Thursday 8 April 2010

British journalist disappears in Waziristan

British journalist Asad Qureshi has disappeared in North Waziristan while attempting to make a film about the area, according to reports from Pakistan today.
The reports say that Qureshi was in the company of two former ISI officers - Colonel Imam (real name Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar) and Khalid Khwaja. Some reports say that another UK passport holder was also with the group. On 25 March they stayed at the house of Javed Ibrahim Paracha in Kohat on the border of the tribal territory: "Both had British passports," Paracha said. Paracha, a former member of the Pakistan National Assembly, now acts as a go-between for radical Islamists.
During their journey they reportedly held a meeting with a senior TTP commander, thought to be Waliur Rahman, and interviewed him for the TV documentary they were making.
After their interview, the sources said, a clean-shaved person who was already with them, came to Colonel Imam and his colleagues and took them to a nearby house. “After this I don’t know what happened to them,” said a tribal elder based in Mirali.
Colonel Imam is US-trained and spent 20 years running insurgents in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet jihad. He is known to be sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban and is said to have helped them stage a comeback in recent years. You can find a good backgrounder on him here.
Some accounts say that Waliur Rahman was suspicious of the group. Javed Ibrahim Paracha told The News that Rahman was suspicious about Khalid Khwaja’s activities and complained a US drone attacked his secret location near Miramshah when Khwaja left the area two months ago.
Khalid Khwaja is an interesting person. He was the lawyer whose petition to the Lahore High Court in February prevented the extradition of Mullah Omar's captured deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar and four other senior Taliban leaders, to Kabul. It is worth reading his petition, published on the Long War Journal website.
It was also announced today that Greek national Athanassios Lerounis, who was was abducted eight months ago while based in the Kalash Valley in the northern district of Chitral, where he worked as the curator of a heritage museum, has been released.
Lerounis was taken across the border to the Afghan province of Nuristan where his captors demanded the release of militants held by Pakistan in exchange for his freedom.
"He has been released by the successful efforts of Pakistani security agencies," Rahmatullah Wazir, the top administrative official in Chitral, told the BBC.
At one point members of the Kalash community threatened to leave Pakistan en masse if Lerounis was not returned unharmed. He had lived in the Kalash Valley for many years while pursuing his interest in an ancient "lost tribe" of Greeks when he was kidnapped by armed men on 7 September 2009. During the kidnap a local man was shot dead.

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