PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Gunmen kidnapped an Iranian diplomat and killed his local guard in northwestern Pakistan Thursday, police said, in the latest of a series of attacks in the region.
Hashmatullah Atharzadeh was on his way to the consulate in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, when unknown assailants attacked his car, police officer Banaras Khan said.
“The attackers sprayed bullets, forcing the car to stop and then dragged out the diplomat while his police guard was killed,” Khan told AFP. They took the diplomat away in a different vehicle, another police officer, Abdul Qadir said.
There has been a recent surge in violence in Peshawar blamed on Islamic militants from the Taliban regime, which was ousted in 2001, while Pakistani troops have increased operations along the country’s porous border with Afghanistan.
Iran made it immediately clear that the diplomat’s safety was Islamabad’s responsibility.
“Based on the Vienna convention of political immunity of diplomats, the Islamabad government is responsible for the security of Iranian diplomats,” Iranian ambassador Mashallah Shakeri told the official IRNA news agency.
It said the diplomat was a staffer in the consulate’s commercial section.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a statement “strongly condemned” the incident and assured the government of Iran and the family of Atharzadeh that Pakistan “will take all necessary measures for his safe and early recovery.”
The diplomat was ambushed near to where a gunman killed a US aid worker and his local driver on Wednesday. A senior US diplomat escaped an assassination attempt in the area in August.
Suspected Taliban militants also kidnapped Afghan Consul General Abdul Khaliq Farahi in the area nearly two months ago and are still holding him.
Peshawar, which is close to the Afghan border, has a population of more than 2.5 million people, in addition to about 1.7 million Afghan refugees uprooted during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
US forces have also launched airstrikes in the region aimed at top militants, causing friction with the new Pakistan government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who succeeded Pervez Musharraf earlier this year.
Musharraf turned Pakistan into a loyal US ally after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, when US forces invaded neighbouring Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden.
Many militants then fled to the rugged area on the Pakistan side of the border, much of which is effectively out of the control of the government and in the hands of Islamist fighters linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
The Pakistan military’s crackdown on the guerrillas — forces moved into the tribal Bajaur region in August — is unpopular with many in the region. Officials say the military campaign has left more than 2,000 people dead.
Peshawar’s police chief Suleman Shah said the spate of killings and abductions was in reaction to the military operations against insurgents in the adjoining tribal belt.
“We have launched operations in Khyber, Darra Adam Khel and Mohmand tribal districts and militants are retaliating by carrying out attacks in Peshawar and adjoining areas,” he said.
He said the bomber involved in a suicide blast in the nearby district of Shabqadar on Wednesday was a young man from the tribal district of Bara.
The attacker blew up his explosive-laden vehicle at a checkpoint, killing three paramilitary soldiers, the military said.