PESHAWAR – Former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer Colonel Imam has been killed by the abductors in North Waziristan Agency, TheNation learnt reliably on Sunday.
Sultan Aamir Tarar, commonly known as Colonel Imam, along with two other colleagues including Khalid Khawaja, a former intelligence agency officer, and Asad Qureshi, a journalist, was kidnapped by a militant group almost 10 months back in March 2010 on the charges of spying, when they were travelling from Bannu to Waziristan.
Colonel Imam, who was also known as mentor of Taliban, had been picked up by the militant group, Asian Tigers, when he was on his way to Waziristan to meet Taliban leadership and make a documentary film in this regard.
Sometime back a video footage of Colonel Imam was released by the abductors in which, he was shown as saying that his life was in danger and he urged the government to fulfil his kidnappers’ demand of freeing a number of prisoners held for terror activities.
Though the government authorities are yet to confirm the killing of Colonel Imam, the sources said that he was killed Sunday in North Waziristan Agency at an undisclosed location. It may be mentioned here that out of the other captured colleagues of Colonel Imam, Asad Qureshi, was released a few months back while Khalid Khawaja was also killed by the said organisation on April 30, 2010 and his body was thrown in the suburbs of Mir Ali, North Waziristan Agency.
The abductors are still keeping Imam’s dead body. According to the sources, Imam was murdered for failing to pay the ransom money demanded by his kidnappers.
Staff Reporter from Islamabad adds: Family of Sultan Amir Tarar commonly known as Col Imam was not accepting condolences for not being confirmed of his death after reports that his captors killed him, said General (Retd) Hameed Gul.
Former ISI chief Gul told this scribe, “I went to his home for condolence but they were not accepting as yet.”
He was unable to either deny or confirm the reports of Imam’s death. “I have checked the root source of all the reports and that is only one. These sort of reports need to be confirmed by more than one source,” he said.
FOLLOW UP FROM THE BRITS
A retired Pakistani spy known as "the godfather of the Taliban" has died in captivity in Pakistan's north-western tribal belt, 10 months after he was kidnapped with a British journalist working for Channel 4.
Pakistani news channels reported that Sultan Amir Tarar, a legendary figure in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, had been killed by militants in Waziristan. The Taliban issued a statement saying he had died of a heart attack. An army spokesman could not confirm the reports. But a senior officer said that "all indicators are that this unfortunate incident took place".
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, tweeted yesterday: "On Col (R) Amir Sultan Tarar aka Col Imam's death: Prayers for the departed and for the bereaved family."
Tarar was kidnapped in Waziristan in March 2010 alongside Asad Qureshi, a British journalist of Pakistani origin, and Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official turned human rights activist. Qureshi was released last September, reportedly on payment of a ransom; Khawaja was killed by his captors in April.
Tarar's death marks the brutal demise of one of the most colourful and controversial figures in the shadowy world of spy games along the troubled borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dressed in his trademark outfit of a tight, white turban and a shabby second-world war paratroop jacket, Tarar personified the complexities of Pakistan's multi-faceted policy towards militant Islam. Tarar trained in guerrilla warfare at an American special forces base in the 1970s and spent the next decade at the heart of Pakistan and America's covert war against Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.
He ran a network of CIA-funded training camps in the tribal belt and Balochistan, which funnelled tens of thousands of mujahideen guerrillas into battle against the Soviets. He won the respect of his charges, mostly Pashtun refugees, by showing regard for their religious beliefs and tribal traditions. "They called me Imam after the man who leads the prayers in the mosque," he told the Guardian in 2006.
Among his students was a young Afghan cleric named Muhammad Omar, who emerged as head of the Afghan Taliban and seized power in Kabul in 1996. Tarar played a key role in that movement too.
Operating under diplomatic cover, Tarar was the ISI's point-man with the Taliban, nurturing a relationship in which Pakistan offered arms, advice and finance.
He developed a close personal relationship with Omar and, according to some reports, advised him as US forces attacked Afghanistan in late 2001.
Tarar later returned to Pakistan where he ostensibly slipped into retirement. He helped run a Saudi-funded orphanage near Islamabad and appeared sporadically on talkshows. But since 2006 some reports, usually sourced to western intelligence, have alleged that he continued to act as a liaison between the ISI and the Taliban.
Tarar denied the allegations but conceded that he maintained contact with the Taliban, describing himself as a "student of the insurgency". "They are a superior people with a superior culture," he told the Guardian last year. "I have my friends, the former mujahideen, who come to Peshawar and talk to me." The Taliban insurgency, he added, was only a natural reaction to American aggression. "They are the product of circumstances. They got sucked into it, there was no alternative."
In October 2006 the then president, Pervez Musharraf, said some retired ISI officers were supporting the Taliban, but declined to name them; in December 2008 reports suggested the US had sent Tarar and three other retired ISI officials' names to the UN security council for inclusion on a terrorist watchlist. But the manner of Tarar's death, and the inability or unwillingness of Pakistan's army to spring him to safety, suggest his links with the security apparatus may have been overestimated. It started last March when Tarar set off for Waziristan with Khawaja, also a veteran of the ISI's covert wars of the 1980s, and Qureshi, a British film-maker working for an independent film company with a commission from Channel Four. The job of the two former ISI men – considering the prominent supporters of Pakistan's jihadi policies – was to guide Qureshi into Waziristan and ensure access to some of Pakistan's most dangerous militants.
Khawaja had promised an interview with the Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. But the former spy had badly underestimated the perils. On the way to Waziristan he approached the veteran Peshawar-based journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai for an interview and advice. "I advised him not to go," said Yusufzai. "But he insisted. He said: 'No, I will make arrangements with these people. We want to highlight their cause and show that the drones are killing civilians.'"
But the plan went awry when Khawaja's host in Waziristan – a militant commander known as Usman Punjabi – kidnapped the group, and demanded $25m (Â£16m) ransom in the name of the previously unknown "Asian Tigers" group. In March and April Punjabi issued a series of ransom videos, emailed to media including the Guardian, featuring the three hostages. The most sinister concerned Khawaja, who was taped saying that he was, in fact an ISI and CIA agent who had betrayed extremists during the Red Mosque siege in Islamabad in 2007.
An audiotape later leaked to the Pakistani media suggested that the militant charges of treachery had been prompted by a conversation between Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist, and one of the kidnappers. Mir denied the charge. Three weeks later Khawaja was found dead on the side of the road in North Waziristan.along with a note warning that other "American spies" would meet the same fate.
Qureshi had a happier fate. He was released in September, reportedly on payment of ransom by his family. But it had been a gruelling ordeal. His relatives said he had been kept in a 6ft cell, fed scraps of food, beaten and whipped. He saw Colonel Imam being subjected to a mock-execution.
British media did not publicise Qureshi's kidnapping until after his release at the request of Channel 4. As publicity drained away afterwards Tarar's son, a serving army officer, had scrambled to raise the ransom for his father's release. But the negotations had grown complex.Punjabi, the original kidnapper, had been killed in a shootout with a local tribal commander, and Tarar had passed into the hands of Hakimullah Mehsud's Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. The case was complicated by the fact that the Taliban were demanding the release of at least five prisoners, whom the army refused to give up.
But all came to naught today, as Pakistani media reported that Imam had died in captivity. One Pakistani news channel said the kidnappers were demanding Â£15,000 for the return of Tarar's body. Before being kidnapped last year Tarar became a firm advocate of peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, insisting that they could be separated from their al-Qaida allies – an idea that is now gaining currency as a possible solution to the war.
He warned that American attempts to divide the Taliban by bribing commanders was doomed to failure. "Their strategy will not work," he said. "This carrot-and-stick strategy is going to backfire badly."
But the manner of the death of the "godfather of the Taliban" suggests that there were some thing he could not foresee – and that even the powerful spy agency has very limited influence over the militants within their own borders.