Curious developments in the case of British journalist Asad Qureshi and the two former ISI officers, all of whom disappeared recently in Waziristan (see below) while on their way to film Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Waliur Rahman.
Yesterday Geo TV received a video that claims all three men have been kidnapped by a group that calls itself the 'Asian Tigers'. Besides the video, Geo TV also received an email demanding the release of several senior Afghan Taliban leaders, at least two of whom were recently arrested by Pakistani security forces. They included Mullah Barodar, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah and Maulavi Abdul Kabir.
The Asian Tigers' email (written in English) says: “Khalid Khwaja and Col Imam in Taliban custody. Both ISI persons are enemy of Islam and Muslims. We demand released all Taliban leaders, Mullah Brother (Baradar), Mullah Mansoor Dadullah and Mullah Kabir. We will send list of other mujahideen within a few days. Ten days time, if government not released mujahideen, then we will kill ISI officers or other decision.”
They have also asked for a $10 million ransom for Qureshi, although this is not mentioned in the email.
The video shows Colonel Imam (real name Sultan Amir Tarar) and Squadron Leader (retd) Khalid Khwaja making statements. Col Imam can be heard saying that his real name is Sultan Amir Tarar and that he served in the Pakistan Army for 18 years, 11 of them in the ISI.
“I had consulted with Gen Aslam Beg (former army chief) about coming here,” Col Imam says.
Khalid Khwaja says he served in the Pakistan Air Force for 18 years and in the ISI for two years. “I came here on the prodding of Gen Hameed Gul, Gen Aslam Beg and ISI’s Col Sajjad,” Khwaja says.
Clearly something is not right here. First, the name Asian Tigers is a joke. No jihadi organisation would give themselves a name that sounds more like a Los Angeles street gang.
Second, there is a lot of tension between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban so it is unlikely that the former would approve of a kidnap operation in Pakistan aimed at freeing its leaders, particularly if it was to be carried out by the TTP on its behalf.
Third, Col Imam practically gave birth to the Taliban and he knows all of its leaders personally. The Afghan Taliban would not kill him and it is unlikely that TTP leader Waliur Rahman would be foolish enough to do so. Khwaja was responsible for initiating the court action that prevented Mullah Barodar from being extradited to Afghanistan several weeks ago.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is something else. In fact it stinks of the ISI, particularly the die-hard faction that continues to support the TTP. The fact that the names of former Generals Hameed Gul and Aslam Beg have been mentioned only strengthen this conviction. Both men are long-term supporters of violent jihad and both have shown support for al-Qaeda in the past. Perhaps they fear that Pakistan will hand over its Afghan Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan? Either way, it is likely that Col Imam and Khwaja are willing accomplices and that Asad Qureshi is possibly the only victim in this mess.