Militants write their answer in blood
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - When villagers of Karamkot near the town of Mir Ali in Pakistan's
North Waziristan tribal area on Friday came across a bullet-riddled body they
thought at first it was just another little-known person killed by militants on
suspicion of being a traitor, as often happens in the area.
The tag attached to the body told another story: it was retired squadron leader
Khalid Khawaja, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official and a close
friend of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during the resistance in Afghanistan
against the Soviets in the 1980s.
He had been on a mission to mend ties between the Islamic forces of the country
and the military establishment in an attempt to stave off a grand regional
AfPak battle, the highlight of which
would be the upcoming offensive in North Waziristan.
Pakistan's showdown with militants and al-Qaeda now seems inevitable.
On March 25, Khawaja traveled to North Waziristan to interview Sirajuddin
Haqqani and Waliur Rahman Mehsud, leading militants. He was accompanied by
journalist Asad Qureshi and Colonel Ameer Sultan Tarrar, also a former
long-time ISI official and once Pakistan's consul-general in Herat in
Afghanistan. Tarrar is nicknamed "Colonel Imam" by the mujahideen as he was
instrumental in helping raise the Taliban militia.
Punjabi militants calling themselves the "Asian Tigers" claimed responsibility
for the abductions. This month, Asia Times Online received several video clips
of Khawaja speaking. (See
Confessions of a Pakistani spy Asia Times Online, April 24, 2010.)
Pakistan's toothless administration in North Waziristan sent a tribal jirga
(council) with white flags to Karamkot to recover Khalid's body and took it to
the capital, Islamabad, where he was buried on Sunday. He was in his early 60s.
Pakistan has already moved 100,000 troops from the eastern border (near India)
to the western borders in the tribal areas near Afghanistan and is reported to
be waiting for the transmission of US$600 million in support funds from
coalition countries fighting in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the chief of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, arrived
in Islamabad to meet with Pakistan's top brass to discuss plans for the
operation in North Waziristan, home of the biggest Taliban-led group, the
Haqqani network, as well as a headquarters of al-Qaeda. The operation is seen
to be directly linked with the fate of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's
(NATO) upcoming battle in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. NATO is
particularly concerned that its vital supply lines through Pakistan are
For their part, the militants aim to spread the military as thin as possible,
and terror operations have been revived in Peshawar and the Swat Valley. There
was also a low-intensity bomb attack in Lahore on Saturday night. The Indian
capital, New Delhi, has been placed on high security alert on fears of an
Failed peace efforts
In January 2009, a lobby approached Baitullah Mehsud, the then-leader of the
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban - TTP), and urged him to write a
letter to army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and seek a peace deal. The
letter was to be delivered by a former parliamentarian, Shah Abdul Aziz, but
before anything could happen Aziz was arrested and Mehsud was killed in a US
Another initiative began in March, as explained by Pakistan's former chief of
army staff, General Aslam Beg, at Khawaja's funeral service.
"Khalid Khawaja approached me in the first week of March before he went to
North Waziristan. When he came back from North Waziristan he brought good
information about the ground situation. He assured me that all top leaders of
the militants agreed on peace with Pakistan and he told me that now the ball
was in Pakistan's court. However, nobody from the state machinery would meet
with Khalid Khawaja. However, he was optimistic that his efforts would bear
fruit and peace would prevail, but unfortunately he was killed when he visited
the area a second time," Beg said.
Khawaja's murder would indicate that al-Qaeda is pulling the strings in North
Waziristan. Other key groups had tried to get the so-called Asian Tigers to
release Khawaja, Colonel Imam and Qureshi.
The Afghan Taliban, including those led by Mullah Omar from southwestern
Afghanistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani (an Afghan Taliban based in North Waziristan)
and the chief of the Taliban in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur (a
Pakistan), all called for the release of the men.
However, the captors, militants who moved from South Waziristan after military
operations there, would not budge. They have taken control of the town of Mir
Ali and are closely allied with al-Qaeda and do not listen to the Afghan
Taliban. The Afghan Taliban never believed Colonel Imam or Khawaja worked for
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but the al-Qaeda-linked militants
"Ahmad Shah Massoud [leader of the Northern Alliance assassinated by al-Qaeda
in 2001] was also a practicing Muslim. He was also an old mujahid, but when he
joined hands with the CIA, his murder was justified," Usman Punjabi, a militant
spokesman from North Waziristan, told Asia Times Online by telephone the day
before Khawaja's murder.
Many media outlets have accused Pakistani Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade of being
behind the murder. The brigade is an operational arm of al-Qaeda. However,
Usman worked with Kashmiri a long time ago before he formed his own group.
Mullah Omar sent a delegation to North Waziristan to seek the unconditional
release of Colonel Imam, known as the father of the Taliban as he trained many
top leaders of the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the
1980s, including Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and even Mullah Omar. Usman had
told Asia Times Online that he would let Colonel Imam go anyway as he was not
involved in anything. The fate of Qureshi is in the balance.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org