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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Militants boast of executions
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, South Waziristan

Zulfiqar Mehsud is a leading pro-Taleban militant in Pakistan's tribal area of South Waziristan.

Outside the Taleban base

Zulfiqar means double-edged sword, and the menace that this man in his late 20s generates is evident, despite his pleasant demeanour with us.

His men have been holding more than 200 soldiers as prisoners since late August, something of a humiliation for the army.

He tells us that the authorities "have shown minimal interest" in getting the soldiers freed.

"We will not release them till the government releases 30 of our comrades being held in jail," Zulfiqar says.

"They should also pull out all troops from our territory."

For most of Pakistan's history, the tribal people along the Afghan border were left to rule themselves. That all changed when President Musharraf ordered troops in after 11 September, 2001, to flush out al-Qaeda and Taleban militants.

'Our safekeeping'

The militants control so much of the territory here. We wanted to meet them and also the captured soldiers.

They gave us a tour of a captured communications post.

Major Atiq Azam
Soon it was too late to do anything
Major Atiq Azam
captured soldier

Zulfiqar tells us 50 men were captured by the militants in the operation, along with weapons and the communications equipment.

"It is in our safekeeping for the Pakistan army," he says, grinning cheekily.

Then we were shown a captured vehicle that was flying an Afghan flag before being taken back to meet some of the soldiers.

'Incorrect'

Major Atiq Azam and Lieutenant Farrukh Mansoor appeared well physically but their eyes betrayed their fear.

Major Azam, being the senior officer, did most of the talking.

"It is incorrect to say we surrendered," he said.

"The convoy was on its way from Shakai to Ladha when we had to stop because a stretch of the road was broken."

Shakai and Ladha are towns in Waziristan with army encampments and the convoy was to supply rations to these camps, Major Azam explains.

When the head is removed from the body the soul is immediately released
Faisal, militant

He says the convoy was in four groups. The main group was carrying the rations, while the others were for protection.

"When we stopped at the fissure in the road, the local Taleban initially appeared and helped us clear it," Major Azam said. But as their numbers increased, he says, so did their aggression.

"They asked why were we travelling in the area despite an agreement [between the militants and the army] made a couple of days ago."

Major Azam says he was originally informed that the deal with militants allowed troops to move through the Mehsud tribal area as long as they stayed in their vehicles.

But that did not appear to be the deal, as the Taleban saw it.

Major Azam says the attitude of the militants was hardening while he kept calling his commanding officer for instructions.

"I was told to wait, but soon it was too late to do anything."

Soon after, the militants had the soldiers surrounded then declared them to be prisoners.

"We were broken up into smaller groups and then taken away," he concludes.

Taleban weaponry
The militants display their weaponry

The commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Zafar, confirmed the chain of events but said little more.

"We were told to wait for the outcome of negotiations by the high command with the militant leadership."

From what we could learn, it did indeed seem that Colonel Zafar's men had not been given accurate details of the agreement made with the militants.

That led to their venturing forth into forbidden territory and then subsequent communication failures led to their capture.

There is a feeling among many in the military that its high command has been too focused on the political situation in the country rather than trying to get the soldiers freed.

Humane

Major Azam and his colleagues are unsure what will become of them.

Captured army communication tower
The army communication tower captured by the militants

The militants beheaded one soldier in August.

Three were shot dead last week. The soldiers we spoke to were unaware of the shootings.

One militant, Faisal, said "cutting off the head is the best and most humane way to kill".

"When the head is removed from the body the soul is immediately released. Whereas when you hang a person, the soul has to struggle to escape from the mouth.

"If we want to punish someone, we cut his head from the back of the neck, instead of the throat," says Faisal.

"That is very painful and its takes a long time to die."

One of the group, we are told, has decapitated 53 men.

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