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April 22, 2010

Afghan Taliban distance themselves from ‘Asian Tigers’


April 22, 2010

PESHAWAR: Afghan Taliban on Wednesday distanced themselves from an obscure militant faction and its demand for the release of two senior Afghan Taliban commanders amid hectic efforts by a jirga to secure the release of the two kidnapped former officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and a journalist.

An unheard-of militant organisation, Asian Tigers, had claimed to have kidnapped the two former ISI officers, Col (R) Imam and Squadron Leader (R) Khalid Khwaja and a journalist, Assad Qureshi, from North Waziristan where they had gone to work on a documentary on Taliban.

The group on Monday issued videos of the three men and demanded the release of three Afghan Taliban commanders including Mulla Abdul Ghani Biradar, deputy to Mulla Mohammad Omar, Maulvi Kabir, former chief of four strategic Afghan provinces namely Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Laghman, and Mulla Mansoor Dadullah, younger brother of the slain Afghan Taliban commander Mulla Dadullah.

Mulla Biradar was captured by Pakistani and US intelligence agencies from Karachi last February last. However, the government has not yet confirmed Maulvi Kabir’s arrest by Pakistani security agencies.

Mansoor Dadullah was captured during a raid by Pakistani forces on a house in Balochistan on February 11, 2008 and is still in their custody. Taliban supreme leader Mulla Muhammad Omar had expelled him on December 30, 2007 from his movement on charges of disobedience.

Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday called this scribe from an undisclosed location and said they had nothing to do with the so-called militant faction ‘Asian Tigers’ and its demand for the release of two Afghan Taliban commanders. “If this is really a true jihadi organisation why didn’t it come with its original name,” remarked the Taliban spokesman.

He said the Taliban-run Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was completely ignorant about the group and its whereabouts.

Similarly, a senior Afghan Taliban commander also expressed his surprise over the demand by the unknown militant organisation. “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,” explained the Taliban commander.

The commander, who called from an undisclosed location and wished not to be named, said all major Taliban organisations in the region did not know what had happened to Col Imam and Khalid Khwaja in North Waziristan. He felt that kidnapping retired military officers could be an act of cowardly people, saying that Col Imam was widely respected among the Taliban for his independent views and sympathies towards the mujahideen. He said he had heard that Col Imam and his colleagues had been kidnapped by the people who invited them to Waziristan for interviews. “We are trying our best for their release and hopefully they would be freed soon,” the commander hoped.

Meanwhile, a jirga or commission of religious leaders and tribal elders started efforts for release of the three missing persons. Led by former JUI-F MNA from Karak district Shah Abdul Aziz, the jirga members have already reached North Waziristan and were holding meetings with various militant groups for release of the three men.

However, a caller claiming to belong to the Punjabi Taliban group said Shah Abdul Aziz and his men had not yet traced the men holding Col Imam and his colleagues. He alleged that Khalid Khwaja and his wife had played a negative role during the Lal Masjid crisis and instigated Maulana Abdur Rasheed Ghazi to confront the government.

“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.

When reached on telephone, wife of Khalid Khwaja, however, rejected the allegation and said those saying such things should ask Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and his wife Umme Hassan. “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,” explained Khwaja’s wife, who appeared disturbed.

She said they were astonished when they heard about the demand of the group for the release of Afghan Taliban commanders. “You may know Khalid had filed a writ petition at the Lahore High Court against extradition of the five American Muslims to their government and the detention of Mulla Biradar and other people by the Pakistani government,” she maintained. She said an organised campaign had been launched to defame Khalid Khwaja and his family for their never-ending support to the mujahideen and all Muslims in trouble.