Captive Pakistani soldiers plead for early release

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : Pakistani Army officers being held captive for more than 40 days in the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan have expressed the hope that the government would secure their early release.

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In an interview with three army officers who are among the 300 soldiers being held by North Waziristan tribal chieftain Baitullah Mehsud said the government should make efforts for their release through negotiations or use force if necessary.

BBC correspondent Haroon Rashid interviewed the three officers – Col.Zafar, Maj. Atiq Azam and Lt. Farrukh Manssor – at a hideout in North Waziristan where Mehsud’s men took him.

“We are being treated very well by our captors but there is nothing like independence,” one of the officers was quoted as saying.

The captive personnel are being kept in rugged mountain areas and have been divided into small groups. This is the first ever interaction of the kidnapped personnel with the media.

Zafar said he was passing through the area with food supplies and that “we were not in the area for any military action”.

Atiq was sure the army top brass would be considering different options for their release.

“Besides negotiations, they must be thinking of using power as well…they can’t close their eyes to securing the release of such a large number of personnel,” he added.

Local Taliban had kidnapped the army personnel and placed them in Mehsud’s custody. The tribal leader is demanding that Pakistan cease its involvement in the US-led war against terror and that Islamic laws be imposed in the country.

The Taliban are also demanding the release of 30 of their men who are in the government’s custody.

“Some of the Taliban men in the list are not in Pakistan and have been handed over to the United States,” a government official told IANS.

Three soldiers have so far been killed and 31 released as a “goodwill gesture”. The Mehsud group had been saying that the remaining soldiers would be released in exchange for the 30 captive Taliban.

Pakistan is a frontline state in the war against terror and since 9/11 has handed over several Taliban to the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is fighting this war in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), commonly known as the tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan.

The US suspects that the Taliban in Afghanistan are regrouping in Pakistan’s tribal areas with the help of their local contacts.

According to interior ministry sources, more than 2,000 people have been killed in the last 12 months in attacks on suspected Taliban.