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- Sunday, February 20, 2011 - From Print Edition


PESHAWAR: The Hakimullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Saturday finally broke its month-long silence and released a gruesome video in which the militants were ruthlessly shooting former spymaster Colonel (retd) Sultan Ameer Tarar, commonly known as Colonel Imam.


Prior to releasing the video in which the TTP fighters are executing Col Imam in the presence of Hakimullah Mahsud, the TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and another senior commander called The News from an undisclosed location and claimed responsibility for killing the retired official of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The militants claimed that all previous reports about the death of Col Imam were untrue.


Some of TTP commanders on January 23 claimed that Col Imam had died of cardiac arrest somewhere in South Waziristan and that they would soon release his video.


On that occasion, the militants stated that they would not return his body to his family unless the government accepted their demands. The Taliban commander claimed that their fighters on Saturday shot dead Col Imam in one of their hideouts in South Waziristan.


Pleading anonymity, he claimed they were still holding the body of the former Army officer and would not return it to the family. In the video, Col Imam is shown sitting on the ground near Hakimullah Mahsud, who is holding a gun and recording his video statement.


Hakimullah Mahsud blamed the white-bearded Col Imam and a tribal parliamentarian from Orakzai tribal region, Munir Orakzai, for capturing and selling Arab fighters to the United States upon their escape from Afghanistan to seek refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas.


He said Pakistani security agencies captured 600 Arab fighters and sold them to the United States. He alleged every Arab fighter was sold for $400 to the Americans and termed it an un-Islamic act.


Another serious charge which the TTP leader levelled against the retired military officer was Pakistan’s handing over its air base in Jacobabad in Sindh province to the United States for use during the invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime.


However, Col Imam, who had retired, was critical of the military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf for supporting the so-called US war on terror and allowing the use of Pakistani air bases to the US Air Force.


Hakimullah Mahsud in his video statement claimed that the US armed forces had conducted 56,700 air attacks from Jacobabad air base in Afghanistan and strangely he put all the blame on the hapless Col Imam.


Later in the video, Col Imam is made to stand up as Hakimullah Mahsud directed one of his men to open fire at the elderly man. A young militant, whose face is covered, first fired shots at Col Imam’s forehead that made him fall on the ground. He then shot him in his back and legs, and finally the unfortunate military official was shown lying in a pool of blood. In the background, some armed Taliban fighters could be seen standing around Hakimullah Mahsud.


Though the TTP commanders claimed that they killed Col Imam on Saturday, some Taliban sources said he was executed several weeks ago. Col Imam was in the custody of the TTP for the last several months.


He and another former ISI official, Squadron Leader (retd) Khalid Khwaja, had gone to North Waziristan along with a British journalist-cum-documentary maker Asad Qureshi to make a documentary on the Pakistani Taliban and victims of the US drone strikes when they were kidnapped on March 26, 2010.


Later, an unknown militant organisation, Asian Tigers, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and accused Khalid Khwaja of spying for the CIA. He was killed by the militants on April 30 near Mir Ali town. His body was transported to Islamabad and handed over to his family the next day.


Asad Qureshi and his driver Rustam Khan were released several months later after his family reportedly paid ransom to the kidnappers who in reality were a group of Mahsud tribal militants and the Punjabi Taliban led by Sabir Mahsud and Usman Punjabi.


Sabir Mahsud and Usman Punjabi later developed differences over the ransom money and militants affiliated with the former killed Usman Punjabi and his five men in Danday Darpakhel village near Miramshah on August 28, 2010.


The TTP sources said it enraged Hakimullah Mahsud-led militants who raided the hideout of Sabir Mahsud in Miramshah bazaar and kidnapped him and his gunmen. In the evening, they killed and threw bullet-riddled bodies of Sabir Mahsud and his men on the Miramshah-Dattakhel Road near Miramshah.


The TTP militants, besides seizing arms and resources of the Sabir Mahsud group, also took Col Imam into their custody and shifted him to an unknown location. Col Imam was widely respected by the Afghan Mujahideen and also by the Taliban due to his role during the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.