealthy woman from a minority - was considered vulnerable and "a soft target." He added the state government in the province was so weak "there seems to be no government and kidnappers are freely operating."
He stressed that the kidnapping was more likely fuelled by her perceived wealth than by her religion.
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