Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan held by Taliban: report

 

Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, who went missing in February in the Khyber region, appeared on Arabic television on Saturday saying he was being held by the Taliban and urged Islamabad to meet their demands.

 

Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin appeared in a video tape on Al Arabiya television surrounded by armed militants to make his first public statement since going missing.

 

"We were kidnapped by mujahideen from the Taliban," the ambassador, wearing an open-necked shirt and looking calm, said in the remarks which were translated from Urdu into Arabic.

 

"I suffer health problems such as high blood pressure and heart pains," said the bespectacled and grey-bearded ambassador, who gestured to his armed captors in a hilly desert region.

 

Scores of people have been kidnapped in the dangerous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the ambassador's disappearance highlighted instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan – a major ally in the US-led crackdown on militants.

 

The Pakistani government had not publicly confirmed he had been kidnapped but a senior government official said on Saturday Azizuddin was being held by militants who were demanding the release of their arrested colleagues.

 

In a message to Pakistan's foreign ministry undersecretary, its envoys to China and Iran, and his brother, Azizuddin said:

 

"Because of my health condition I... appeal to them to do all they can to preserve our lives and meet the demands of the Taliban mujahideen as soon as possible so that we can be released."

 

The ambassador was on his way to Kabul from the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar when he disappeared along with his driver and bodyguard in the Khyber tribal region. Azizuddin who vanished on February 11, said he, his driver and bodyguard, had been held for 27 days at the time the tape was filmed.

 

According to a senior Arabiya journalist, the ambassador said in the tape that Azizuddin spoke about "the release of any Muslim held in Pakistan whose release is demanded by Taliban".

 

This remark appeared to refer to Taliban commander Mullah Mansour Dadullah held by Pakistan, the Arabiya journalist said, adding the tape was sent to the offices of Dubai-based Arabiya.

 

               

DANGEROUS BORDER REGION

 

His captors wore Afghani robes and two of them held assault rifles but were not pointing them at him as he spoke.

 

"We have been here for 27 days and we are in a comfortable condition and are being taken care of and respected," he said.

 

A Pakistani security official said at the time the envoy was to have changed cars at the border but did not show up and was believed to have not reached the border. President Hamid Karzai had said he was sure the envoy had been snatched.

 

Azizuddin said he was in his official car when he was kidnapped.

 

The historic Khyber Pass is the main road link to landlocked Afghanistan in northwestern Pakistan.

 

Khyber is notorious for smugglers and bandits, but unlike other parts of the tribal belt on the Afghan border it has been relatively free of violence linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, though militant activity has picked up in adjoining regions.

 

Scores of people were killed late last year in clashes between tribal militants loyal to two rival clerics in Khyber.

 

The security situation in Pakistan has deteriorated markedly since mid-2007, mainly in the northwest, with militants linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda carrying out suicide bombings.

 

More than 600 people have been killed in militant related violence since the beginning of this year alone. (Reuters)

 
 
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