Who, or rather, what was Khalid Khawaja? If we get the answer to that we may get some idea of who his killers are. On the face of it, the Asian Tigers, as a terrorist organisation, has never been heard of till now. Khawaja went missing in March as he, Col (retd) Amir Sultan Tarar (also known as Colonel Imam) and a reputed British documentary filmmaker were on their way to meet senior members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in North Waziristan.
Several reports suggest that he was on his way to meet Waliur Rahman Mehsud – the TTP’s purported number two – and Sirajuddin Haqqani, who because of his father’s reported ill health, is the de facto head of the Haqqani network. When the three went missing it was said that they were on their way to meet people in connection with a documentary. However, now it turns out that the purpose of their trip was something far more substantial.
And before we explore that further, perhaps we need to take a closer look at Khalid Khawaja — who he was, and what he did. He quit the air force many years ago. Later, he went and fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan and developed close relations with much of their leadership. Of late, he was in the forefront of the missing persons issue, working closely with Amina Masood Janjua, whose husband went missing in 2005 and who has been an outspoken voice on this matter.
When Mullah Baradar was arrested by Pakistani intelligence some months ago, it was Khawaja who filed a petition in court and managed to get an order blocking the Afghan Taliban leader’s extradition out of Pakistan. Reports that he was in fact captured by unknown elements on his way to North Waziristan were confirmed when a videotape was released recently in which Khawaja made some startling revelations.
However, upon seeing the video one could tell that some, if not most, of what he was saying was under duress. This especially showed when he said that he was an agent for the ISI as well as the CIA and that he was the one who had contacted the Ghazi brothers – the leaders of Lal Masjid – and convinced the elder one to come out in a burqa, only to be caught by security forces.
He also said that most jihadi leaders in the country – such as Maulana Masood Azhar and Fazlur Rahman Khalil who were both mentioned by name – were on the payroll of the ISI and had free rein to collect funds throughout the country, notwithstanding either 9/11 or 26/11. He also said that he had been sent to North Waziristan this time by two former ISI officers and this led some to believe that he may have been on his way to broker a deal with the TTP.
Once it became clear that he had in fact been kidnapped, a spokesman for the TTP said that the organisation was not privy to this at all and was in fact working for the release of the men. The TTP also said that Colonel Imam was widely-respected among the Taliban for the work he had done when he was active in Afghanistan and helped raised their militia to fight off the other Afghan factions. Given this background and context, one can only wonder who is behind Khalid Khawaja’s murder.
Are the ‘Asian Tigers’, as is now being put forth by some observers, an amalgamation of a splinter of the Punjabi jihadi/Taliban outfits, who were somehow unhappy with what Khawaja was doing? And if this was indeed the case, what compelled them to kidnap him and then execute him? Wasn’t he one of the main cheerleaders for the Taliban in the country, one who fought cases on their behalf and one who rallied to their defence? Or is there something more to this whole sordid affair? Who will give us the answers to this?