No clue yet on missing Pakistani envoy to Afghanistan

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : The Pakistan government was Tuesday getting in touch with tribal leaders to try and get clues about the whereabouts of its ambassador to Afghanistan, feared kidnapped while travelling from Islamabad to Kabul by road.

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Tariq Azizuddin was heading towards the Afghan capital with his driver and a bodyguard when they disappeared in the Khyber Agency, an official of the interior ministry said.

“We believe that he has been kidnapped by militants,” the official said, adding the government was in contact with local tribal leaders and members of the local jirga (elders’ council).

No group has so far claimed that they have kidnapped the ambassador, who always preferred to travel by road from Islamabad to Kabul.

Local authorities in the tribal areas said they were never informed by the foreign ministry or the interior ministry about his travel plans.

“We came to know about the incident from his (ambassador’s) staff waiting for his arrival at the Torkham border post,” administrator of Landi Kotal, Ahmad Khan Orakzai, told IANS.

The security official said the ambassador, his bodyguard and the driver were apparently kidnapped near the Ali Masjid area in Jamrud at around 11 a.m. Monday.

Two Pakistani employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were kidnapped by gunmen from the same area last week. They were going to the border town of Torkham for customs clearance of their goods.

The Peshawar-Torkham highway serves as Pakistan’s main trade route with Afghanistan and remains busy throughout the day. It is also one of the most well-protected roads and security personnel are posted about every hundred metres or so. It passes through the famous Khyber Pass that also houses the Shagai Fort, home to the Khyber Rifles of the Frontier Corps.

The route is frequently used by the US and NATO for supplies to their forces in Afghanistan. There is no known militant group operating in the area. A group led by Mangal Bagh, who claims to be on a mission to weed out ‘social vices’ from the area, has no affiliation with jihadi outfits.

Pakistan’s tribal zone has been wracked by fighting between government forces and Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, although the Khyber has been one of the more peaceful regions.

Militants had kidnapped around 250 Pakistani soldiers in the tribal zone of South Waziristan. They were reportedly released in exchange for several rebels held by Pakistani authorities.

Pakistani officials were giving medical treatment to Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a senior person in Afghanistan’s Taliban movement who was captured near the southwestern border between the two countries on Monday.

Dadullah had been responsible for operations against NATO and US-led troops in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.