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    South Asia
     May 30, 2009
Taliban keep grip on kidnapped Canadian
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - For Pakistan, there are still two kinds of Taliban - the good and the bad. Hafiz Gul Bahadur of the North Waziristan tribal area is reckoned as good Taliban.

He is Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's rival and has signed a ceasefire agreement with the Pakistani security forces. Being a member of the Shura of Mujahideen, he only fights against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

However, his involvement in the abduction late last year in Bunna, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), of Canadian journalist Beverly Giesbrecht, who converted to Islam and who is now known as Khadija Abdul Qahhar, exposes the problems of dealing even with "good" Taliban, and the mess they can cause because

 

of their connections with Pakistan.

People involved in the backroom negotiations for the release of Khadija, 52, say that she suffered heart problems this week and that her condition is serious. She has a history of heart problems. But the militants holding her will not release her as there is still haggling over the amount of ransom to be paid.

"We had set up all the measures for her release," former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official, retired Squadron leader Khalid Khawaja, told Asia Times Online on Friday. He has been involved in the negotiations for the release of Khadija and her translator Suleman, 18.

"Maulana Fazlur Rahman [the chief of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam party, a coalition partner in the federal government] was involved on behalf of the Canadian government. Initially, the militants did not want to release her, saying she was an American proxy.

"But after Fazlur's involvement, they agreed to let her go for a sum of 60 million rupees [US$740,000]. The deal was finalized and the Canadian government had arranged the money. Then [a few weeks ago] another development took place and everything was spoiled," said Khawaja.

"Everything was being routed through the political agent in North Waziristan [the representative of the federal government]. He demanded that he receive 50% of the payment. According to him, a portion of the money had to go to Governor's House in Peshawar [capital of NWFP], which would then pass on a share to the President's Office in Islamabad.

"This demand [which meant the Canadians would have to pay an additional 30 million rupees] needed new approvals in the Canadian system, and the Canadians lost interest," said Khawaja.

In April 2002 - the month she converted to Islam - Khadija launched Jihad Unspun, an aggregation Internet site for news and opinions related to the Middle East and the "war on terror". It was considered strongly anti-American.

"Now we are getting information that Khadija has had a heart attack, but the militants are not ready to release her. Our strongest link to the militants was Shah Abdul Aziz [a former member of parliament on whose advice Khadija had fatefully traveled to Bunna]. But he was apprehended by the security agencies on Wednesday, and now our only option is to appeal to the militants through the press," Khawaja said.

Asia Times Online tried to reach two spokesmen at the President's Office - Farhatullah Babar and Farhanaz Ispahani - but neither responded.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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