Nato has begun aerial surveillance of Pakistani Taliban sanctuaries in the border regions of Afghanistan days after a leader of the Pakistani Taliban presented footage of several Pakistani boys who had been abducted by militants in the border tribal region of Bajaur.
Isaf Commander Gen John Allen, who was on his first visit to Pakistan on Wednesday after taking over the coalition command in Afghanistan, informed Pakistani military leaders that Nato had now started air surveillance of Pakistani Taliban sanctuaries in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar and Nuristan province, The Express Tribune learnt. The incoming general also hinted at air strikes being part of the aerial surge depending on actionable intelligence.
Pakistani’s army spokesperson has expressed distress on a number of occasions over the ease with which Pakistani Taliban who, after fleeing military operations in the country, launched attacks in Dir and Chitral from their sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan due to scant presence of Nato and Afghan National Army.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government has sought the help of tribal elders to help secure the release of the 30 boys who were initially believed to have mistakenly crossed the border while on an Eid outing
in Bajaur Agency on September 1.
Pakistani authorities had earlier claimed that the boys had mistakenly crossed into Afghanistan and were taken away by Taliban. But Taliban spokespersons and a boy, Abdul Hanan, confirmed to Afghan media that they were kidnapped by Taliban from Bajaur region.
Deputy Chief of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, who is now leading his fighters in Kunar, had promised to resolve the issue in line with tribal traditions but he has yet to play any role. Delay in the release of the boys has raised concern of their parents, who mostly belong to main Mamond tribe. Taliban accuse the tribe of backing the Pakistani government.
However, even with the help of the Afghan government and tribal elders, there has been no progress in talks between the Taliban kidnappers and the negotiators for the release of the boys, sources said. Taliban militants are still insisting on their two main demands – release of Taliban prisoners and abolition of pro-government tribal militias.
‘Disband private militias’
The kidnappers, led by Bajaur Taliban leader Maulvi Dadullah, last week asked Bajaur tribesmen to disband all anti-Taliban private militias and end support for the Pakistani government in return for their release, also demanding the release of Taliban militants.
Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Mohammad Omar Daudzai confirmed to The Express Tribune that Pakistani authorities, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik had formally asked the Afghan government’s help for the safe release of the Pakistani boys.
“We have started efforts for the safe release of all the Pakistani boys. We have approached elders from Bajaur region, now living in Afghanistan to talk to the armed men holding the boys,” the ambassador said. He said elders from Bajaur tribal areas had been living in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces for nearly two years after crossing into Afghanistan as a result of military operations.
(Read: Ongoing kidnap saga of boys from Bajaur)
Daudzai said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also personally instructed the provincial ‘Shura’ or council of elders in Kunar to play their role in the release of the boys.
“The Afghan authorities have started efforts for the release of all boys but we are still not sure if the kidnappers are holding them in Afghan territory,” Afghan ambassador said.
He said there is a strong possibility that the militants had brought the boys into Afghan territory temporarily to present them to Afghan reporters and then ‘again shifted them to remote areas on the Pakistani side’ of the border. He said the militants would never accept any role of the Afghan government, adding that the Afghan Governor of Kunar province is also closely watching the situation and would be willing to play any role.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2011.
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