ISLAMABAD: Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) former operator Colonel Imam, who was allegedly assassinated on Sunday, had had ties with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other high-profile Arab militants, The Express Tribune has learnt.
A close friend of retired army officer Sultan Amir Tarar, designated as Colonel Imam by the ISI, said on condition of anonymity that Imam had established close ties with Arab militants who had arrived in Pakistan to join the Afghan Mujahideen in the fight against the Red Army in Afghanistan. “Osama was also among those Arab militants that the ISI assisted in their Jihad against Soviet troops,” he said.
Imam and Taliban chief Mullah Omar’s relations go back to 1994 when Imam was abducted while accompanying a 30-truck convoy of goods to Turkmenistan through Kandahar. “Omar and other top leaders developed an intimate relationship with Col Imam when Imam was arrested by Afghan warlord Amir Lalai in Kandahar on November 2, 1994. Omar and his fighters rescued Imam and Lalai was publicly executed by hanging,” the friend said.
The story of that convoy is now a critical part of the history surrounding the Taliban’s origins. Their advance from Spin Boldak to Takht-e-Pul outside Kandahar, where Lalai had halted the Pakistani convoy, its subsequent release by the Taliban, and the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar were to change the political map of Afghanistan.
The fact that the Taliban would not just free the convoy but also capture Kandahar within 24 hours was beyond any Pakistani or even Afghan expectation. Subsequently, Taliban leaders expressed surprise at their own initial success, which was achieved with so little bloodshed.
However, the fall of Kandahar to the Taliban and the subsequent fall of Kabul to Omar’s followers were attributed to the planning of Col Imam. This victory played a key role in bringing Col Imam so close to Omar that ISI’s establishment appointed Imam as the consul-general to Herat, Afghanistan. Later, Imam also served as a diplomat at Mazar-i-Sharif.
Although Imam’s execution is yet to be confirmed, his family believes that indifference on part of the government and the army had caused his death. A source close to Imam’s family said that they are already disappointed by the army and the ISI’s senior officials. Other sources close to the family say they were informed about Imam’s killing by intelligence sources. Meanwhile, no member of the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan has so far claimed responsibility for Imam’s assassination but the family suspects that the Punjabi Taliban are involved.
According to circumstantial evidence, the militants who attacked the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi in October 2009 were involved in Imam’s abduction. This notion is further substantiated by the fact that the GHQ attackers were among the 162 militants whose release the captors demanded in exchange for Imam. Those Taliban who were said to have been taken to the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison were also included in the list.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2011.