Pakistan swaps 2 top Taliban fugitives for its envoy

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Islamabad, May 28 (UNI) Two top Taliban leaders, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, have been released by the Pakistan government in a prisoner swap with the Taliban, a local media report today said.

Despite the fact that the government authorities have repeatedly denied the release, both the militant leaders reached Afghanistan around two weeks back.

Local daily The News quoted sources as saying that both were released along with hundreds of other militants to secure the release of Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin and 35 Army officials.

Obaidullah was arrested on March 1, 2007. He is the most senior Taliban figure captured to date, and ''is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Osama bin Laden,'' as well as part of the ''inner core of the Taliban leadership around the Mullah Muhammad Omar.'' Obaidullah is a member of the Taliban's Shura Majlis, or executive council, and is thought to be third in command. Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a senior Taliban figure, was wounded and captured along with five lieutenants by the Frontier Corps on February 11, 2008. The officials said that Mansoor was captured while crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

When contacted, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, Rehman Malik, denied any such prisoner swap between the Taliban and the Government of Pakistan, saying that not a single prisoner was released in return to the release of Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin.

''You know the PPP government is against dialogue with terrorists or law violators. We would take all necessary actions to restore the writ of the government in the tribal areas'' he said.

''The government has taken steps to bring law and order in the tribal areas and with the help of the tribal elders, we have convened Jirgas to maintain law and order in the area,'' he added.

When the adviser was asked whether or not he confirmed that both the Taliban leaders were in the captivity of Pakistani authorities, Mr Malik said he was not aware of Mullah Mansoor Dadullah. However, he said no prisoner was exchanged with the Taliban and not a single militant was released by Pakistan.

But when contacted, an eminent Jihadi leader from Afghanistan also confirmed the development, saying that both the militant leaders had reached their homeland around two weeks back.

''The release of both the Taliban commanders was part of a 'package swap deal' between the Pakistani authorities and the Taliban under which 35 Army personnel were also released besides Pakistani ambassador and his staff,'' the sources said.

They maintained that the Pakistani government did not want to release both the Taliban commanders but it had to do so under immense pressure from the Taliban.

The sources said that the enormous pressure built up by the Taliban made the impossible possible and both the militant leaders were released.

''Under a strategy, the government authorities had also arrested around 300 transporters belonging to the Mehsud tribe to pressurise Baitullah Mehsud. But the trick did not work and finally the government had to release all the detainees,'' added the sources.

The sources also confronted the statement of militant leader Baitullah Mehsud who had denied the capture of Tariq Azizuddin in a recent interview.

''The ambassador was kept under siege in Sararogha and was handed over at Razmak, the areas controlled by Mehsud's men,'' the sources added.

They were of the view that the government wanted to avoid the swap and delayed the deal for three long months. Finally, they added, the authorities had to release the Taliban commanders.

Mr Tariq, the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, was kidnapped three months ago by the Taliban militants, as he travelled into the Pakistani tribal areas. He was released on May 15. Both the militant leaders, most wanted by NATO command, were captured by Pakistani authorities in separate operations.

UNI XC PD DS1235

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