Pakistan hunts for missing diplomat and nuclear staff

February 13, 2008 - 0:0

LAHORE (Financial Times) -- Pakistan’s army is mounting a massive search and rescue mission for a high-ranking diplomat believed to have been kidnapped by Taliban fighters in the country’s lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan since December 2005, was on his way to Kabul from Peshawar in north-west Pakistan when he disappeared along with his driver and bodyguard in the Khyber tribal region, before midday on Monday.
“So far we haven’t had any luck with this search,” a senior security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are doing everything possible. The search has been widened beyond the Khyber agency but at this point there is no real clue.”
With a week to run until a general election, opposition parties on Tuesday seized on his apparent abduction, which coincided with that of two nuclear scientists, as further evidence of the government’s failure to stem mounting extremism.
“This once again exposes the myth that President Pervez Musharraf is winning this war on terror,” Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), told the Financial Times.
“It speaks volumes about our deteriorating law and order situation. Who will come and invest in Pakistan now? Who will come and look at our beautiful mountains. The war on terror has gone for a six, in cricketing terms.”
Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said: “This is a big media win for the militants who see a government so weak it cannot protect the ambassador to Kabul on Pakistani soil.”
If the ambassador’s abduction is confirmed, Mr. Azizzudin would be the highest-ranking government official to have been kidnapped in the tribal region. More than 400 people have been killed in militant related violence since the start of the year.
“He is a bright, young fellow,” said Sartaj Aziz, a former Pakistani foreign minister. “But he would have had minimum security because this is a road that is well-traveled and it was also midday.”
The Khyber Pass is the main road linking landlocked Afghanistan to northwestern Pakistan. There have been other kidnappings in the northwestern mountainous area, generally for ransom.
The two Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission officials were carrying out checks on a facility in the Sheik Badin area of the North-West Frontier Province when they, their driver and five locals were kidnapped by gunmen. The locals were later released in Bannu district.
Analysts said it was likely that any Taliban groups involved in the kidnappings would be expected -- in exchange for their high-profile captives -- to demand the release of militants such as Mansoor Dadullah, a top Taliban commander seized along with four other fighters on Monday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his hope for the quick rescue of the Pakistani envoy: “May God make it happen that our brother and neighboring country, Pakistan, is able to rescue him from the abductors, the terrorists.”