Last year, a British journalist went into the tribal areas with two former-ISI officers as his escorts.   For those who don't know, the ISI is Pakistan's military-intelligence spy agency.  One of the officers was Khalid Khawaja, a one-time confidant of Osama bin Laden.  His body was found last year dumped on the road between Miramshah and Mir Ali in North Waziristan.   The other, Sultan Amir Tarar, had personally trained Mullah Omar.   Omar sought their release and failed.   The group who kidnapped them called themselves "the Asian Tigers", who's leader was said to have died in a shoot-out with other militants.   They claimed the journalist and two ex-ISI officers, both of whom were very well-connected to militant groups, were actually spies.

Sultan Amir Tarar is best known as "Colonel Imam".   He appeared in Peter Bergen's latest documentary "Why is bin Laden Alive?", taped before his kidnapping last year.  Reports indicate that Colonel Imam was executed by the militants.

It's unclear what Colonel Imam's death tells us.   Some are skeptical about the "Asian Tigers", a group completely unknown until the kidnapping last year.   With reporters barred from the area, one cannot ever be sure of the news that comes out of the tribal areas.   This is especially so of North Waziristan, the only one of seven tribal agencies where the Pakistani military has not launched a major operation in the last few years.   North Waziristan is a nexus for militant groups, including the Arab-dominated aQC, local Afghan/Pakistani Taliban groups, and other Central Asian groups.   If the details of Imam's death prove accurate, it demonstrates the weakness of Mullah Omar who's efforts to win his release failed.   It also, of course, might very well demonstrate just how little control Pakistan has over territory that it claims as its own.

The whole story, which I've followed since last year during my AfPak series, has run like a spy novel.   Nothing can be certain beyond Khawaja's death, pictures of which were made available.   As for Sultan Amir Tarar, aka Colonel Imam, the reports of his death seem legitimate enough.  But was he really killed over a ransom that wasn't paid?  Was this really the work of some militant group that no one heard of?

Originally posted to Setrak on Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 08:23 AM PST.

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