PESHAWAR: Five Pakistanis and a Russian who were captured by the Afghan Taliban after their Punjab government helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Aug 4 have been released and turned over to Pakistani custody, officials said on Saturday.

The crew “was released in an inter-tribe exchange on the Pakistan-Afghan border (and) arrived in Islamabad today”, foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said in a statement.

All crew members are safe and in good health, the statement added.

A Pakistani security official confirmed to DawnNews that the crew members were handed over to authorities in Kurram Agency on Friday.

The Punjab government Mi-17 chopper made an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled district of Logar province on Aug 4 while flying to Russia for maintenance and six crew members, including a Russian navigator, were taken hostage by a group of militants believed to be Afghan Taliban.

Both Russian and Pakistani governments have been making efforts for the release of the hostages. The Afghan government also initiated an operation for identification of the captors and rescue of the hostages.

The Foreign Office said earlier this week that the Afghan government was trying to secure their release with the help of elders of the area.

Following the crash, Gen Raheel had immediately called Commander Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan General Nicolson and had asked him to help in the recovery of the helicopter crew.

The army chief also called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week and asked him to help in organising a safe and early recovery of the hostages.

Some local Afghan leaders — provincial council chief Dr Abdul Wali Wakil, deputy provincial governor Mohammad Hashim Faizi, governor of Azra district in Logar province Hamidullah Hamid — in media interviews identified the Taliban as the captors.