ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday said the government was using “formal and informal channels” to seek the return of seven passengers of a crashed helicopter who were reportedly taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Punjab government helicopter, en route to Russia for a routine overhaul, crash-landed in the restive Logar province in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday.
“Formal and informal channels are being used to ensure safe recovery of the entire crew,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement from his office.
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif also called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday to request his country’s help.
“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani assured all possible assistance in this regard,” tweeted ISPR spokesman Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa.
On Thursday, the army chief had contacted top US commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson asking for his international military coalition’s help in recovering the men.
“Afghan govt and ANA authorities have also been contacted for necessary assistance in recovery of the crew members while on its way to Russia via Uzbekistan. Helicopter was going to Russia for maintenance. Gen Nicolson assured all possible help in this regard,” said a tweet from Lt-Gen Bajwa on Thursday night.
“Efforts are in top gear for early recovery of the crew & pilots of the chopper…Prayers for my dear friends’ safe return,” tweeted Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the Punjab provincial government that operates the helicopter.
Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said the aircraft had permission to fly over Afghan air space on its way to Uzbekistan further north for overhauling.
Earlier today, the Foreign Office said it was still waiting for an answer from the Afghan government over the location of the crashed helicopter and the seven passengers on board.
The Foreign Office said the Afghan government had not given any information to Pakistan despite a lapse of 24 hours into the incident.
Meanwhile, the Afghan defence ministry said it had launched a probe into the incident.
“We have launched an investigation into the incident…and the government has instructed security forces to spare no efforts to secure the release of the crew members,” the Afghan defence ministry said in a statement.
Taliban say passengers ‘in safe hands’
The fate of the passengers on board the aircraft was still unclear, but a Taliban commander claimed the seven were “in safe hands” with the militants.
A senior Afghan Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, told news agency Reuters that the passengers — six Pakistanis and a Russian technician — were in their custody and that negotiations for their release were ongoing.
“They are being looked after, being provided tea, food, everything,” he said.
“We are in touch with the Pakistani officials. We conveyed to them that they are in safe hands.”
He added that it was no use seeking help from the Afghan government or US military, because the Taliban are in full control of the district.
The Pakistani government or military did not directly confirm direct talks with the Taliban or that the passengers were captured by the militants, but officials said they were doing everything possible.
Afghan media and officials also reported that the seven people on board were taken hostage by the Taliban.
The local district governor Hamidullah Hamid said seven people on board had been taken hostage by Taliban insurgents.
“They have been taken to an unknown location,” he said.
The helicopter caught fire after it crashed, said Logar governor’s spokesman Salim Saleh.
Logar province has been increasingly lawless since the launch two years ago of a military operation in neighbouring Pakistani tribal areas pushed many Taliban militants into Afghanistan.
Helicopter transported to Kabul
As efforts for the recovery of crew continue, Afghan authorities transported the chopper, which had crash-landed in Logar, to Kabul on Friday.
Sources informed that the chopper is expected to be handed over to Pakistan through Torkham border crossing sometime today.