LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -- The way Dr. Nisar Ahmed Barak sees it, he was robbed twice -- and both times by law enforcement authorities.
It started in early July, on the last day of year-end exams for Dr. Barak's 12-year-old son, Esamullah, at a private school in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan.
As an older relative prepared to drop Esamullah off at the school that day, four men on foot suddenly pulled their car doors open, dragged the relative out and jumped in with the boy, driving away as he screamed for help.
Bystanders immediately raised the alarm, shouting that they thought Esamullah had been kidnapped. But a group of police officers who were only a block away ignored them.
Kidnappings have become endemic in many parts of Afghanistan, and even in a war-weary place like Helmand Province, they are a bigger threat to many than attacks by insurgents. All too often, the police end up being involved, as confederates of the kidnappers.
Soon the ransom calls started. They were made over a portable satellite telephone, not equipment to which most Afghans have access. They were short as well, less than a minute to evade tracking, and featured the voice of Dr. Barak's son -- but not live. Instead, the callers played a recording of his voice.
"He was screaming that they were going to kill him," Dr. Barak said. "They wanted $2 million. I only had $6,000 in all." The boy was said to be held in a basement, chained to furniture.
Dr. Barak is not a particularly rich man, except by Afghan standards. He makes $2,000 a month as a hospital director and surgeon at Bost Hospital in Lashkar Gah; his wife is also a doctor there. He owns some shop buildings in Lashkar Gah, and a house in Kabul.
He borrowed money from friends, colleagues, other doctors. He tried to sell his properties, but the market was too low to make it worth it. Instead, he borrowed from money changers, at loan-shark interest rates, and he managed to negotiate with the kidnappers to settle for a $500,000 ransom, he said.
One day, investigating officers from the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service, said they had gotten a tip that the kidnappers were hiding in a house just down the street from an N.D.S. post.
Agents raided the house, taking along an Afghan Local Police commander, Samir Samiullah. (The local police are units trained by NATO Special Forces teams to protect their communities.) The raid was a failure; no one was in the house. Dr. Barak would later learn that the kidnappers had been tipped off and spirited his son out of the house before the raid, disguised in a woman's burqa to avoid detection.
Dr. Barak paid the ransom, but agents tracked the kidnappers from the pickup point and later arrested nine confederates. Three of them were policemen -- including the Afghan Local Police commander, Mr. Samiullah.
In an interview, the Helmand governor, Mohammad Naim Baluch, confirmed the details of the kidnapping and arrests as related by Dr. Barak.
At least his son was safe -- allowed to take his exams late, then sent to live with relatives in Kabul.
Then came another blow: The authorities said they found $175,000 of the ransom money -- seemingly good news, but months later, Dr. Barak is still trying in vain to get it back from the N.D.S. That the kidnappers all confessed and are in prison still has not helped.
"They're all thieves," Dr. Barak said. "Maybe they're keeping the money for themselves. They said they were waiting for the court to decide, but what's to decide? They all confessed."
Mr. Baluch insisted that was not going to happen. "As soon as they determine the money belongs to Dr. Barak, they will give it to him," he said. "No one would dare to put that money into his pocket."
The doctor said he had decided to sell his property to repay creditors who helped him raise the ransom. He is worried about one money-changer, who charged him 5 percent monthly interest on a $100,000 loan, with the rate doubling each month. It is already at 20 percent. "For 20 years I've worked here -- my wife and I, we never left," he said. "And now we're just being tortured."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 18, 2013 2:01 PM