Taliban militants kidnapped the top government administrator and six of his guards in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley on Sunday, the group and officials said, dealing a blow to efforts to restore peace there.
Khushal Khan was on his way to Mingora, the main town of Swat, in his car when he was abducted by ‘miscreants’, Syed Mohammad Jawed, commissioner for the Malakand division, which includes Swat, told Reuters.
Pakistani authorities on Monday struck a deal with Islamists to restore Islamic sharia law in an effort to pacify Swat, an alpine valley where the Pakistan military has struggled to put down a Taliban uprising.
A Taliban spokesman in Swat, Muslim Khan, claimed responsibility for the abduction of the administrator.
"He is our guest. We have to discuss some issues with him. We will serve him with tea and then free him," he told Reuters.
A journalist working for a local television channel and a newspaper was abducted and killed on Wednesday as he was accompanying a "peace march" led by a radical cleric who struck a deal with the government for restoration of Islamic law in Malakand.
Taliban had denounced the killing of the journalist and denied their involvement.
Representatives of the cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, are now engaged in talks with the militants to give up militancy.
The militants announced a 10-day ceasefire to pave the way for Mohammad to clinch the deal with authorities.
Officials on Saturday said the government and the militants had agreed a ‘permanent truce’ but a Taliban commander said their ceasefire would be reviewed on its expiry on Wednesday.
Around 1,200 people have been killed and between 250,000 to 50,000 people have fled the valley since violence intensified in the mid-2007.
Western governments and liberal Pakistanis have been alarmed by the Swat pact, saying it would strengthen militants and could result in another sanctuary in Pakistan where al Qaeda and the Taliban could move freely.
But Pakistani officials are defending the pact saying it is the best available option to stem the rising tide of militancy flowing from the wild tribal region on the Afghan border to cities and towns and to isolate Islamists from the hardcore militants.