Nearly 108 tribesmen from Pakistan's remote northwestern borderlands were abducted by presumed Taliban militants April 12 from a mela (festival) where local hashish merchants were displaying and sampling their wares. Most were liberated the following day, but 15 men belonging to the Qamber Khel tribe are still being held.
The mela was taking place at Haider Kandao, a village that straddles the tribal agencies of Khyber, Orakzai and Central Kurram in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, near the border with Afghanistan. Opium and cattle were also being exchanged at the meeting when it was stormed by gunmen from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
A large cache of hashish and opium was seized by the militants along with most of the men in attendance. Elders from Orakzai and Khyber agencies formed a jirga (tribal assembly) to search for the abducted men, and may have helped negotiate their release. Those still in captivity may be identified by the TTP as major cannabis or opium growers or dealers.
Locals had apparently received warnings from the TTP not to hold the mela. But hashish is a main source of livelihood for local farmers, so the festival went ahead as planned. Some of the abducted are said to have been associated with Ansarul Islam (a militant network that has often been at odds with the Pakistani Taliban) in the past.