A 'guest' of the Taliban

Posted in Terrorism | 29-Nov-06 | Source: Asia Times

Asia Times Online correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad returned safely to his home in Karachi on Wednesday after being held for a harrowing six days in the captivity of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Along with fellow journalist Qamar Yousufzai, Shahzad was detained by the Taliban on November 21 after entering the Baghran district of the southern province of Helmand. They were accused of being spies and of not having the Taliban's permission to be in the area. They had valid travel documents and visas for Afghanistan.

Shahzad said that in Baghran they met some Taliban and interviewed them, but after the interview, they were asked for identity documents. "They contacted someone on telephone, and then said that nobody could enter the Taliban's area without their permission," said Shahzad.

"On their demand, I showed them all my documents, including passport and identity cards issued by Asian Times Online and the [Pakistani] Dawn Group of Newspapers. But they detained me and Qamar Yousufzai, seized our baggage and said that until clearance we would be their guests," said Shahzad.

Finally, on Monday, the two men were allowed to leave. "They also apologized for detaining us," said Shahzad.

The two journalists then went to Bagharan and hired a taxi to travel to the Pakistan border, but the vehicle broke down and they were delayed.

Baghran is remote, mountainous and sparsely populated area in the northern part of Helmand, where most of the British forces in Afghanistan are based.

Commenting on his ordeal, Shahzad said that he was "physically and mentally safe and sound" and that "I am sure I shall go back to Afghanistan".

Shahzad has reported widely on the Taliban on both sides of the border and has visited Afghanistan on several occasions.

The Taliban have captured several foreigners and Afghans since their insurgency began after the were forced from power by the US-led invasion of 2001.

Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello was kidnapped on October 12 in Helmand province, which has this year seen intense fighting between insurgents and the military. He was released about three weeks later.