Army-ISI nexus: moles within moles

By K.N. Pandita

Around the last week of March, Pakistani media channel 4 received a video recording asking it to pay US dollars 10 million by way of ransom for the release of its freelance documentary maker Asad Qureshi kidnapped on March 25 by Punjab militants calling themselves Asian Tigers. They also demanded simultaneous freedom for two Taliban commanders, Mulla Baradar and Masud Dadullah in exchange of two other persons they had kidnapped together with Qureshi namely, Khalil Khwaja and Colonel Amir Sultan Tarrar generally known as Col. Imam.

Before we proceed with the main body of this piece, we shall try to know something about Sultan Tarrar.  Col. Tarrar a former ISI officer was once Pakistan’s Consul-General in Herat, a strategic town to the northeast of Afghanistan. He played crucial role in raising the Taliban militia under instructions and guidance of General Babar then Pakistan’s interior minister. 

He trained important top mujahideen commanders like Mulla Omar of Kandahar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masud. The mujahideen generally called him Col. Imam and he came to be recognized as the “Father of Taliban”. 

In a video footage which Khalid Khwaja recently sent to a familiar South East Asian news agency, he said Pakistan Army had sent him to North Waziristan. He claimed that caught in the middle, Pak army was unable to come out and he was to hammer out reconciliation between the army and the militants and provide safe passage for the withdrawing Pakistani troops.

Is Khwaja’s statement convincing? Let us have an excursion into his past to ascertain the veracity of this and other statements. Then a squadron leader in Pak Air Force and an active official of ISI, Khwaja wrote a letter to President Zia in 1980’s criticizing him for the hypocrisy of not enforcing Islam in Pakistan. Quick retribution came in the shape of his ouster from air force.

During the Afghan mujahideen war against the Soviets, Khwaja was seen as a recruiter and trainer of Pakistani fighters joining hands with the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Obviously, he must have been in close contact with the ISI and the CIA to undertake this mission. Here is what he discloses about himself in five video clips surreptitiously distributed to a South Asian media outlet, which claims to have some credibility with the Taliban and other militant groups in NWFP.

Reflecting on Pakistan army’s action in Lal Masjid, Khwaja confesses to have worked to bring down the radical movement connected with Lal Masjid siege and attack because by mid-2007, the radical movement in Pakistan had become very aggressive. He hatched a plan with Maulana Fazlu’r Rahman, the chief of Jamiatu’l-Ulema-e Pakistan, Mufti Rafi’ Usmani and others to put an end to Lal Masjid movement. He managed to trap Abdul Aziz, the prayer leader (pesh Imam) of Lal Masjid, and the brother of Ghazi Abdu’r Rasheed. The two brothers together ran the Lal Masjid.  Through an innovative scheme, the Khwaja contrived the arrest of Abdul Aziz. He rang up the Maulana and suggested to him to wear the veil and gown of a woman and come out. The Maulana fell into the trap and was arrested. Ghazi Abdu’r Rasheed was killed in the Pak military action in Lal Masjid. Lal Masjid incident ushered in the decline and fall of General Pervez Musharraf and it also provoked fierce reaction of Islamists against Pakistan state on the whole.

Khwaja says that top jihadi commanders were ISI proxies with free hand to collect funds. Included among them were Maulana Fazlu’r Rahman Khaleel (who had laid the foundation of International Islamic Front with Osama bin Laden in 1998), Maulana Masu’d Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e Muhammad and Abdullah Shah Mazhar former supreme commander of JeM.  Not only militant leaders like Abdullah Shah Azhar, Fazlu’r Rahman Khaleel, and Masud Azhar but jihadi organizations like Let, Al Badr, JeM, Harakatu’l Mujahdeen, Jamiatu’l Mujahideen and others also operated with the financial cooperation of Pakistani secret services and they are allowed to collect their funds inside Pakistan.

Khwaja says he was involved in talks with the government to avoid military entering Lal Masjid and had assured the government that a solution would be found. But then Pakistan government suddenly arrested him and put him in jail for some months. The government claimed it had intercepted a message he had sent to the insiders in the mosque not to surrender.

Khwaja openly criticized Pakistan government for its role of aligning with the Americans on war on terror after 9/11.

In the video clip Khwaja says, “I am known among media and masses as a thoroughbred gentleman. I have been the ISI and CIA mole and I cannot forget charred bodies of boys and girls in Lal Masjid carnage.”

At the time of his disappearance on 25 March, Khwaja is said to have been working for missing people mostly militants. In an interview with the Asia Times, Khwaja made the revelation that in late 1980s, he had fixed a meeting in Saudi Arabia between Osama bin Laden and the then opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. They discussed the plan of dislodging the government of Benazir Bhutto, which did come about in 1990. He also revealed that in late 1980s, he passed on funds from Osama bin Laden to former Pakistan Minister Shiekh Rasheed for operation of training camps for Kashmir separatists in PoK and other parts of Pakistan. This is the same Shiekh Rasheed at whose residence Kashmiri militants and their leaders like Salahu’d-din and others used to meet often and receive briefing from ISI sleuths about insurgency acts in Kashmir.

The video clips and the statement of Khwaja reveal that Pakistani Army and the ISI have moles within moles in their rank and file. Who works where and how is not perhaps known to the respective commanders even.  In a number of cases the rogues in these institutions have revealed startling stories of perfidy, mayhem and crime perpetrated with or without the knowledge of their immediate superiors. In fact a nexus has been established between the Army, ISI and the CIA, each one playing tricks with the other.  An army, air force or navy officer and other rank can play any part anywhere and in any capacity. Militant groups are their creation and the Army is a state within a state. One wonders when Pakistani government asks India for resumption of talks, who in Pakistan wants to talk on what issues and with what agenda?

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