It is hard not to be shocked by the video issued today showing Colonel Imam being executed by a masked killer on the orders of Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mahsud, who is standing just 10 feet away when the shots are fired. The boy who killed him with a pistol was barely even born when Col. Imam played a pivotal role in bringing the Afghan Taliban to power. Based in Quetta as a military trainer, he put many young Afghans through their paces as he taught them guerrilla warfare tactics that he, in turn, had learned in the United States, where he had received special forces training.
It was in Quetta that he had first befriended Mullah Omar and other future leaders of what was to become a local anti-Soviet militia around Kandahar, before developing, with extensive Pakistani help, into the Taliban movement. It was Colonel Imam who spotted the potential for the movement and convinced his superiors to back them with money, equipment and even Pakistani regular soldiers dressed as Afghans. He was with them throughout their advance on Kabul and even as they made their bloody entry into Mazar-e-Sharif.
Senior members of the Afghan Taliban are known to hold Col Imam in high regard and during his long captivity they made numerous attempts to get him released. At first, when he was being held as a captive of a group that called itself the Asian Tigers - in reality, a group of criminals and fanatics from Lashkar-e Jhangvi that went under the name of the Punjabi Taliban - these appeals fell on deaf ears.
But when this group fell out with each other, having already killed one hostage and received a ransom for another, it was Hakimullah Mahsud's Tehreek-e-Taliban that stepped in, killing the leader of the gang of kidnappers and then entering into negotiations with Col Imam's family for his release. It looked as if the Colonel would be freed. For reasons we don't yet know, that proved not to be the case.
On 23 January it was reported that Col Imam had died of a 'heart attack', while being held by the TTP. We now know that story was not true. I have not yet seen or heard a translation of what Hakimullah Mahsud said before he ordered Col Imam's killing and it probably doesn't really matter. The question now is what is likely to be the fallout from this dreadful fratricide?
In short, this is probably the worst mistake that Hakimullah has ever made. He has, at a stroke, made enemies of the Afghan Taliban, the Waziris in South Waziristan - who had already made it clear they were opposed to Col Imam's kidnap and who have pledged to revenge his death - and the Pakistan Army and ISI. He will never be forgiven for killing a man who is regarded as a national hero by many in Pakistan.
When a devout moslem and war hero like Col Imam can be killed on the whim of a bloodthirsty local tyrant like Hakimullah, it is clear that the movement he leads is heading for oblivion.