By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped seven soldiers from a bus in Pakistan on Wednesday, military officials said, just days after Taliban forces executed 21 pro-government paramilitaries they had seized.
The gunmen took the seven soldiers and let go a sweeper on the bus with them, one military official said. The gunmen were wearing military uniforms, other sources said.
The men were travelling between army headquarters in Rawalpindi and their stations in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when they were taken off their bus in Jand in Punjab province.
Taliban commander Tariq Afridi, who has forces in the area, was not available for comment and no Taliban spokesman returned calls seeking comment.
Last week the Taliban kidnapped 23 paramilitary pro-government forces. Twenty-one of their bodies, bound, blindfolded and shot in the head, were discovered on Sunday. One man escaped and another was badly wounded.
A military offensive over the past two years has clawed back swathes of Pakistan from the Taliban.
But the insurgents are still able to organize kidnaps and killings over wide swathes of the country and high-profile attacks have increased over the past month. Elections are scheduled for the spring and the insurgency will be a key issue.
Poorly trained police, overburdened courts and corruption have hampered Pakistan's ability to crack down on militancy.
On Monday, the bullet-riddled bodies of nine men were found in North Waziristan, local tribesmen said. A Taliban spokesman claimed they were fighters that had been taken prisoner over the past few months. Military officials did not return calls seeking comment.
In August, the Taliban kidnapped 17 soldiers and beheaded them.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Mubasher Bukhari in Islamabad.; Writing By Katharine Houreld, edited by Richard Meares)