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.
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.