Pakistani authorities searched for the country’s abducted ambassador to Afghanistan and two kidnapped nuclear experts on Tuesday as insecurity mounted ahead of crucial elections next week.
The abductions happened on Monday near the country’s rugged northwestern border with Afghanistan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants are waging an insurgency against the US-allied government in Islamabad.
The Pakistani envoy, Tariq Azizuddin, was heading to the Afghan capital Kabul with his driver on Monday when they disappeared in the lawless Khyber tribal district, officials said.
“We have launched efforts for his recovery. It now appears clear that he has been kidnapped,” Rasool Khan Wazir, chief administrative official in Khyber.
“We are trying to collect information.... We cannot disclose our strategy but we are hopeful we will find out where he has been kept and who is involved.”
Security officials said tribal authorities were scouring the rugged area, the site of the famed Khyber Pass linking Afghanistan and Pakistan, and had closed the main road between the two countries.
The Pakistan embassy in Kabul said it last had contact with the ambassador on Monday morning as he travelled from the northwestern city of Peshawar into the tribal area.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday he hoped for Azizuddin’s quick rescue from “terrorists.”
“May God make it happen that our brother and neighbouring country, Pakistan, is able to rescue him from the abductors, the terrorists,” Karzai said.
Azizuddin is the most senior of several government officials to have been abducted in the mountainous tribal belt. Blame has either fallen on Islamist militants or criminal kidnap gangs.
Police on Tuesday confirmed that two workers from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission had also been abducted by masked men from the country’s northwest.
The officials were on a routine visit to conduct a geological survey for mineral exploration in a mountainous area which adjoins Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions, local police chief Akbar Nasir said.
Pakistan’s tribal zone has been wracked by fighting between government forces and Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, although Khyber has been one of the more peaceful regions.