Kidnapped Pakistan Diplomat Seen In Video

Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin who went missing in February appeared in a video tape aired on AlArabiya All News Channel on Saturday, saying he was being held by Taliban militants and urged his government to meet their demands.
Al-Arabiya Television
Written for by Farhan Bokhari, reporting from Islamabad.
Pakistan on Saturday ruled out releasing any Taliban suspects already in its custody in exchange for Tariq Azizuddin, the country's ambassador to Kabul, who was kidnapped in February while he was being driven from Pakistan to the Afghan border.

Azizuddin's driver and a bodyguard also went missing in an incident which underlined the dangers to Pakistani government officials from militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban who are engaged in an armed struggle in the Pakistani region bordering Afghanistan.

Within hours of a video shown on the Middle-Eastern Al Arabiya TV channel in which Azizuddin pleaded for his government to meet the demands of his Taliban captors, a Pakistani government official refused to consider releasing any Taliban suspects. "We are not in the business of such exchanges" said the official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

The video was the first tangible proof of Azizuddin being in Taliban custody after weeks of speculation over the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

Shortly after Azizuddin's kidnapping, reports in the Pakistani press claimed that his captors were seeking the release of Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a notorious Taliban commander who is in Pakistani custody. He is the brother of Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the top Taliban commander, killed by NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan in 2007.

Surrounded by armed men who appeared to be Taliban militants, Azizuddin was quoted in remarks translated into Arabic saying; "We were kidnapped by mujahideen from the Taliban. I suffer health problems such as high blood pressure and heart pains".

The senior Pakistani official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity confirmed the authenticity of the video and said, "As things stand right now, we are not going to negotiate with militants and we can't release people [already in custody] in exchange [for Azizuddin]."

But, Western diplomats warned, Pakistan faced a number of tough choices in trying to resolve Azizuddin's case.

Last summer, up to 250 military and paramilitary troops were kidnapped in a region along the border with Afghanistan, in the largest such incident ever in the country's history. They were subsequently released amid reports that Pakistan agreed to the release of up to 20 Islamic militants who were caught mostly from the border region.

"Having already set the precedent for the release of militants, the problem is that they [militants] probably feel that Pakistan can be open to similar exchanges in future" said a senior western diplomat based in Pakistan in remarks on background to CBS News.

Others noted that the terrain along the border region (from where the Taliban and followers of al Qaeda operate) poses several difficulties in launching a clear operation to attempt rescuing Azizuddin. The region is mountainous with a number of small villages scattered across largely barren land where local inhabitants rely on seasonal rainfall and raising cattle to earn their living. Locating Azizuddin in the villages would be an uphill task unless Pakistani security forces were to have clear and strong leads pointing towards his location.

Since Azizuddin's kidhapping, Pakistani security officials have also speculated that his captors may have taken his across the border to Afghanistan, beyond the reach of Pakistan's law enforcement services.

Other challenges include one where large parts of the local population along the border is believed to be hostile towards President Pervez Musharraf, the pro-U.S. ruler, who has been Washington's closest ally in its war on terror. Getting the local people to support efforts to track down Azizuddin so far have proved to be futile.

"The conditions are not suitable for a resolution to this kidnapping that would suit the Pakistani government. This is a very dangerous situation for the ambassador" said a Middle East diplomat based in Islamabad who is familiar with conditions in Afghanistan, and spoke to CBS on condition of anonymity.
By Farhan Bokhari