Taliban ultras free Pak envoy after 96 days

Islamabad, May 17:

Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan returned home safely today after being released from his captivity by suspected Taliban militants who held him captive for 96 days, officials said.

Envoy Tariq Azizuddin was heading to the Afghan capital Kabul with his driver when he disappeared in the troubled Khyber tribal district bordering Afghanistan on February 11.

Relatives, friends and media thronged the ambassador’s residence in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad after Azizuddin, 56, was flown here by a special flight from the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The ambassador’s recovery comes amid recent headway in peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the six-week-old coalition government led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The head of the interior ministry, Rehman Malik, denied any deal was struck to get the envoy back.

“We have exchanged no one, and released no one to secure his release,” Malik told reporters, rejecting suggestions the ambassador was released after the government freed dozens of Taliban suspects.

“His recovery last evening is purely a result of law enforcement efforts,” Malik told reporters, standing beside the envoy who had grown a long beard and appeared exhausted.

The envoy who repeatedly waved at the media said he was thankful to God and praised the efforts of the government to secure his freedom.

“I am thankful to Allah and the government of Pakistan and very happy to be back in life with my family.” He said he was treated well in the captivity. “When they kidnapped me I was hit twice in the head with a rifle but afterwards they gave me food and a place to sleep.”

The foreign ministry earlier said Azizuddin driver and bodyguard were also safe and sound with the authorities. Taliban sources said the envoy was handed over to security agency officials in the tribal area after the government released some 12 people in its custody.