Former ISI officer executed in northwestern Pakistan

A former officer in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency who has close links to terror groups has been found dead, apparently executed by a Taliban-linked group.

A group calling itself the “Asian Tigers” killed Khalid Khawaja, a former Squadron Commander in the Air Force, and dumped his bullet-ridden body in Taliban-controlled North Waziristan.

The Asian Tigers pinned a note to Khawaja’s corpse and claimed credit for murdering him. The Asian Tigers had previously accused Khawaja of working for the Pakistani government and the CIA.

Khawaja, along with a former ISI officer known as Colonel Imam and a British journalist, was kidnapped several weeks ago after visiting the town of Miramshah in North Waziristan. In early April it was reported that the three men had disappeared while trying to link up with key Taliban leaders, including top South Waziristan commander Waliur Rehman Mehsud.

On April 18, the Asian Tigers released a videotape showing Imam and Khawaja, and calling for the release of three top Afghan Taliban leaders. The Asian Tigers demanded that Pakistani intelligence release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former leader of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura; Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the former leader of the Peshawar Regional Military Council; and Mullah Mansur Dadullah Akhund, a former military commander in the south.

On the tape, Imam and Khawaja both stated that they had been directed to visit the Taliban in North Waziristan by two top former ISI officers. Some news reports from Pakistan claimed that Imam and Khawaja were sent to broker a deal with the Taliban to end their fight against the Pakistani state and reorient their efforts against Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Four days after the tape was released, the Afghan Taliban denied any connections to the Asian Tigers and said that Colonel Imam was “widely respected among the Taliban for his independent views and sympathies towards the mujahideen.”

The Asian Tigers are thought to be members of the so-called Punjabi Taliban, a group of fighters from Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and various other jihadist groups that are based in Punjab province.

Background on Imam and Khawaja

Khawaja’s death is surprising, given his support in the past for Taliban, al Qaeda, and various Pakistani jihadist groups. His death took place as tensions are rising in North Waziristan after recent clashes between the Taliban and the Pakistani Army. Over the past week, 10 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in ambushes, putting a truce between the two groups in jeopardy.

Khawaja is a former Squadron Commander in the Pakistani Air Force who fought alongside al Qaeda and reportedly Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After retiring as a major, he served in the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence service that helped to found the Taliban and other jihadist terror groups. Khawaja has also been linked to the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Khawaja serves as the Taliban’s “consigliere,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. At the end of February, Khawaja succeeded in getting the Peshawar High Court to issue a ruling to block the transfer of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, and four other members of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura, to foreign custody. He is also one of the lawyers for the five Americans who entered Pakistan to join al Qaeda in North Waziristan late last year.

Colonel Imam, whose real name is Amir Sultan, is considered to be one of the fathers of the Taliban. He was instrumental in providing training, organization, and material support for the Taliban as they began to take over vast regions in southern Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. He is believed to have directed the Taliban takeover of Herat in 1995, and then later directed the Taliban assaults on Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad, according to the London Times.

Imam has continued to support the Taliban since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and has been spotted in southern Afghanistan by Afghan and United Nations officials. Imam has openly praised Mullah Omar.

“I love him,” he said. “He brought peace to Afghanistan.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Tags: ,


  • Mr T says:

    This is very surprising. It appeared at first to be some kind of ploy. I mean, it seemed this guy was working hard for the Taliban on the legal side to keep Baradar in Pakistan. To go from helping the Taliban to being killed by the Taliban is almost too funny. Talk about the alligator eating you last.
    It makes me think the Taliban is really splintered into alphabet groups that will eat each other or perhaps he was not what he seemed. Perhaps he was a double agent, doing just enough to appear to be helping the Taliban but close enough to top leaders to provide good intelligence to US or Pakistani forces.
    If not, then it must be rough to go meet with your bro’s only to be tortured and brutally murdered by them. You hang out in the snake pit long enough, you may get bit hard.

  • madashell59 says:

    If I get this article correctly. It seems we should be thanking the Asian Tigers.
    It seems like some infighting is occurring.
    Lets prey for the Journalist.

  • T Ruth says:

    If you lie down with dogs, you die like a dog.

  • BraddS says:

    Doesn’t this kind of confirm the theory that North Waziristan has become nothing more than a massive haven for every criminal/jihadist/psychopath in the region? The Tali were actually telling the truth when they said they had nothing to do with this guy’s disappearance?

  • dave says:

    he.. he.. hee. haww…….

  • Tyler says:

    It would seem Jaish-e-Mohammed (perhaps with an unseen ISI hand) is the most likely culprit.
    In fact its interesting how closely his ordeal compares to that of Daniel Pearl, whose death both JeM and Khawaja were linked to.
    A kidnapping in which journalists were set up for an ambush with the promise of an interview. Followed by a hostage video from a heretofore unknown group with a list of demands seemingly beneficial to the ISI as well as the Taliban (Pearl’s captors demanded the sale of F-16s to Islamabad be completed, Khawaja’s demanded the release of Afghan Taliban leaders.) Followed by an execution.
    So in that, this is true poetic justice.
    I’ve despised Khawaja for years. I won’t be shedding any tears for the man. Play with matches, you’ll get burned as Vincent Vega would say.

  • T Ruth says:

    I know you mean pray, not prey. Preying is what these vultures do.
    But what kind of journalist in his right mind goes to N Wazoo looking to meet these freaks? Surely the journalist is not supposed to become the story.
    As for infighting, nothing new. But please resist the temptation to think any of these guys is ever gonna be on your side.

  • sanjith menon says:

    pakistan is loosing control of taliban. miramshah area, belongs to haqqani faction mostly. killing someone as important as this, means, something has really gone wrong. if americans under obama think pakistan, can bring peace in afghanistan, it s increasingly becoming difficult. but then americans never really learn do they?

  • jayc says:

    This was the same Khalid Khawaja who showed up on this very website around a month ago, railing about American intervention in Muslim affairs. Now we hear he has been murdered by his own kind, even having been accused by his enemies of being an “American spy.” Is this ironic?
    I’m sure that this has infuriated many mujahideen and with great certaintly I feel that some “nails will be driven.” Which way they are driven remains to be seen. Don’t leave your seat gentlemen, this is getting interesting.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Reminds me of the old fable whose punchline was something like “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

  • andy says:

    terrorists murdering terrorists, does it get any better? Every ISI agent killed is one less enemy for the USA.

  • Spooky says:

    Not surprised at all. Knowing that the Taliban have a beef with the ISI (or a powerful faction of it) for being sell outs, I believed the two were kidnapped far more easily than I could believe they were going through some convoluted plan to PRETEND they were kidnapped.
    Colonel Imam will be the bigger fish to fry. Khaweja was just the appetizer.
    Makes me wonder if this is just a message to the ISI as a vengeance payment or if this is something more. Ah well…

  • V Chiu says:

    Might be the scorpion and the frog you’re thinking of. Scorpion asks a frog for a ride across a pond, halfway across the frog gets stung, when asked why? since, they’re both going to die now, the scorpion replies “Its in my nature”

  • Guptan Veemboor says:

    Two more are still in their hands. What will be their fate? Is this killing to press their ( the abductors’) demands?

  • kp says:

    Dawn said: “He had been shot in the head and chest …”

    Isn’t that an odd execution mode for the jihadis for a “spy” (as the note said). They do prefer beheading for that. This seems rather less grisly than your usual fanatical killing. said: “We will send a list of other Mujahideen we want to free within few days”.

    It also seems curious that the “Asian Tigers” haven’t quite got their act together enough to have a full list of their people they want released (they just increased the ransom). Was the video rushed? Or are they unsure of who they want to add? Do they need to talk to others about this?

    This all seems very odd.

  • Pashtun Yar says:

    Khwaja has a lot of Pashtun blood on his hand. I am happy that one less munafiq(hypocrate) wanting to establish Islamic Khilafa(Emirates) in the entire world with American money, weapons, Chinese nuclear bombs & Pakistani Army God.
    His killing is justified because he was playing typical munfaiq(hypocrate) Pakistani mentality by convincing Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rahman that 14 Taliban commanders(Punjabi Taliban) were getting financial assistance from the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Omar(Taliban Spokeman) even mentioned names of militant commanders identified as Indian agents by Khwaja and said among them were Qari Zafar, Rana Afzal, Ustad Abdul Samad, Qari Ehsan, Qari Basit, Ustad Aslam, Yasin, Qari Assadullah, Qari Imran, Qari Hamza, Ustad Khalid, Abu Huzaifa, Matiur Rahman and Qari Hussain Ahmad Mehsud. The last-named is considered to be the master trainer of suicide bombers.
    Omar narrated a long list of allegations against Khwaja. He said one of the main causes of his death was his support to the Afghan Taliban and strong opposition to the Pakistani Taliban. “He would call us terrorists and refer to the Afghan Taliban as Mujahideen,”

  • Render says:

    JayC: Do you think you could find the comment thread in question? It may offer us some clues.

  • Guptan Veemboor says:

    This ‘Asian Tigers’ cannot be the usual run-of-the-mill type of Madrassa bred Taliban with Koran in one hand and gun in the other. The name itself is quite different from others. And curiously it has been given a wider area representation-Asia. Could it be the creation of a counterinsurgency outfit. It has been guessed that it could be split group of Taliban. On the contrary it could be a move to create suspicion among Taliban and maneuver a split.

  • BraddS says:

    Here’s m y $0.50 psychoanalysis, perhaps someone with more experience in the field can back me up (or not). The loose group of “leaders” in this AFPAK drama are probably narcissistic sociopaths to some degree or another, which means that they are incapable of caring about another human being unless they see that human being as an extension of their own personality (i.e., their own spouses or children). They don’t have friends the way you or I do, they have relationships of convenience with other like-minded sociopaths. That would explain why they are able to persuade young jihadi-martyr crazed young men to blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces while they themselves stay safely hidden behind the lines, all the while not seeming to care that muslim women and children bear the brunt of the attacks (involuntary martyrs). It would also seem to explain why they can turn on each other on a dime, like seems to have happend in this case. They are most likely reading at the 8th grade level and capable of math at the 3rd grade level, but Zeissa is absolutely correct when she says that they are not imbeciles, retards or morons. It’s fun to call them names, but her assertion that they are capable, dangerous, and must be eliminated is spot on.

  • T Ruth says:

    This is AQ vs the Pakistani State. The Pak Establishment views life as good and bad Taliban. AQ sees life as good Taliban and ugly ISI.
    From where we look at it, none of it is good. But AQ/T is the adversary, while the ISI is a despicable “ally”.
    While hypocricies are being bared open here, I would call the US-Pak alliance the ultimate hypocrisy. The ISI IS the Pak Establishment and the Pak Army is ugly. The US gets tainted with its alliance so there is really no actually good player left in this very strange AfPak war.
    In many ways, the US is still fighting the wrong war. Guess we’ll have to wait for yet another US President to figure that one out. One who will have the courage to decline the hypocritical Nobel Peace Prize.
    The only good thing here is that Pak’s double-std of defining mujahideen and terrorists is back-firing. Whats sauce for the Afghan goose is sauce for the Pakistani gander. So the strategic depth that the Pakistani gander is looking for in the Afghan goose is actually just going to be a hole in the ground, just like the one you’re digging now for Khwaja.
    PS Pashtun, thanks for your report. I am as happy as you about this event and as unhappy as you about the big picture.

  • un autre says:

    This “Asian Tigers” carries no real link in the imagery or terminology with your ordinary Taliban emir, neither with Al Qaida.
    Are we witnessing one of the first clear Indian moves? Aware that the US are going to leave Afgh, India, Russia and China are anxious not to be left with the huge mess anyone can predict.
    It seems to me the time is right for them to change the rules, and convince whoever they can amongst the Taliban, to cut ties with Pakistan

  • Spooky says:

    I’ve been wondering the same thing, though I won’t put serious stock into the theory until we can attribute more incidents to this outfit to get a pattern. That said, I think I might have to modify my previous post on this, even though it still may be just as likely now as then, to reflect my ambivalence. In short, I now think either the Taliban got tired of the guy and executed him as a warning to their former handlers or we have ourselves a vigilante group that has proven far more effective than the official vigilante groups (aka Lashkars).
    Un autre-
    Also an interesting view. That said, one would think that if the Indians put any internal pressure at all, it would be on Balochistan (seeing as the Pakistanis already accuse them of such without evidence, no eyes would be batted among the general public).

  • jayc says:

    It took me awhile, but here you go! Enjoy. Regards, Jayc
    US kills 8 terrorists in 2 new airstrikes in North Waziristan
    By Bill RoggioMarch 17, 2010 12:27 AM
    Posted by Khalid Khawaja at March 17, 2010 7:33 PM ET:
    It seems that almost all the comments are given by the people who are only blood thirsty. what right do your aggressor forces have to kill people in our lands. you have killed hundreds and thousands of our people and you are still losing the war. In fact your terrorist governments have provided justification to all the terrorists of the world to kill the innocent people, If you wished to retaliate for sept.11 and kill thousands of Iraquies Afghanies and Pakistanies although none of them had nothing to do with those attacks. We do have also the followers of Bush and Obama who also wish to retaliate and take revenge and mind it we are over 1600 million people and we are right in your blood. even if you throw a nuke you can not win you have to kill all of you to finish us as you have seen you kill 100 and you have 1000 more. the real danger is noy in Waziristan or Afghanistan but your own people who are educated and are realizing that

  • Bill Roggio says:

    JAYC, Render, I can say that it was indeed Khawaja in the comments. The email is valid & I have been in communications with him in the past. I will say that I will “miss” his email blasts, they were quite entertaining, as far as entertainment goes in this business.

  • kp says:

    Of course the Asian Tigers has more resonance to the Tamil Tigers than to any (other?) Islamic group. Anyone care to do a linguistic analysis of this? Are there any other parallels? The one that comes to mind is “Lion of the Panjshir”, Ahmad Shah Massoud killed on 9/10/2001 but that was apparently a play on words in Persian (Shir-e-Panjshir). And though a Muslim was clealy anti-Taliban. The Islamist generally dislike iconic imagery (idolatry) and favor Koranic imagery.

    The problem with the “The Asian Tigers == the Indians” (where have we heard that before? Could be Mossad or the CIA?) is they also captured a British TV journalist. That would be awkward for a . If so they could have released him as an act of good will first but now they’re asking for $10 million for him. And if it doesn’t turn up and they kill him I think that rather goes against the Indian Intelligence hypothesis.

    A rather better hypothesis is the Asian Tigers are really Harkat ul Jihadul Islami (HUJI) or 313 Brigade of the HuJI lead by Commander Ilyas Kashmiri.

    Though Wikipedia has (a cited reference) of a split and forming the 313 Brigade (perhaps that group is using the name Asian Tigers?). Note the 313 Brigade of HuJI is strongly anti-ISI and this list of attacks are strongly targeted against the Pakistani president, government, army and ISI. They don’t blow up random civilians so far but they seem like they want to after the Pune attack earlier this year and threats to the Commonwealth games. It is also interesting that HuJI, and any offshots one would expect) have a different outlook (Pan-Islamic with less religious fundamentalism) than the Taliban. It’s easy to lump all these groups together but they do have significant differences.

    It’s also interesting to note that Khawaja had a lot of interaction with Kashmiri militants is his role with the ISI. This may be personal payback perhaps?

    Looking at all the interconnections here it reads like a spy novel.

  • steve m. says:

    wow, i remember reading that comment from Khawaja. I would love to read some of the emails that Bill mentioned. this story just baffles me and makes my imagination run wild.

  • jayc says:

    Appreciate the quick response. I read all the comments on your articles and didn’t think I read that wrong.
    What do you think about Mr. Shahzad of the Asia Times analysis of Mr. Khawaja’s demise? He is generally spot on in his reporting, and I think the newspaper is in the forefront on their objective reporting. He seems to piece together a most plausible explanation of this intriguing affair (A); that the Taliban got wise to a double crossing double agent. If the Taliban spokesman (Mr. Umar) is to be believed, Mr. Khawaja was caught in a web of deceit, chicanery and lies. Apparently, the “boys” decided to rub him out in much the same way that the La Cosa Nostra takes care of traitors.
    By the way, sorry about your pal (wink, wink)
    (A) Apr 28, 2010 Asia Times
    Showdown looms in North Waziristan
    By Syed Saleem Shahzad

  • Zeissa says:

    This was the same Khalid Khawaja who showed up on this very website around a month ago, railing about American intervention in Muslim affairs. Now we hear he has been murdered by his own kind, even having been accused by his enemies of being an “American spy.” Is this ironic?
    I’m sure that this has infuriated many mujahideen and with great certaintly I feel that some “nails will be driven.” Which way they are driven remains to be seen. Don’t leave your seat gentlemen, this is getting interesting.
    — Really? Wow. That’s hilarious.

  • Raven says:

    An Indian Embassy official, this lady visited the border areas recently, was arrested for passing on some information to someone in Pakistan. Wonder if there is any connection…
    From a broader perspective, realignment of strategies seems to be taking place. The other player here is Iran. With Pakistan being, partly, a proxy to Saudi’s, Iran must have there own plans too.

  • hillbilly says:

    It could be a ploy by CIA/Blackwater to push pakistan into North Waziristan offensive…just saying, since everyone is stretching his imagination why not stretch it a little further.

  • Render says:

    Thank you JayC, good recall, better digging. Nice job.
    Thank you Bill, confirmation, but more importantly for providing the very best in Long War reporting.

  • Neo says:

    The conjecture here is getting too far a field.
    There are several things we need to keep in mind. The Taliban doesn’t operate under a single unified command. They are an organization unified by ideology and purpose, but have a command structure that is very loosely woven together. The unit structure loosely follows the cell structure widely used by leftist insurgencies in the 20th century. The command structure within that is mock-feudal, with the leadership getting titled positions. These leadership positions are not strictly functional positions as they would be in a western army. It’s closer to receiving a lordship and certain rights and responsibilities associated with your position, as well as the soldiers attached to your command. These leaders meet occasionally (or send proxies) to agree on strategy. The title supposedly makes you a social equal to those sharing that level of title, although there are greater and lesser among equals.
    This structure works as long as there is a unified purpose. Once there is significant disagreement among leadership factions, the loose structure can quickly become a major liability. If some among the leadership agree to make a deal with the Pakistani government, others will drive a harder line. Taking a pragmatic stand can put your reputation in jeopardy. Being viewed as a sellout or a two-faced hypocrite can get you killed.
    It’s hard to tell whether this incident was an agreed on act, or if it was purely the action of one faction within the Taliban. The Pakistani government cannot return to their old relationship with these groups, even if it wants to. The Taliban has long since gone wild, and getting all factions to agree on any sort of cease fire will be exceedingly difficult.

  • kp says:

    One comments i’ve seen about killing Khawaja suggest that they did it a day early before the deadline for the exchange expired. I guess they decided they weren’t giving him back.

    There is also an interesting argument in this article that one of the demands involved getting Khawaja lawyer to drop Khwaja’s petition to the Lahore High Court (LHC) for the capture Taliban leaders.

    Following the March 26 abduction of Khalid Khwaja and his two companions, one of the major demands put forth by the Punjabi Taliban was an immediate withdrawal of Khwaja’s petition from the LHC. Subsequently, on April 26, hardly 72 hours before his execution, Khawaja’s lawyer had filed a fresh application in the LHC, seeking withdrawal of all the pending cases in the court against the possible extradition of 10 arrested Afghan Taliban to the United States, but without mentioning any reason.

    Later, appearing in the chamber of Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif, Khawaja’s lawyer Tariq Asad sought adjournment of the hearing on the application till May 4, saying he is waiting for final ‘instructions’ from the petitioner for withdrawal of the cases. He reportedly told the CJ that Kawaja was in the custody of Taliban for the last one-month and they are asking for withdrawing the cases. The chief justice subsequently postponed the case hearing till May 4. The Asian Tigers had actually fixed Saturday (May 1) as the final deadline for the government to fulfil their demands but decided to execute Khwaja 24 hours before the expiry of the time limit due to unknown reasons.

    Explaining their decision to execute Khawaja, Muhammad Omar, the spokesman for the Punjabi Taliban, has said that all major militant organisations operating in the Waziristan region unanimously agreed to punish him and everybody wanted him to be executed as he had confessed to all the charges levelled against him.

    This seems like a very odd move.

  • Render says:

    Neo, you have a very valid point regarding the enemies internal structure, several valid points actually.
    I’ve been using the Mafia as a loose analogy for quite a while now, although sometimes I think that US prison gangs might work better. But either analogy really only works for the Talib 
    There are at least two, possibly more, equals who are far more equal then all the others. The Black Guard belongs to them. If they really are unhappy about KK sleeping with the fishes then the Asian Tigers, whoever they might be, won’t last long in FATAland.
    I’d like to lean toward this being a factional deal, but the longer it drags out the more I suspect it might be a little of both (factional turned intentional after the fact or vice versa).
     and Neo I really wish you’d comment more around here.

  • Bing says:

    I’m beginning to feel that its only the taliban’s common goal of fighting the US that’s keeping them from not fighting each other, but just barely.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram