Taliban demand prisoner exchange for two ex-ISI officers

The Pakistani Taliban are demanding the government release two top Afghan Taliban commanders in exchange for two former ISI officers who are known supporters of jihadist groups.

The Taliban released a videotape today of former Inter-Services Intelligence officers Colonel Imam and Khalid Khawaja, both of whom went missing along with two journalists while visiting the town of Miramshah in North Waziristan last month. In early April it was reported that Imam, Khawaja, and the two journalists had disappeared while trying to link up with top Taliban leaders, including top South Waziristan commander Waliur Rehman Mehsud.

In the tape, Imam and Khawaja both stated they were directed to visit the Taliban by two top former ISI officers, former Chief of of Army Staff General Aslam Beg and former Director General of the ISI Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, Dawn reported. According to the Dawn article, Khawaja also claimed in the tape that a serving ISI officer, Colonel Sajjad, had advised him to visit the Taliban. Both Beg and Gul have openly aided the Taliban in the past and present; the two men helped found the Taliban and have provided support for al Qaeda and various Pakistani jihadist groups.

The Taliban have threatened to kill Imam and Khawaja if the government does not release three top Afghan Taliban leaders, Mullah Baradar, Mullah Abdul Kabir and Mullah Mansur Dadullah Akhund.

Kabir led the Peshawar Regional Military Council, one of the Afghan Taliban’s top four regional commands, before he was captured by Pakistani intelligence in February 2010. He served as the Taliban’s former shadow governor of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, as well as the governor of Nangarhar during the Taliban’s reign.

Dadullah, who is also known as Mullah Bakht Mohammed, replaced his brother Mullah Dadullah Akhund as the top commander in southern Afghanistan during the summer of 2007. His status has been in doubt, but he was last reported to have been arrested by Pakistani security forces in January 2008.

A senior US intelligence official who closely follows the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border described the Taliban’s demand for an exchange of Imam and Khawaja for Kabir and Dadullah as “farce.”

“This bit of Taliban theater is a farce,” the official said. “Imam and Khawaja are supporters of the Taliban who are free to openly operate in Pakistan. They are untouchable despite their support of terrorists, the Taliban wouldn’t kill these assets. This is a ruse.”

The official also noted that the Pakistani Taliban are demanding the release of Afghan Taliban leaders. “This sort of thing happens often, yet many people still want to draw distinctions between the two groups,” the official said. “The reality is they [the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban] are intertwined.”

Background on Imam and Khawaja

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.”

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 blocking the transfer of Mullah Abdul Ghani 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.

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

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  • omar says:

    The revolution eating its own? or another trick?
    If its not a trick then its a very good sign that real cracks have appeared in the mullah-military alliance in Pakistan, which would seem to be a vindication for viceroy Anne Patterson and her team (who are frequently attacked as being chumps who are being fooled by the ISI, which takes American money and keeps its jihadis safe at the same time).
    I have no way of knowing what the inside story is on this, but I think that even if GHQ does not know it yet, the days of the mullah-military alliance are over. I suspect the bright lights in GHQ think they can still hold on to the “india-specific” jihadis, but I really think they will have to fight them too. Not because GHQ will come to its senses, but because the jihadis are so insane, they will leave them with no choice.

  • Tyler says:

    Oh no, whatever you do, don’t hurt Khalid Khawaja. That would just break my heart.
    I wonder whats for lunch today…

  • paul says:

    Didnt see this coming! LOL.
    I posted this would happened once they went missing and i am Joe Public not military intelligence!

  • Xavier says:

    Given Khalid Khawaja’s recent actions and words I am surprised that people are unwilling to consider that he might be a willing hostage.
    He probably surrendered himself so that he can help out Taliban.
    That is the only conclusion I can come to from his recent interviews/speeches.

  • Pashtun says:

    There are no sign that a rift is happening in Mulla-Military alliance. There is a serving S wing in ISI, then there is a group of around 180 to 300 retired ISI officers & Army generals. Togather these makes A team of military with its B team of Mullas. To know about B team you have to reach the A team. All this is playing well for Pak military establishment. They can kill Benazir Bhutto if she does not fall in line.

  • Guptan Veemboor says:

    Things are getting murkier. Or as Alice have put it aptly ‘curiouser and curiouser’. Who is writing the script for this “farce”? ISI? I thought there was confusion about who all of the Afghan Taliban were caught and who were all already released surreptitiously.

  • T Ruth says:

    FIGHTING ISLAMOFASCISM…ONE JOKE AT A TIME! is the title of an article on a report that says:
    “According to the study, the most important weapon Westerners have in the war against Islamofascism is not a smart bomb or predator drone, but rather a pair of rhetorical devices as old as time itself: Satire and ridicule.”
    The ISI clowns that are the subject of this LWJ article are providing us with the fodder to do just that.
    Read the article here
    Its worth a laugh!

  • Bing says:

    Now would be a good time for a reaper strike.

  • Indian says:

    It is true that these guys are Taliban supporters. Not only that their personal linkages with Mullah Omar would guarentee their safety from Afghan Taliban. It could be true that they are kidnapped by Pakistani Taliban but why would they ask fo Mullah Baradar? It is therefore logical that these two have been kidnapped by proxies of Afghan / US intelligence. Other giveaways..the viedo has no turbanned masked men holding guns to the hostages..there is no islamic slogan painted in the background…these are standard for Taliban videos.

  • Indian says:

    Also, what kind of idiot name is “Asian Tigers”, more suited for a chinese martial arts class than some Islamic Jihadis.

  • T Ruth says:

    Indian, would you have a link to the video?
    Thank you

  • kp says:

    If the US was involved with their disappearance there would be no video from them. That and I doubt the CIA would be interested in picking someone up who is an Pakistani operative on Pakistani territory: that would look bad when you had to reveal his location. In that case I could imagine him being killed rather than captured. But then there would be no video.

    The other possibility is that they’re just being held for ransom by a local group or another group that doesn’t want to show their hand.

  • replicasky says:

    Prisoner exchange? Seems we need to do more!


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