PESHAWAR: Though in bad shape, unshaven and their hair unkempt, the released Pesco officials and other laborers rejoiced after their 16-month ordeal in the captivity of militants ended on Tuesday.
Emotional scenes were witnessed at the Khyber Agency political agent’s office in Peshawar as many could not control their emotions after meeting their loved ones after what may have seemed like an eternity.
Thirteen people including three Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) officials, nine labourers and a policeman, who were kidnapped from Mattani and Badbher area of Peshawar by militants on January 31, were released in Kalaya, the agency headquarters of Orakzai Agency, after which they were reunited with the families in Peshawar, the officials said.
These Pesco officials were working on a 132 KV Grid Station in Gula Khan Bagh area in Badbher when they were kidnapped by more than 25 armed militants.
One of the released men told Dawn.com that the group were made hostage and kept in Tirah Valley and were forced into labour for almost a year and a half.
According to the list issued by the security forces, Pesco employees Fayaz Muhammad, Amir Khan and Sohail Ahmed belonged to Bakhu Pul area of Peshawar while the labourers who were assisting the Pesco staff included Ayaz Khan, Muhammad Hussain, Muhammad Akhtar, Mohsin Ali, Muhammad Nawaz, Muhammad Tariq, Muhammad Zahid, Qaiser Abbas, Muhammad Hussain, and a police personnel Fazal Wahab.
Sohail, while speaking to Dawn.com after his release, said, “These days were like hell, as we were forced to do the labour work for more than 12 hours a day and mostly assigned construction work.”
“We were kept in caves and than blindfolded and moved to the work place, which was all surrounded by mountains.”
“Though they did not tell much about our location, once we were told that we were in Tirah Valley but don’t know which part in Khyber Agency or the Orkazai Agency,” he remarked.
“Some time they were demanding money and some time asked for the release of their fighters but we didn’t know what to do as we had not been able to communicate their demands,” Sohail added
Fayaz Muhammad said: “The security forces had helped us get released but we don’t know how, but we are very thankful to them as well.”
The period in captivity clearly took a toll on some.
Qaiser Abbas, one of the labourers assisting on the project, said that “though we were given food to survive but you can imagine from our condition, what could have been our situation in captivity.”
About the circumstances which led to the release of these personnel, the information secretary of Wapda Hydro Union, Gohar Ali said: “It took almost sixteen months of talks to secure their release and the security forces had played a key role to get them free.”
He confirmed that the security forces handed them over in Peshawar, first they were taken to a FC camp in Hayatabad and than to Peshawar where they got reunited with the families.
About payment of any ransom, he said, there was no such deal and the release had been secured through negotiations and local jirgas.
On April 2, militants had also ransacked a grid station in Badbher on the outskirts of Peshawar and killed at least eight policemen and Pesco officials while some were also kidnapped and later released.
The probe into the incident is yet to make headway.
Some of the released workers and labourers also castigated the authorities for their poor security as the Wapda’s installation projects were mostly focussed in the remote and militant-infested areas.
One of the workers, who requested anonymity, said there was no security at all for the lower staff and they are left at the mercy of the militants and terrorists. ”This is highly unjustified on the part of the high ups but the authorities are also in a fix as the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has denied their involvement in such incidents,” he added.