Pakistani envoy to Afghanistan recovered from tribal region (Second Lead)

May 17th, 2008 - 10:16 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
Islamabad, May 17 (DPA) Pakistan Saturday claimed that it had recovered its ambassador to Afghanistan from the country’s restive tribal region where he was held for over three months by pro-Taliban militants, and that no deal was made to secure his release. Tariq Azizuddin arrived at Chaklala military airbase in the outskirts of Islamabad and was welcomed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and by Rehman Malik, security advisor to the prime minister.

“He was recovered in a law enforcement action. He was recovered yesterday evening and we brought him back today,” Malik told reporters at Azizuddin’s residence in a posh suburb of Rawalpindi.

Azizuddin, his driver and bodyguard went missing in the troubled tribal district of Khyber Agency when they were travelling by road from the Pakistani city of Peshawar to the Afghan capital of Kabul Feb 11.

“We were stopped by 16 militants armed with rocket launchers, rifles, pistols and even a suicide jacket,” said Azizuddin.

“They said they were in the process of making demands to Pakistani government and I was a big fish to get those demands met,” he said.

Azizuddin said he was not tortured by Taliban. However, he was forced to grow a long beard. “They did not allow me to shave,” he told the Dawn news channel.

In mid-April, Dubai-based al-Arabiya television aired a video which showed Azizuddin in Taliban captivity.

“We were kidnapped by mujahedin from Taliban,” he said in the video, while urging the Pakistani government to meet kidnappers’ demands, which reportedly included the release of their five colleagues in police custody.

Some media reports suggested the ambassador was freed under an ongoing prisoner swap between the rebels and government, which has seen the release of 73 people from both sides since Wednesday.

Among them were 18 security personnel and 55 Taliban.

But Malik denied the reports. “I can assure you that he was not freed as a result of any deal or exchange of prisoners.”

The prisoner exchange comes ahead of a formal peace deal the Pakistani government was set to sign with Baitullah Mehsud, a militant commander whose men have carried out dozens of suicide bombings that left more than 1,000 people, including many security personnel, dead over the last 14 months.

He was also blamed for ordering the last year’s gun and suicide attack that killed ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, whose party is now negotiating with the rebel leader.

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