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Crew of crashed Pakistani chopper held in Afghanistan freed


Pakistan says six crew members of a government helicopter, who were taken hostage last week after the aircraft crash-landed in Afghanistan, have been released.

In a statement released on Saturday, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said that five Pakistanis and a Russian navigator were “released in an inter-tribe exchange on the Pakistan-Afghan border (and) arrived in Islamabad today.”

All the six are “safe and in good health,” Zakaria added without elaborating on who had been holding the crew hostage.

However, local Afghan authorities have said that the six were held captive by the Taliban militant group in an area outside the government’s control.

The development came two days after Islamabad said Kabul had informed it that the chopper crew was alive and efforts were being made to rescue them.

The Mi-17 transport helicopter belonging to the Punjab provincial government went down on August 4 en route from the city of Peshawar to Uzbekistan for maintenance.

The incident took place in the eastern Afghan province of Logar, situated near the border with Pakistan’s militancy-riddled mountainous tribal areas.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tense in recent years over the ongoing militancy in border areas. Senior Afghan officials have frequently blamed elements inside Pakistan’s intelligence service for harboring the Taliban and sponsoring the militancy.

In return, Islamabad has accused the Afghan government of giving shelter to the militants on its side of the border.

Afghanistan faces a security challenge years after the United States and its allies invaded the Asian state in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror.

The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but many areas in the country are still beset with bomb attacks, kidnapping incidents and murders.

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