Pakistani Taliban militants holding a group of boys hostage are using their substantive bargaining chip to demand the release of all Taliban prisoners in the country.
The kidnappers, who are keeping the Pakistani boys captive in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, also asked Bajaur tribesmen to disband all anti-Taliban private militias and end support for the government in return for their release.
In a calculated move, a Taliban leader, Maulvi Dadullah, invited a group of Afghan journalists to one of their bases on Tuesday and gave them access to the teenagers, Afghan journalist Nematullah Karyab told The Express Tribune.
Visiting the Taliban base
Karyab, who met the boys, said “We reached the base in a remote and mountainous region after walking and travelling in vehicles for hours.” Afghan journalists had not believed that Pakistani Taliban were operating from their country until their visit confirmed it, he added.
While talking to the journalists, Dadullah said he was aware that some of the boys were relatives of army personnel but they had not been captured because of their relations.
After he spoke, Afghan reporters were allowed to talk to the hostages, aged 18 to 20, according to Karyab.
A boy identified as Abdul Hanan appealed to his relatives through reporters saying, “I want our tribe to end support for the government otherwise our lives will be in danger. I also ask the government to not force our people to launch anti-Taliban Lashkars.”
Dadaullah said that all the boys had been taken into custody on the Pakistani side of the border and that Taliban had sent their own agents to trap the youngsters who were kidnapped while out picnicking, calling it a “carefully planned operation”.
He also said there would be no solution to the hostage crisis unless the relatives or the government directly contact the Taliban leaders. “If all efforts fail then the Shura will make a final decision under Islamic laws,” he said.
Jirga’s unpublicised efforts
Malik Fateh Mohammad, a tribal elder, told The Express Tribune that a jirga was trying to ensure immediate release of the kidnapped boys. Dadullah on the other hand, has said no one has contacted them so far. The Taliban leader warned that the government and the relatives of the hostages would be responsible for any harm to them if they didn’t receive ‘a positive response’ to their demands.
Mohammad said that a ban on crossing the border for locals meant that they could not go to the Afghan side for direct talks. Another tribal elder requesting anonymity told The Express Tribune that the Taliban had not made these demands for the boys’ release public although tribal intermediaries had contacted them.
Parents speak out
Farid Khan, a resident of the Trakhu area of Mamond told The Express Tribune that his son Rehmatullah was among the kidnapped boys and had only learnt of his kidnapping when the boys who narrowly escaped being kidnapped had narrated their ordeal.
Khan, who operates a tractor to earn a livelihood, said that the families of the kidnapped victims were poor people and had nothing to do with politics. He said he did not know the people who had kidnapped his child. Speaking of the agony his family was going through, he said they had become needless victims as they had nothing to do with the Taliban.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2011.