On Saturday, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan was freed unharmed after being held hostage for 96 days by suspected Taliban militants. According to the Associated Press, “Tariq Azizuddin disappeared Feb. 11 along with his driver and bodyguard as they drove from the Pakistani city of Peshawar toward the border. In a video aired April 19 on an Arab satellite channel [see video below], Azizuddin said Taliban militants had abducted them, [see past post for further details].” Although Azzizudin’s brother told outlets he did not know how authorities secured his release, The News reported that government sources “flatly denied there had been any deal whatsoever for the release of the ambassador.” Despite these claims, the news agency cited Taliban sources that said the envoy was released in return for the release of 12 Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.
An official told Dawn that Azzizudin’s last day before the release “was reportedly in Shaktoi, a small town in the Mehsud-dominated part of South Waziristan.” He insisted that Azizuddin’s kidnappers initially did not know who he was, telling reporters, “They just spotted a vehicle bearing a red registration number plate and thought that it was carrying someone important…It dawned on them later that the guy they were holding was an ambassador.” The ambassador remained with the Taliban over the 96 days, although the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization led by Beitullah Mehsud, denied it was holding him.
BBC News reported on the release in light of the rescue of two other foreign contractors, who were kidnapped near Herat, Afghanistan almost a month ago. The news agency noted, “Tariq Azizuddin said he had been released in the Pakistani tribal area of north Waziristan on Friday, but was vague about the identity of his kidnappers.” Moreover, despite the government denials noted above, the envoy said his release had been the result of a “chain of actions set about on the order” of the Pakistani prime minister and his government. Moreover, the BBC’s Barbara Plett noted that “informed observers” suspect Azzizudin was released as part of a prisoner swap in the midst of government-militant peace talks. [Image from AFP]