Taliban gunmen detained a senior official in Pakistan on Sunday, demonstrating their grip on a critical northwestern valley while pursuing a peace deal the United States fears will amount to a militant victory.
Police said armed men waylaid Khushal Khan and six bodyguards en route to Swat, where militants have defied an army offensive, beheaded opponents and burned girls’ schools.
Khan was driving to Swat to take up his new post as its top administrator, part of government efforts to reassert its authority, at least in the main city of Mingora.
Swat police chief Dilawar Bangash accused “elements” within the Taliban of trying to sabotage the peace process.
However, Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan claimed that the militants had unspecified “issues” with only one of the men accompanying the official and that he was treated as a guest.
The Taliban spokesman said the official had continued his journey after “having tea with our comrades”, but officials could not immediately confirm his release.
The incident was the second to buffet a week-old ceasefire. A Pakistani TV reporter was shot to death in the valley last week.
Pak claims disputed
The Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley have contested the government’s claim that they had agreed to “a permanent ceasefire” in the region, saying a decision would be taken by the ‘shura’ or council of militants.
“We have heard that the government has announced a permanent ceasefire but we have already announced a 10-day ceasefire and we will consider an extension when it ends,” Maulana Fazlullah, Taliban commander in Swat, said in a broadcast on his illegal radio station.