PESHAWAR, Sept 10: The mysterious captors of British documentary film producer Asad Quereshi, after setting him free,
presumably on getting a huge ransom, have gone completely silent on the fate of another hostage, former ISI official and known Taliban supporter, Col (retd) Ameer Sultan Tarar. More commonly known among the Afghan and Pakistani militants as Colonel Imam from the days when he worked as an under-cover agent to assist Afghan Mujahideen and later the Taliban, the former ISI official had accompanied the British-Pakistani journalist in the Waziristan area more than four months ago.
The third member of the group, another former ISI official-turned Islamist campaigner, Squadron Leader (retd) Khalid Khwaja was murdered by the captors after he was accused of being a “double agent”.
Asad Quereshi has now been set free after months of secret negotiations and, according to one security official, on payment of a huge ransom.
The official said that a ransom of Rs14 million had been paid to Sabir Mehsud.
The claim could not be independently verified but the official, who asked not be identified, said the deal was struck after protracted negotiations through intermediaries.
However, no one seems to know where Col (retd) Imam was being kept, whether he was still in the captivity of the same group or has been handed over or “sold” to another militant faction in the militant-infested tribal region.
Although a few weeks ago a video of Col Imam was released by the captors, who identified themselves as ‘Asian Tigers’, but officials and local correspondents say that since the release of journalist Asad Quereshi there has been no word from the captors.
The little known ‘Asian Tigers’ group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and accused three of being spies, threatening to kill them if their demands were not met that included release of their comrades and ransom.
Khalid Khawaja was shot dead in April and his body was found in Mirali. Khawaja’s son immediately blamed Usman Punjabi for masterminding his father’s death and accused a senior TV anchor in Islamabad of orchestrating the murder.
But in a new turn of events Usman Punjabi and his five associates were killed in a shootout with the Sabir Mehsud group in Dandi Darpakhel on August 28.
It is not clear as to what prompted the clash between the two militant groups but a security official said a dispute over ransom money triggered the shootout.
Sabir Mehsud is an associate of the TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud and wields wide influence in North Waziristan and is believed to enjoy cordial ties with almost all militant groups, including Hafiz Gul Bahadar.
There were some speculations that Siraj Haqqani – son of Afghan Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani – may have played some role in extricating the four men from the Usman Punjabi group, which had set a deadline for the execution of Mr Qureshi.
But , the fate of Col. Imam remains unknown. It’s also not clear if he was being held because the ransom demand was not being met, or because he knew too much about the captors or the circumstances in which Khalid Khwaja had been killed.
But, there are some speculations, though no corroboration, that Col. Imam may be enjoying the ‘hospitality’ of the Haqqanis and that he is in safe hands – now that he is no longer in the captivity of Usman Punjabi and his comrades which some officials believe were more ferocious than most of the radical groups operating in the tribal region.