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Khawaja’s murder: a dark indicator – by Kamila Hyat

The sordid murder of Khalid Khawaja, the former ISI official, squadron leader and a man thought at various times to have negotiated between the US, the Pak Army and militants, exposes the many inter-linkages relating to terrorism.

There is, we all know, a long history behind these. The slimy trail it has left winding through our country binds together the American CIA, elements within our establishment, militants and others who have, at various points in time, attempted to influence events in the region.

It is unclear what role Khawaja played precisely in all this. He was believed by some to be a US spy. Others were convinced that he had given up this role years ago, and affiliated himself with the militants. He – and his wife – had figured in the Lal Masjid affair; there seems to be some doubt as to whose side they were on and whether a role of double agent was played in some way. Khawaja had also been active in the ‘missing persons’ case and was regarded as a father figure by the families of some who had vanished – notably those with suspected militant links.

The soft-spoken, urbane, Khawaja had been able to project himself as a ‘moderate’. But his extraordinary interventions in political matters give an indication of how deep the hatred for the PPP runs in various quarters. For reasons that are no longer rooted in any real logic, given the nature the party has assumed, there still seems to run a belief that as a ‘liberal’ organisation, formerly headed by a woman, the PPP is averse to Islam and an ally of the West.

Whereas it is true that the PPP remains the mainstream party most opposed to militancy, it is also a fact that it has in recent years shown an opportunistic willingness to play along with the establishment and attempt to do business with it. Khawaja was also distrusted by the PML-N, and may have plotted against its government ahead of its overthrow in 1999.

The career of Khalid Khawaja is a rather dark indicator of the kind of state we have become. It is a state where plots and counter-plots – often against elected governments – are hatched; where deals of various kinds are struck and where deep splits in ideology lead to factions working for ends that are at odds with each other. Within this world of conspiracy, it is often hard to know on whose side individuals are. Some, like Khawaja, may have switched loyalties from one quarter to the other. We are unlikely to ever know the full truth. Many secrets died with Khalid Khawaja and have forever been buried with him at the Lal Masjid, which continues to function despite the violent events of 2007 and revelations about the messages delivered from that institution.

Khawaja’s death may indicate a change in the times and in the order of events. When he ventured into territory ruled by militants, accompanied by another former ISI official, Colonel (r) Ameer Sultan better known as ‘Colonel Imam’ and a British-Pakistani film-maker, Khawaja evidently believed he was safe.

He had not catered for the split that is now believed to separate the Pakistani Taliban, increasingly dominated by elements from Punjab, and the Afghan Taliban. Khawaja’s loyalty to the Afghans may have been his undoing. The new groups which have emerged from the ranks of militants in Punjab have no affinity with the ISI men who worked hand-in-hand with the former ‘mujahideen’. The old alliance may be at breaking point.

Potentially, at least, this could prove an extremely significant development. The present-day leadership of the military appears to have recognised that the old links with the militants need to end. Khawaja’s attempts over the last two years to re-establish these ties failed. The possibility that the military and the intelligence agencies could withdraw their hand from the militants would of course raise new hope that they can indeed be defeated. For this to happen it is imperative that the powerful props that have held them up through the years be removed.

The murder also raises questions about what games are being played now. The Punjabi Taliban killed a former ISI man; they also appear to have developed very deep differences with the Afghans. Some reports suggest that the demand to hand over key Afghan Taliban leaders was intended to take these men captive rather than secure their release. There is further confusion. Lack of clarity persists on whether authorities have made any real effort to go after the likes of Mullah Omar, or whether he and other key Afghan leaders were ‘protected’ in Quetta. This is what Kabul suspects. At the same time we do not know why any effort is not made to go after the militant groups in Punjab or why the provincial leaderships argues that they do not exist. It could be that we are once more seeing various powerful factions play their own games.

It is necessary to bring a halt to these and apply common rules to all players.

A year after the latest bout of the war on terror unfolded in Swat in May 2009, bomb blasts and targeted killings ravage the peace there. Elsewhere there is doubt as to which groups are engaged in the recent bombing spree. The divide between militant groups in some ways weakens them. In others it makes the task of acting against them even harder with a centralised leadership no longer in existence.

For success to be achieved, it is essential the establishment cut off its links with the militants. The strands where there still exist need to be severed and a new order set in place within which there are few killings, fewer conspiracies and a louder voice for people who must have the right to run the affairs of their nation without devious intervention from agents who have through the years established a parallel system of command.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Source: The News, 6 May 2010