Over the last couple of days, I have been trying to wrap my head around the Hamid Mir/Khalid Khawaja/ISI/Taliban issue. I have many, many more questions than answers. In fact, I'm not even going to pretend that this post is any way, shape of form, even remotely enlightening. It's merely me thinking out loud. But I hope you read along anyway.
Let's backtrack for a second. We know the following facts: in the middle of last month, ex-ISI operative Khalid Khawaja was abducted by a group calling itself the "Asian Tigers", presumably a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and also connected to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Punjabi sectarian outfit. Two weeks ago, he turned up dead, bullets in his head and chest, and a note attached to his body warning that other "American spies" would meet a similar fate.
Just who was this Khalid Khawaja character, and where did he come from? Well, in the late 1980s, Khalid Khawaja wrote a public letter to the late General Zia-ul-Haq, accusing him of not trying hard enough to introduce Islam into Pakistan, perhaps the only time the General had to deflect such an allegation. Khawaja was soon dismissed from the Air Force and the ISI.
He is also alleged to have been the point-man between Osama bin Laden and Nawaz Sharif, when the former financed the latter's efforts, as part of the IJI, to make trouble for the PPP both before and during Benazir Bhutto's first government. In recent times, he resurfaced as a defender of the rights of the "disappeared", people accused of being involved in terrorism and picked up by the ISI and other intelligence agencies without a trial.
In short, his credentials with right-wing and militant elements in the country should not have been in question. Now, he is dead. The question is: why did the Taliban kill him?
An audio file on the Cafe Pyala blog has helped fill in some of the gaps. In it, Hamid Mir, host of Geo's Capital Talk and regular contributor to Jang and its English-language sister publication The News, is heard to be informing a purported member of the Taliban about Khawaja's nefarious ways.
Hamid Mir, through a fairly circuitous route, accuses Khawaja of being behind the killing of Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the infamous Lal Masjid siege of 2007. He calls Khawaja a CIA agent because of his relationship with William Casey (head of the CIA in the 1980s); neglecting to mention that if having extensive contacts with members of the CIA in the 1980s was a marker of being a CIA agent, then our entire military-intelligence apparatus is one giant collective CIA agent. He criticizes his relationship with a man named Mansoor Ijaz -- someone who, I must confess, I'd never even heard of until this weekend -- and claims that Ijaz is involved in an "international network" of Qadianis (Ahmedis), and that he (Hamid Mir) considers Qadianis "even worse than kaffirs". He basically spends 15 minutes on the phone alleging that Khawaja is a fake and a fraud, that his beard and past history is part of a conspiratorial plan to deceive right-thinking people, and that he is fighting for the wrong team.
Hamid Mir signed Khalid Khawaja's death warrant. Of this there can be no doubt. The Taliban guy, who clearly had no strong feelings one way or the other at the beginning of the conversation, is convinced by the end that Khawaja is a bad guy, and must be taken care of. Anyone who has heard the tape can have no other interpretation of that conversation.
One can spend a lot of time shaking their head at the frankly despicable views that Hamid Mir espouses here. But surely it is not news that Hamid Mir is an intolerant, bigoted and hateful liar?
It would also be easy to question the platform Hamid Mir is given by the most-watched cable news station in the country, as well as his column where he is allowed to, quite literally, make things up and/or quote himself as "a source" (as he does in the aftermath of this Khawaja episode). But, again, given it's Geo and Jang Group, is anyone surprised?
No, for me, the more interesting questions about this entire deal are these:
1. How did the public come upon the recording of the tape?
Evidently, the recording first made its way to a page on Facebook titled "Inter-Services Intelligence". Is it an "official" ISI page? Well, it does have a disclaimer noting that "Views expressed in this page ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE of the Institute. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND." Also, it's a goddamn Facebook page. But you can honestly never put anything past the ISI -- even wasting their time with fake online farms and putting up drunk pictures of themselves.
Be that as it may, isn't it highly suspicious that this Facebook page was where the recording was first released? Even if the page itself isn't official, surely some intelligence agency is involved, purely as an implication of the fact that this was a private telephonic conversation that was clearly bugged? I don't know about your Facebook friends, but I certainly don't consort with people who have casual spying skills.
So given that some agency was involved -- and as someone mentioned to me, it may be the IB, not the ISI -- the obvious question than becomes: why? Why would Unnamed Intelligence Agency (UIA) want to damage Hamid Mir this way? What's the agenda? Is UIA actually upset at Hamid Mir for killing one of their erstwhile brethren? Is UIA taking on Hamid Mir because of his political views on things like the disappeared, as he alleges in his widely circulated email published below*? Is it something more personal and opportunistic? Did Hamid Mir's jumps from pro-establishment to anti-establishment to pro-establishment and then back somewhere in the middle **** someone off? Just what is going on?
No one knows.
2. Is this the end for Hamid Mir?
The News did not carry this explosive story at all, which is fairly instructive. I'm hoping it means that there are some hard questions being asked within that organization as we speak. Geo/Jang is a disgusting organization at the best of times -- they lie, obfuscate, quote sources that don't exist, print "planted" stories from the agencies, plagiarize, and allow Ahmedi-haters and bigots like Aamir Liaquat to broadcast their views on ***** Online -- but this may be a step too far for even them. I hope.
3. How will the Taliban react to this?
Judging by their shabbily put-together press release that a friend forwarded to me (published below**), not very well. It's quite a rant, jumping from denying the conversation between Hamid Mir and their guy took place, to asking for more pictures of Salman Taseer's scantily-clad daughter to be produced, to threatening PTCL for being party to bugging a conversation they claim never took place, and finally ending with a very friendly sounding "Take care".
More interestingly, for me anyway, was how clueless the guy at the other line sounded. Think about it: why is the Taliban getting information from Hamid ******** Mir on Khalid Khawaja? Shouldn't the very fact that they kidnapped him mean that they have something on Khawaja? Or was it a case of "kidnap first, ask questions later"? I found this utterly bizarre. This could mean one of three things:
(a) the Taliban were really after the Col. Imam (the so-called Father of the Taliban) and/or the poor sod of a journalist who accompanied them, not Khalid Khawaja. He was a bonus that they didn't know what to do with, until Hamid Mir told them what to do with him.
(b) the Taliban are internally divided to the extent that one arm doesn't know what the other is doing. Maybe somebody kidnapped him without realizing the implications, only for them to realize them later.
(c) the Taliban behave less rationally and instrumentally than analysts like myself like to think so, and in fact behave more randomly than we could imagine. In essence, they're making it up as they go along.
I really don't know.
4. Who, exactly, are the types of people to "like" the Facebook page of the ISI?
I mean, seriously.
*Email from Hamid Mir.
Subject: "A new web war for Hamid Mir--warning for journalist community"
Dear All,Thank you very much for your support.Today publisher of Daily Times and Governor Punjab Salman Taseer created a new record in the history of yellow journalism by publishing a one sided tape drama scandle against me.I would like to remind my journalist colleagues that Salman Taseer published many dirty articles against me in the past when i was banned by Musharraf regime on tv.Today he published the transcript of a concocted tape with some comments on the front page of his newspaper.Yes he tried to kill many birds with one bullet.
This is a conspiracy against me.Khalid Khawaja was assassinated in the month of April and this tape surfaced in the middle of May just few days before some important political and leagal events.I am consulting with my lawyers and i will go into court against Salman Taseer for publishing a one sided concocted story against me.My hands are clear and i have no fear except Allah who have provided me a new opportunity to unmask some more realities in the court of law.
This fabricated tape is part of a bigger drama against journalist community.Some elements want to silence the voice of media on certain national issues by blackmailing journalists like me.These people are very unhappy on those journalists who are raising voice for missing people,who are opposing government stand NRO and who criticized the fake degree holder members of the parliament.Many journalists are disliked by the government and some parts of the establishment.These journalists may become a target one by one.Some government ministers warned me on May 13th that some elements are trying to use the family of Khalid Khawaja against me and journalists like Ansar Abbasi,Kamran Khan and Shahid Masood will also face some new cases.I am sure we will face these kind of fabricated cases with unity.Thanks again for showing solidarity with me.
**This is a press release from Taliban Media Center commenting on the fake audio tape issued by some secret agency of pakistan.
We are actively condumn the reliability of this tape since there was no conversatin like that in between us and Mr. Hamid Mir. Althoug we have talked with many different persons of media. It is very often and there is no doubt that they are not involved with us. This is seems to be a conspiracy to destroy the reputation of Mujahideen and the brave people of this country who want to bring truth in front while revealing the dark faces of this nation.
Suppose, this audion tape can be accepted as a true one than it is also demanded that the video tapes of Shery Rehman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Salman Taseer should also be treated as the same degree. Since sexy pictures of Salman Taseer's daughter and sons are on media so can any one tell the nation how a loose characterd person can be a governor of a province. What action should government agencies took? Why they are delaying?
Unfortunately the secret agenceis of Pakistan are directly opposing the nations benefits and try to sabotash the well repudiated personalities and institutions for the greater interst of their own. We also like to remind the fake movie, released to media for defacing the actual good will of Mujahideen in swat. That was prooved to be faked later but on its basis army did the brutal assault/operation of the whole area. Now people of this country must understand that Mujahideen are not their enemies. But the government, politicians and military beaurucrates are the real enemies of this nation.
Also it is demanded by us that all the relevant records of phone calls in between us and the major media representatives should also be released for public pursuation. ASIAN TIGERS had prooves for their satisfaction that's why they kidnapped Khalid Khwaja. We contacted the ASIAN TIGERS on this matter and they denied any kind of connections with either Mr.Hamid Mir or any other person related to media. They also condumns the fake audio tape. Also they demanded the actual agenceies who bring this tape. If these agenceies have any kind of proof then they need to bring it in front. Who forced ASIAN TIGERS to kidnap Khalid Khwaja and Colonel Imam with Asad Qureshi. What was the role or Gen. Hameed Gul and Gen. Aslam Beg. Where you fit Ibrahim Parachi and Shah Abdul Aziz. Either Gen. Hameed Gul and Gen. Aslam Beg are the actual Punjabi Taliban or this tape is the fake
one. Ibrahim Parachi is also the CIA agent and Shah Abdul Aziz is a doule agent of Xe and ISI.
If Mr. Hamid Mir attracted or give instructions to ASIAN TIGERS in order to kidnap Khalid Khwaja then they must have conversations more than once. These tapes should also be published for media. Are we right in demanding this action? If Mr. Hamid Mir gave proof to ASIAN TIGERS then he also gave instructions to them for kidnapping Khalid Khwaja & company. We expect that very soon these tapes should also be available on internet and youtube. By the way what exactly the dates of this tape is.
Secondly, who gave the authority to PTCL or any government agency to tape a phone prior to any court order. By doing this PTCL is also establishing it's reputaion as an alley of terrorists (Govt. of Pakistan, ISI and Army). If this happened again then PTCL should ready to get the most suitable answer in proper manner. Although we know how PTCL was sold to these culprits and Khwaja was also involed in that deal. Do you want to raise the curtain?
PTCl should clear it's position in order to bring the facts if this tape is true or fake. If they claim it is a true tape then they also give explanation why they tape these calls. If this is the fake one then they also took legal actions against that agency.
If PTCL will not take any action then no problem, we are here and you have a very little time for confession. Take care.
Note: This statement is on behalf of ASIAN TIGERS
By the way, just to be clear, in an earlier version of this post I had noted a disclaimer saying that I obviously couldn't independently verify the validity of this Taliban press release, deleted it by mistake, and am reinserting it. A very trustworthy source forwarded this to me, but of course that doesn't mean anything to you, the reader. So keep that in mind.
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