Pakistan’s envoy to Afghanistan, Tariq Azzizudin, who disappeared from the border area between the two countries in February, appeared in a video broadcast by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television on Saturday, in which he said he was being held by the Taliban and urged Islamabad to meet their demands. He also called on the Pakistani envoys in Iran and China to aid in the efforts in securing their release. According to The News, “Azizuddin said he was held with his driver and bodyguard, and that they were living in comfortable conditions and were looked after. In the videotape, his driver Gul Nawaz and Body Guard Amir Sultan sat next to Azizuddin, while three gunmen stood in the background.” BBC News added that the ambassador stated, “We have no problems, but I suffer health problems such as high blood pressure and heart pains.”
In the video, Azzizudin did not specifically indicate what the Taliban demands were, but the BBC in its coverage reported, “A Taliban spokesman said in February that the group would exchange Mr. Azizuddin for a Taliban commander [in reference to Mullah Mansour Dadullah] captured by Pakistani security forces.” However, the news agency also cited statements made by Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq, who told Reuters “that there was no mention of any demands in the tape he had seen, and he was not aware of any demands.” CNN also quoted the spokesman who asserted, “We knew that he is alive and he is safe…We have seen the video, and the safe release of our ambassador is our highest priority.”
In the video, the envoy noted he had been held for 27 days, which, given the calculations by media outlets, suggested the film was made “more than a month ago.” Following the broadcast of the video on Al-Arabiya Saturday, a spokesman from Tehreek-e-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban umbrella organization that Beitullah Mehsud reportedly heads) “denied involvement in Azzizudin’s kidnapping,” reported the Associated Press. The news agency cited Mullah Omar who said the ambassador “may have been abducted by Afghan militants based in Pakistan, but that Pakistani Taliban followers had no knowledge of it.”
What is interesting about this story is the ambiguity behind the identity of Azzizudin’s abductors. Moreover, the envoy was reportedly abducted in the Khyber region when he was traveling to Kabul. The Khyber Pass is the main road link to Afghanistan from Pakistan’s NWFP. It is also a main supply route for foreign forces in Afghanistan. Reuters noted, “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.” Given how little is known about this environment, Azzizudin is just as likely to have been abducted by these bandits as he is to be held hostage by the Afghan Taliban.
The kidnapping also sheds light on the distinctions among the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda, and even the Haqqani Network, and how all these groups seem to act independently of one another and have strongholds in different areas in the FATA region and southern Afghanistan. If this development has taught us anything is that this “enemy” is not a blanket force, possessing a unified rhetoric – rather, they differ in their ideologies and overarching objectives. These distinctions are significant, particularly since the Pakistani government had indicated their desire to negotiate with those militants that are “reconcilable.” [Images from The News and BBC News]