January 2011 Briefs

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 1


The successor to the ethnic-Balochi separatist organization Jundullah, Abdulrauf Rigi was reportedly captured in late December 2010 by Pakistani authorities who employed tracking technology to trace his cell phone signal. Rigi’s arrest came shortly after a suicide bombing in the port city of Chabahar in southeastern Iran’s restive Sistan-Baluchistan Province on the Gulf of Oman bordering Pakistan’s equally troubled Baluchistan Province. The December 15, 2010 attack, which killed between 35 and 41 and injured more than 100, hit a Shia mosque in the port city where worshippers were commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the third Shia Imam. Chabahar is notable as the location of a massive Indian development project— believed by many observers to be in competition with the Chinese-led development of the Pakistani port of Gwadar to the east— to modernize the port and create an energy transshipment hub linking Afghanistan and Central Asia to the Persian Gulf (Business Recorder [Karachi], March 24, 2008; Indian Express, August 7, 2010).  In the high-level discussion that followed the carnage in Chabahar, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik pledged Pakistan’s full cooperation with their Iranian counterparts in clamping down on cross-border terrorism in under governed regions of greater Baluchistan’s triple border region (IRNA, December 16, 2010; The Express Tribune [Karachi], December 18, 2010).

A no longer active Jundullah website claimed that the bombing of the Imam Hussein mosque in Chabahar was in retribution for the hanging of Abdulrauf’s brother, Abdolmalek Rigi, and other Jundullah leaders by the Iranian state, stating: “In this suicide operation in the city of Chabahar, tens of guards [members of the Revolutionary Guard] and mercenaries have been killed. The operation was carried out to expose the aggressors in Baluchestan” (Al Jazeera, December 15, 2010). Abdulrauf Rigi was reportedly nabbed by Pakistani security services who triangulated his location while doing a phone interview with the London-based pan-Arab daily As-Sharq al-Awsat (IRNA, January 1). An As-Sharq al-Awsat report cited a phone call it received from Rigi two days before his capture where he threatened to execute an Iranian nuclear official that Jundullah is holding in captivity (As-Sharq al-Awsat, December 26, 2010). Last fall, an online Jundullah statement said the group was holding Amir Hossein Shirani, an Iranian nuclear scientist from the city of Isfahan in central Iran (Onepakistan.com, October 10, 2010). It is unclear how Shirani fell into Jundullah’s hands. Jundullah claimed that it would force Shirani to publicly expose Iran’s nuclear secrets, thereby greatly embarrassing the regime, if its demands regarding the release of hundreds of political prisoners were not met by Tehran. Iran’s top leadership demanded Islamabad not only crack down on ethnic insurgents operating from safe havens in its territory, but deliver them to Iran (Press Trust of India, December 24, 2010). It is unclear at present whether or when the Zardari government intends to hand over Abdulrauf Rigi to Tehran where he will assuredly be tortured and executed in the same fashion as Abdolmalek Rigi and Abdolhamid Rigi. In an interview with Iran’s state-run news agency, Pakistan’s charge d’affaires in Tehran, Aman Rashid, while making no mention of the fate of Abdulrauf Rigi specifically, pledged deeper cooperation with Iran with regard to Jundullah members captured on its territory, stating: “If the leaders or other members of this group are captured, the Pakistani government will definitely hand them over to the Iranian government” (IRNA, January 16).


Former Pakistani Brigadier and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official Ameer Sultan Tarar, who went by the code name “Colonel Imam” and was a central figure in Pakistan’s 1990s policy of raising the Taliban in Afghanistan, died in captivity in North Waziristan Agency after being kidnapped, along with fellow ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja, by a Punjabi militant group in March 2010. Imam was captured by an obscure militant outfit calling itself the Asian Tigers, believed to be an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), while on a supposed peace mission in the service of the Pakistani government to help establish a ceasefire between the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Pakistani Army. Though it was first believed Imam was being held by the Asian Tigers/LeJ, he was transferred at an unknown point to the custody of the TTP. Reportedly Mullah Muhammed Omar attempted to intervene on Imam’s behalf and his plea was ignored, seemingly demonstrating the true operational independence of the TTP and the Punjabi Taliban from original leadership of the Afghan Taliban (Jang Online, January 28). During the years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Imam acted as Pakistan’s consul general in Kandahar and Herat as the Taliban consolidated their hold over Afghanistan’s geography. Imam was a colorful figure hailing from Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment who would recount receiving an inscribed piece the of the Berlin Wall from former President George H. W. Bush Sr. on a White House visit and voice contempt for the CIA’s withdrawal and for the present-day American war in Afghanistan in the same conversation. At the time of this writing, the circumstances of Imam’s death remain unclear, with some sources saying he suffered a fatal heart attack while his captors awaited the release of prisoners and a ransom of approximately $500,000. Other sources state he was murdered for his family’s failure to pay the stated ransom and that militants are refusing to release his body until a much lesser ransom of somewhere in the range of $40,000-$50,000 is paid. Members of a North Waziristan peace jirga have been attempting to negotiate for calm with the TTP and the release of the corpse back to his family, but sources in the Agency believe the TTP is continuing to hold onto Imam’s body in return for the release of several high-profile TTP prisoners and some modicum of a ransom, and that the TTP planned to release footage of the dead Imam to prove they were in possession of him and increase their leverage over the situation (The News International [Karachi], January 25).

Mullah Omar, Colonel Imam’s “disciple,” reportedly sent a delegation to North Waziristan to try and secure Imam’s release but the Afghan Taliban chief’s request was swiftly ignored by the TTP’s leadership (Nawa-e-Waqt, January 26). A strain of thought among several prominent Western analysts specializing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater espouses that the so-called Quetta shura Taliban, what remains of the core of the original 1990s Taliban leadership, and Hekimullah Mehsud’s TTP have become virtually indistinguishable from one another as war-fighting escalates on either side of the Durand Line. But as it appears Mehsud’s TTP directly defied Omar’s Afghan Taliban with the handling of the Imam incident, an obvious rift exists. Imam’s captivity and death may also alter the current status quo in North Waziristan, where Islamabad has yet to launch a full-scale assault on the numerous militant groups holed up there and attempt to establish the writ of the central government in Mir Ali and Miran Shah. Within certain conservative elements of Pakistan’s polity, it is not an awkward juxtaposition to consider one’s self both a Pakistani patriot and a supporter of the Afghan Taliban, which was official Pakistani government policy for many years.  Those is this camp consider the anarchic geography the TTP enjoys in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa Province wholly intolerable, as noted Pakistani journalist and political commentator Haroon Mir has suggested. A group of Utmanzai elders from Wazir tribes in North Waziristan griped that the rumors being circulated about Colonel Imam are a ruse to create another raison d’être for military operations in their Agency and that talk of Imam was a “conspiracy” being fomented by foreign media outlets (Khabrain, January 25). A Pakistani editorial claims Imam’s kidnapping and death are proof of the stark divisions among groups commonly referred to as “Taliban” and that “We [Pakistan and the United States] are taking on not just one entity [the Taliban] but a monster with many heads pulling in different directions” (The News International, January 25).