The Pakistan government has released over a dozen jailed Taliban commanders to secure the release of a Chinese engineer who was kidnapped by the terrorists nearly six months ago.
Officials were tight-lipped about Long Xiaowei's release though The News daily reported that the government swapped more than a dozen Taliban prisoners for the Chinese national.
"Yes, a number of militants were freed to secure the release of the Chinese engineer," an official with knowledge of the deal told the newspaper. He refused to give the exact number of prisoners who were released.
"Efforts were intensified to secure his release before the President Asif Ali Zardari's upcoming visit to China. It's a gift to the people of China on the occasion of his visit and it is also expected that the president will take Long along to China," the official said.
Long on Sunday reached the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, a day after he was freed by the local Taliban in the troubled north-western Swat valley. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan initially claimed that Long was freed as a "goodwill gesture" but later admitted the Pakistan government had freed some prisoners in exchange for the Chinese national.
"Over the last one week, the government freed several Taliban prisoners but most of them were ordinary fighters. Actually, a majority of the prisoners released hailed from Waziristan," Muslim Khan added.
A source close to Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah said 16 important militant commanders from Swat were released on Saturday by the authorities.
The Pakistan government was under immense pressure for securing the release of the Chinese engineer after the recent execution of Polish national Piotr Stanczak by Taliban militants in Darra Adam Khel region. Poland cancelled a visit by a Pakistani parliamentary delegation after Stanczak was beheaded by the militants.
Besides, pressure has been mounted on Pakistan by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for securing the release of John Solecki, an American employee of the UN refugee agency who was recently kidnapped in Quetta.
Earlier efforts for securing the release of the Chinese engineer had been inconclusive as the government was unwilling to accept a demand by the Taliban for the release of 136 militants.