Former Pakistan Army Officer behind Khawaja’s murder
May 3, 2010
By Amir Mir
LAHORE: The Pakistani authorities, investigating the March 25 abduction and subsequent assassination of the former ISI official Khalid Khawaja believe that the killers, “Asian Tigers”, which had demanded $10 million and release of a senior commander of the Afghan Taliban Mullah, was actually a cover for Harkatul Jihadul Islami (HUJI), led by Commander Ilyas Kashmiri.
According to well-informed sources in the Pakistani security establishment, Ilyas Kashmiri is currently based in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan from where the body of Squadron Leader (R) Khalid Khawaja was recovered on April 30, almost a month after his abduction along with another retired ISI official Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar, commonly known as Colonel Imam and a British journalist of Pakistani origin, Asad Qureshi.
The kidnapped former ISI officials had stated in a video dispatched by the kidnappers and released by the Geo TV that they had travelled to Waziristan after being asked by the former Army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and a former ISI Chief Lt Gen Hameed Gul. Khawaja and Imam had travelled to North Waziristan to assist the British journalist, who wanted to interview some Taliban commanders for a documentary.
The three, who were last seen in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, were in touch with one Usman Punjabi before they went missing. And the authorities probing the abduction for the last one-month believe Usman was actually a mole of Kashmiri to hook Khawaja and Imam.
An email sent, along with a video footage of the abducted persons, had demanded an immediate release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second in command of the fugitive Taliban commander, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who was arrested by the Pakistani authorities in February 2010, almost a week after the holding of the US-sponsored London conference on Afghanistan.
The mail sent by the Asian Tigers had further demanded a $10 million ransom for journalist Asad Qureshi. In the video clip, Colonel (R) Imam is heard saying that his real name is Sultan Amir, and he served in the Pakistan Army for 18 years, 11 of them in the Inter Services Intelligence. “I had consulted with Gen Aslam Beg (former army chief) about coming here,” Col Imam said. In the same video, Khalid Khawaja had said that he had served in the Pakistan Air Force for 18 years and in the ISI for two years. “I came here on the prodding of Lt Gen Hameed Gul, General Aslam Beg and ISI’s Colonel Sajjad,” Both Imam and Khawaja were shown in the video, holding a copy of a Peshawar-based newspaper while recording their statement before the camera. In the video, the group called itself “Asian Tigers” and said the hostages would be killed if its demands were not met within 10 days.
The email, which was originally in Urdu (language) and sent by the Asian Tigers stated while charge sheeting the former ISI officials: “Khalid Kahawaja and Colonel Imam are in the Taliban custody. Both ISI persons are the enemy of Islam and Muslims. We demand release of all Taliban leaders, Mullah Baradar, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah and Mullah Kabir. We will send the list of other mujahideen within a few days. We give ten days time. If the government failed to release mujahideen, we will kill ISI officers.”
Clearly under duress, Khalid Khawaja then confessed in the same video being a double agent of the ISI and the CIA besides accepting his guilt for luring the Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz to escape from the besieged mosque premises wearing a woman’s veil and then getting him arrested.
“I am known among the media and masses as a thoroughbred gentleman, but in fact, I was an ISI and CIA mole … I am remembering the burnt bodies of the innocent boys and girls of Lal Masjid … I called Maulana Abdul Aziz and forced him to come out of the mosque wearing a woman’s veil and gown, and that’s how I got him arrested,” Khawaja had stated in the video clip.
Those investigating the murder believe the abduction of the former ISI officials also has something to do with the rift among the various pro-Kashmir jihadi groups currently operating from the Pakistani soil. They cited Khawaja’s remarks in the video that certain jihadi commanders such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, Maulana Masood Azhar and Abdullah Shah Mazhar and jihadi groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al Badr are still operating as ISI proxies and allowed to collect funds in Pakistan. As a matter of fact, while the leaders of the three mainstream pro-Kashmir jihadi groups—JeM, LeT and HuM—are still allowed to move freely across Pakistan despite being proscribed by the Pakistan Government, Ilyas Kashmiri has already been declared by the Pakistani authorities as one of the most wanted fugitive commanders.
While the Pakistan chapter of the Harkatul Jihadul Islami is led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, its Azad Kashmir chapter is autonomous and headed by Ilyas Kashmiri, a veteran of the Kashmir jihad, who has spent several years in an Indian jail. In the recent months, Ilyas Kashmiri has also been described as chief of al-Qaeda’s shadow army—Lashkar-e-Zil, a loose alliance of al-Qaeda-and Taliban-linked anti-US militia which has distinguished itself by conducting unusual guerrilla operations, like the one that targeted the CIA’s Forward Operating Base in Khost on December 31, 2009, killing seven CIA officials. He has reportedly conducted several major military actions in India, including the 1994 Al-Hadid operation in New Delhi, to get some of his jihadi comrades released. His second-in-command at that time was believed to be Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed, who has already been convicted for the 2001 abduction and subsequent beheading of an American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Kashmiri was arrested by the Pakistani authorities after the December 2003 twin suicide attacks on General Musharraf’s presidential cavalcade in Rawalpindi, but released two weeks later due to a lack of evidence pertaining to his involvement. Kashmiri consequently shifted his base from Kotli in Azad Kashmir to the North Waziristan region on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt and joined hands with the then Ameer of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud.
Temporarily switching from the jihad in Jammu Kashmir to the Taliban-led resistance against NATO forces in Afghanistan, Kashmiri established a training camp in the Razmak area of North Waziristan and shifted most of his warriors from HUJI’s Kotli military training camp in Azad Kashmir. Since then, he has established himself as the chief of al-Qaeda’s shadow army – Lashkar-e-Zil. But lately, even the Pakistani security agencies suspect his involvement in the recent wave of suicide bombings in Azad Kashmir, targeting the armed forces.
A source, sympathetic to Kashmiri militant leaders, rejected the involvement of Ilyas Kashmiri or any other leader of Kashmiri militants in the killing of Khalid Khawaja. He said it is mere propaganda by the agencies to defame those who were struggle for freedom. He said the militant leaders never indulged in acts of kidnappings and killings.
He said such crimes are committed by criminals and vested interests point the finger at militant leaders to achieve their nefarious designs.