Prisoner swap paves way for new accord
By Alamgir Bhittani, Dawn, May 15, 2008
TANK, May 14: The government swapped prisoners with the local Taliban militants on Wednesday as part of efforts to reach an agreement to restore peace in South Waziristan.
The militants released 12 security personnel, two army captains among them, in return for their 40 comrades, official sources said.
The swap took place at the Razmak camp in North Waziristan amid reports of army vacating some positions in the Mehsud area.
However, military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas denied that troops had been withdrawn or deployment curtailed.
But he acknowledged that troops had been relocated away from the populated area to facilitate return of displaced people to their homes.
The freed security personnel included Capt Safdar and Capt Sacchal who had been kidnapped with two lance naiks and a driver from the Indus Highway in Darra Adamkhel on Jan 23 and seven men of the Frontier Corps.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claims that there are 80 to 90 security personnel and government officials in its custody.
But an official said the militants had given the government a list of 55 hostages, including low-ranking employees of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
There was no word on Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, who had been kidnapped from Khyber Agency while going to Kabul on Feb 11.
The TTP has denied holding Mr Azizuddin but officials insist that he has been taken to the Mehsud area in South Waziristan.
An official said Mr Azizuddin’s name was on the list of people whose release had been sought by the government but the militants were probably holding on to him till all the commitments made with them were fulfilled.
The sources said the freed militants were taken to Kotkao in South Waziristan where they were given a warm reception by their comrades and taken to their base in Makeen in a cavalcade of about 40 vehicles.
The freed military and paramilitary officers and soldiers were taken to Dera Ismail Khan in a helicopter.
As part of the exchange of prisoners, the government has also released Hayatullah Shah Bukhari, a militant commander in Tank district, and his two brothers.
When asked about the next step, an official said: “Things will clear up in the next few days when the prisoners’ exchange is completed, but so far everything is going according to the plan.”
The government and the militants are reported to have agreed to implement the operational part of their 16-point draft agreement before making it public.
The sources said the government had added a clause to the draft which required the Mehsud tribe to pay compensation for death of its employees and damage to its property.
Pazir Gul contributed to the report from Miramshah, North Waziristan.