Taliban 'godfather' dies while held by Islamist militants

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  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/w...while-held-by-islamist-militants-2193326.html

    By Omar Waraich in Islamabad

    The godfather of the Taliban, one of Pakistan's most prominent retired spies, has died of a heart attack in the wilds of Waziristan while held captive by Islamist militants he helped spawn throughout his controversial career.

    Sultan Amir Tarar, better known as "Colonel Imam", had been held hostage by multiple militant groups since March 2010. The retired official of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had been held there since he accompanied another former spy and a British journalist on a doomed mission to film a documentary about the Pakistani Taliban in their sanctuaries along the Afghan border.

    Fears for Col. Imam's life have been building since the trio were seized in North Waziristan by the pro al-Qaida group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Last April, Khalid Khawaja, another former ISI official, was executed and his body dumped beside a stream, with a note warning "American spies" to await the same fate.

    The slaying was surprising as both Mr Khawaja and Col. Imam were themselves known militant sympathisers. The journalist, Asad Qureshi, who thought that the two men's jihadist views would yield him access to Pakistan's most notorious militants, was released last September after a ransom was reportedly paid. The documentary was commissioned by Channel 4.

    Col Imam's 10-month ordeal illuminated the unravelling of a perilous policy he set in train 30 years ago. In the 1970s, he emerged as a US-trained army officer who went on to train and dispatch thousands of Afghan mujahideen to counter the Soviets.

    After the Communist threat was vanquished, he returned to oversee the rise of his disciple, Mullah Omar. Those sympathies endured. But his death came in the custody of a younger, fiercer generation of militants, unmoved by his role in their history.

    In many ways, Col. Imam was the embodiment of the Pakistan army's embrace of militancy. His appearance was distinguished by his stiffly wrapped white turban, unruly beard and ragged paratroop jacket. The last item of clothing was a souvenir from his days on a master parachutist course with the US 82nd Airborne Division. In 1974, he underwent Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, specialising in explosives.

    Skilled in guerrilla methods, he returned to Pakistan to impart them to the first generation of Afghan mujahideen, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masood.

    Col. Imam's links with the Americans deepened, working with them to sprout training camps across the tribal areas and Baluchistan as staging grounds for the anti-Soviet insurgency.

    During this period he earned his nom de guerre, splicing his army rank with the title conferred on a prayer leader: "imam". One recruit who worshipped him left a lasting impression. Using diplomatic cover as the Pakistan consul general in Herat, Col. Imam was the lynchpin in Mullah Omar and the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan. Islamabad's much-coveted "strategic depth" in the region had been secured.

    But the collapse of the twin towers abbreviated the triumph. Then president Gen. Pervez Musharraf heralded an apparent u-turn. Washington now enlisted Pakistan's support in its war against the very militants they had nurtured. Col. Imam opposed them, hastening to Afghanistan to urge Mullah Omar to resist the American invasion.

    It was their last meeting, the pensioned spook would tell visitors to his home near military headquarters in Rawalpindi, as he briskly shuffled his worry beads.

    But western intelligence agencies were not persuaded, alleging that Col. Imam and kindred minds served as conduits for abiding ISI contacts with the Afghan Taliban.

    Col. Imam denied the charge, but openly cheered on his former trainees. He also maintained contact with his successors in uniform.

    But neither the Afghan Taliban nor the army were able to help when he slipped into the hands of sectarian militants and was later passed on to their associates, the Pakistani Taliban.

    The last sign of him came in a hostage video, broadcast last July. Flanked by two masked and armed men, he read from a script. "You know well what they're capable of," he warned darkly.
     
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  3. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Colonel Imam’s death shows Taliban losing control in Pakistan borders

    Colonel Imam, a senior figure in Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, was credited with training several leaders of the current Taliban-led insurgency to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    He was honoured by President George Bush for playing a key role in 'Charlie Wilson’s War’, the Congressman who launched Operation Cyclone, a programme to organise and support the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

    He remained a strong supporter of the Taliban-led insurgency against Nato forces after it was ousted in 2001, but was kidnapped in North Waziristan in March last year along with another former ISI spy and a British television journalist.

    On Monday night sources close to one Taliban faction in North Waziristan said the group was holding an inquiry to establish which faction had killed him and warned those responsible will be killed.

    Pakistani analysts said his murder revealed the weakness of the main Afghan Taliban leadership in North Waziristan and challenged Washington’s claim that the tribal area is a stronghold of Taliban-led insurgents attacking Nato forces in Afghanistan. The United States has said a Pakistan Army offensive against militant ’safe havens’ in North Waziristan is vital to any victory against the Afghan insurgency.

    “It shows the CIA argument that North Waziristan is the hub of fighting against the Americans is farcical,” said Zaid Hamid, a popular Pakistani television military analyst who fought with the Mujahideen in the 1980s.

    A source close to Maulvi Nazir, leader of a traditionally pro-Islamabad faction of the Pakistan Taliban, vowed revenge for his killing.

    General Hamid Gul, Pakistan’s former intelligence chief who was accused along with Colonel Imam of backing the Afghan Taliban insurgency, warned there will be bloodshed to avenge his friend’s death and said he had last been held by a group associated with Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

    He said the restless region of North Waziristan was full of “loose groups” beholden to no one and that his killers’ demand for ransom to return his body had caused anger.

    “Even the worst of the Taliban and criminals in that area would not demand ransom for a body – that is not in the Pashtun tradition.” Col Imam was a “good mujahid” who had fallen into the wrong hands, he added.

    He was kidnapped by the unknown Asian Tigers, led by Usman Punjabi, but was later seized by another militant commander, Sabir Mehsud, whose group attacked Punjabi and killed five of his men. Sabir Mehsud was in turn killed by militants led by Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud who first demanded the release of 160 jailed militants but later asked for 110,000 pounds ransom.

    General Gul said Colonel Imam’s supporters were in contact with his kidnappers and had sent medicines for him on December 20th. “They will be in trouble. I think Hakimullah Mehsud will face questions about this,” he added.
     

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