Afghanistan's Taliban found themselves confounded this week when Indian and Pakistani diplomats in Kabul almost simultaneously demanded the release of a foreign journalist they had arrested on charges of breaching regulations.
Anas Mallick, a Pakistani reporter, along with his local producer and driver, were allegedly subjected to assault and interrogation after being taken into custody by the Taliban on Aug. 4, 2022. Mallick was held for 21 hours, while his two Afghan associates were released Saturday after more than 42 hours.
VOA learned from sources in Kabul that shortly after reports of Mallick's disappearance emerged, diplomats from both Pakistan and India — archrivals — approached relevant Taliban authorities to demand safety and freedom for the journalist.
Taliban sources blamed the delay in releasing Mallick on back-to-back phone calls they received from the Indian and Pakistani embassies, with both asking for his release.
"We know he is a Pakistani. How come you say he is your man?" Taliban officials asked the Indian side, said sources who were aware of the conversation. The confusion ended when the Indian official went on to explain that Mallick works for an India-based news channel. Meanwhile, the Pakistan embassy kept calling Taliban officials and demanding the release of the journalist, according to sources.
The Taliban released Mallick, who reports from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, for Indian WION television, which is headquartered in New Delhi.
The journalist was reportedly asked to leave Afghanistan and soon after crossing into Pakistan he told his news channel that they were "dragged" out of their car by Taliban forces while they were returning from a reporting trip to a posh Kabul neighborhood where the United States on Sunday killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike.
Mallick later reached out to VOA and said that he was neither deported nor asked to leave Afghanistan by the Taliban. He added that the decision to exit the country was taken by his news organization.
The Taliban have ordered journalists not to go near the area housing the residential compound where al-Zawahiri was hit by two Hellfire missiles fired from the drone.
Mallick told WION on Friday that they had "duly accredited" their press credentials with the relevant department in Kabul after arriving in the country and they were recording "general visuals" when the Taliban intercepted them.
"We were shifted from the place where we were intercepted to what we know is the intelligence unit of the Afghan Taliban. We were handcuffed, blindfolded, and faced the wildest accusations … personal questions were also hurled at us."
Taliban officials have not yet responded to allegations that they had seized the three men. Local and foreign journalists working in Afghanistan say Taliban authorities decline to comment on such detentions and allegedly use such tactics to deter media from critical reporting.
Taliban officials reject the accusations, saying they have outlined rules and regulations for media teams to work in the country and violations would not go unpunished.
The Indian embassy in the Afghan capital and New Delhi have not yet commented on Mallick's ordeal.
However, the Pakistani foreign ministry, in an official statement Thursday, said it was in touch with Taliban authorities for the reporter's early and safe return to Pakistan.
"Regarding reports about Pakistani journalist Anas Mallick, I have just talked to him on [the] phone briefly. He is in Kabul and safe. Embassy will remain in touch with him," Mansoor Ahmad Khan, the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, later tweeted to confirm the reporter had been set free.
Traditional acrimony between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan has sharpened in recent years, with military tensions running high and official bilateral engagements literally suspended. It is extremely rare under the circumstances for a Pakistani journalist to work for an Indian media outlet or the other way around.
Pakistan and India routinely accuse each other of sponsoring subversive acts against their respective territories using diplomatic missions in Afghanistan.
Indian officials have long alleged the Taliban is a proxy of Islamabad while Pakistani officials accuse New Delhi of funding and supporting anti-Pakistan militants operating on Afghan soil.