Thursday 22 April 2010

The chequered past of Khalid Khwaja

The family of Khalid Khwaja, the former Pakistan Air Force and ISI officer recently kidnapped in Waziristan, along with pro-Taliban Col. Imam and British documentary maker Asad Qureshi, now says that he has been captured by the Punjabi Taliban.
Despite earlier claims that the men were in Waziristan at the invitation of the leadership of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in order to make a film highlighting the 'atrocities' being committed by the Pakistan Army and US drones on the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khwaja's family now says that the man who called and made demands from the captors identified himself as Usman Punjabi.
Usman Punjabi was known to both Khwaja and Imam. Both men made a trip to FATA about a month ago and when their guide refused to accompany them on this second trip, citing security concerns, Usman Punjabi sent a guide for them.
Despite his devotion to the cause of jihad, Khwaja could now be in difficulties. On a previous trip to Waziristan Khwaja is said to have conveyed a list of Punjabi Taliban leaders who were hiding in Waziristan to former TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud on behalf of the ISI. The ISI wanted Mahsud to hand them over.
And then, on his trip a month ago, some militants believed that Khwaja had supplied information to the Pakistani authorities that led to a missile strike that nearly killed TTP leader Waliur Rahman.
While Col. Imam has a long record of mentoring Afghan Taliban leaders and training guerrillas who fought against the Soviets, Khwaja has a much more chequered past. A former pilot, he spent only two years in the ISI before he was dismissed from his post on the Afghan desk in 1987 after writing a letter to General Zia ul-Haq saying he was a hypocrite for not imposing Islamic law in Pakistan.
"I went to Afghanistan and fought side-by-side with the Afghan mujahideen against Soviet troops. There I developed a friendship with Dr Abdullah Azzam [a mentor of bin Laden], Osama bin Laden and Sheikh Abdul Majeed Zindani [another mentor of bin Laden's]. At the same time, I was still in touch with my former organization, the ISI, and its then director general, retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul", he told Asia Times Online in 2005.
Khwaja says that after Zia's death in 1988 he tried, along with Gul, to prevent Benazir Bhutto from coming to power. He claims that he provided millions of dollars from Osama bin Laden to Nawaz Sharif and that Sharif met bin Laden five times:
"The most historic was the meeting in the Green Palace Hotel in Medina between Nawaz Sharif, Osama and myself", Khwaja told Asia Times Online. "Osama asked Nawaz to devote himself to "jihad in Kashmir". Nawaz immediately said, "I love jihad." Osama smiled, and then stood up from his chair and went to a nearby pillar and said. "Yes, you may love jihad, but your love for jihad is this much." He then pointed to a small portion of the pillar. "Your love for children is this much," he said, pointing to a larger portion of the pillar. "And your love for your parents is this much," he continued, pointing towards the largest portion. "I agree that you love jihad, but this love is the smallest in proportion to your other affections in life."
These sorts of arguments were beyond Nawaz Sharif's comprehension and he kept asking me. "Manya key nai manya?" [Agreed or not?] He was looking for a Rs500 million [US$8.4 million at today's rate] grant from Osama. Though Osama gave a comparatively smaller amount, the landmark thing he secured for Nawaz Sharif was a meeting with the [Saudi] royal family, which gave Nawaz Sharif a lot of political support, and it remained till he was dislodged [as premier] by General Pervez Musharraf [in a coup in 1999]. Saudi Arabia arranged for his release and his safe exit to Saudi Arabia."
Khwaja says that in the late 1990s he acted as a go-between for the Americans and the Afghan Taliban as the former tried to arrange for bin Laden to be extradited from Afghanistan. However, some reports say that he also acted as a pilot for bin Laden, who he claims to have met "hundreds" of times.
After 9/11, Khwaja came to public notice again when he was arrested in connection with the disappearance of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Khwaja, who exchanged emails with Pearl, had close connections with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, the religious leader Pearl was trying to interview when he disappeared in Karachi early in 2002. He was released without charge.
Little was heard of Khwaja again until 2007, when he was arrested outside the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad and charged with distributing 'hate' (ie anti-Shia) material. His arrest and subsequent detention for six months under the Maintenance of Public Order 1960 Law may have been connected with his campaigning for the release of dozens of militants who had 'disappeared' into ISI custody. Khwaja was close to the extremists who ran the mosque and it is also here that another event may have occurred that upset the Punjabi Taliban.
Two days ago a caller saying he was from the Punjabi Taliban told The News that Khwaja and his wife had played a negative role during the Lal Masjid crisis and instigated the mosque's leader, Maulana Abdur Rasheed Ghazi, to confront the government. And it gets worse:
“It was Khalid Khwaja and his wife who forced Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi to wear burqa to escape before the military operation was launched on Lal Masjid,” he claimed. “The group may release Col Imam and journalist Assad, but may not set free Khalid Khwaja for his dubious role,” he explained."
Khwaja's wife, in response, told The News that the claims were false: “You know wife and children of Maulana Ghazi stayed for over a month with us in our home. We had heard this allegation before and then one of Abdul Aziz Ghazi’s sisters asked her brother about this burqa issue. Ghazi said nobody had advised him but it was his own decision to wear a burqa and escape,” she said.
Oh dear. Now, now boys.
Having apparently qualified as a lawyer and started his Defence of Human Rights organisation - which only defends people allegedly under attack from the West - Khwaja has now become very active in the courts as a litigant.
In December 2009 he filed a petition seeking an end to the President's immunity under the Constitution. A week later he filed a petition seeking access to the six American nationals arrested in Sargodha and attempting to prevent their extradition. He told the court the six men had arrived in the counry to wage 'jihad' and that this was not a crime under any law.
In February he filed another petition against the arrest of five Afghan Taliban leaders, saying they should not be deported and that they should be produced before a court.
He also filed a petition challenging US drone attacks on Pakistani territory and urging the government to produce a report on the agreement with America and Blackwater on the use of drones in Pakistan. He sought directions from the government to get an FIR registered against US President Barack Obama for authorising the drone attacks.
The fact that the Afghan Taliban were not involved in Khwaja's kidnap was confirmed yesterday when their official spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid told The News they had nothing to do with the 'Asian Tigers': “If this is really a true jihadi organisation why didn’t it come with its original name,” he said, adding that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was completely ignorant about the group and its whereabouts.
Another senior Afghan Taliban commander also expressed his surprise over the kidnaps. “If we have publicly announced our fight against the major world powers in Afghanistan, then why we would keep our names secret while demanding release of our two leaders?” he commented.
While Col Imam is highly respected amongst the Afghan Taliban and other jihadi leaders, Khwaja seems to have made enemies. Whether they and Asad Qureshi are in the hands of the Punjabi Taliban or one of the criminal gangs that infest FATA and overlap in many cases with the jihadis, is still not entirely clear, although this now appears to be very likely. If so, prospects for Khwaja at least are not very good.

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