Peshawar: Militants tie kidnapped envoy’s fate to Taliban leader’s
PESHAWAR: The kidnappers of Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan have come up with a demand for the release of a key Taliban leader and a few other Pakistani and Afghan colleagues, a highly placed source told Dawn on Saturday.
Earlier during the day Al Arabiya television ran a videotape featuring ambassador Tariq Azizuddin’s message in which he conveyed the kidnappers’ key demands.
The source said militants holding Mr Azizuddin, his driver and bodyguard in captivity since Feb 11, were demanding the release of Taliban leader Mullah Obaidullah and five or six other Pakistanis and Afghans held by Pakistani authorities.
“It’s a mixed bag of people they want exchanged for the release of the ambassador and two other hostages,” the source said.
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, deputy to the elusive Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, was captured by Pakistani security forces in Quetta on March 1 last year.
Mullah Obaidullah, carrying a reward of one million dollars on his head, was seized by the security forces the day US Vice-President Dick Cheney had arrived in Islamabad.
The source said that Mr Azizuddin had spoken to his family twice, before the release of his relatively old video and authorities knew who his captors were, but withheld the information to ensure that he remained unharmed.
The ambassador made his first call to his family in Peshawar about a month-and-a-half ago, said an official, informing his family that he was safe.
He also made it clear that the Taliban wanted to swap him for their comrades detained by Pakistani authorities.
The source privy to the investigation into Mr Azizuddin’s kidnapping insisted that the ambassador, his driver and bodyguard were kidnapped from Ali Masjid in Jamrud sub-district of Khyber tribal region by a group of criminals involved in kidnapping for ransom.
“But when they discovered that they had captured a big fish, word got around, leading to the involvement and their eventual surrender to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” the source said.
“Believe me, the talk about ransom is all hogwash,” the source said.
“No demand for ransom has come and they (the captors) are demanding the release of five or six people,” the source added.
A private television channel said Mr Azizuddin’s captors demanded the release of 10 people and a ransom of Rs500 million, though the amount demanded was later scaled down.
“He is being held by the TTP,” the source said, adding that negotiations were on to secure the release of the ambassador, his driver and bodyguard. “And we all know who the TTP leader is.
“There may be people who can be released and there may be some people who cannot be released. This is the issue that is being discussed,” the source said.
In his video statement, the ambassador called for help from Pakistan’s ambassadors in China and Iran, leading many to question as to what connection they had with his kidnapping and his captors’ demands.
“There is no link, nothing at least that we know of,” the source said. “May be they happen to be his friends and he wanted them to lean on the Foreign Office and Pakistani authorities to expedite his release,” the source surmised.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan told Dawn from an undisclosed location that his organisation had no link with the ambassador’s kidnapping or his video statement.
Maulvi Omar said the TTP had no role in the kidnapping of Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, nor had it got anything to do with his video statement.
“We have no hand in his kidnapping nor have we anything to do with his video statement,” the TTP spokesman said. “We have already denied our role into his kidnapping.”
He thought that the ambassador might have been kidnapped by Afghan Taliban in Pakistan.
“It is possible he is kidnapped by Afghan Taliban residing in Pakistan,” Omar said. “But we have no clue about his whereabouts,” the spokesman insisted.
In his video statement, the missing Pakistani ambassador said “I am concerned about my health. I have high blood pressure and heart problem,” Mr Azizuddin said.
He appealed to all to try and secure his early release by meeting the demands of “Taliban mujahideen” and release “any Muslim held in Pakistan”.
It is worth recalling that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud had earlier also demanded the release of Mullah Obaidullah, widely considered to have been the military chief of the Taliban force, in return for the 256 Pakistani soldiers he had captured in South Waziristan last year.
He, however, had subsequently dropped his demand and instead asked for the release of some his fighters, many of whom had been arrested for their alleged involvement in suicide bombings. Anwarullah Khan contributed to this report from Bajaur.
The complete article can be found at Dawn News.