It was the January of 2011. Deep winter in Waziristan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, rode through the snow filled valley. He rode in his Land Cruiser, his gun-toting, bloodthirsty followers trailed behind in other vehicles.
On a curving road, they parked. While getting out of their vehicles, they dragged a prisoner with them. It was Colonel Imam, the legendary spook of the Inter-Services Intelligence and a longtime friend of the Afghan Taliban as well as the TTP. He stood silent, dejected. His eyes cast downwards. He looked like a lamb being led to slaughter.
Mehsud made a short speech in which he blamed Colonel Imam for betraying the Taliban. The exact crime committed by the Colonel Imam was failing to turn Pakistan into a true Islamic state despite accepting funds from Osama Bin Laden for the task. Colonel Imam was accused of cheating those who had trusted and honoured him.
Mehsud condemned the Colonel to death. The valley reverberated with the sound of gunfire. A great friend, trainer, and benefactor of the TTP was dead.
Who Was Colonel Imam?
Before Colonel Imam went rouge, he was Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar, a one-star rank serving officer of the Pakistan Army. The legend of Colonel Imam began during the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan and the resultant international coalition formed to oppose the USSR.
Colonel Imam was instrumental in organizing and managing numerous covert guerilla training camps, of leading the Afghan Jihad, in the border areas of Afghanistan. He was responsible for recruiting madrassah students, and training them as foot soldiers for the Taliban and the Afghan Jihad.
Colonel Imam trained the Mujahideen, lived with them, dressed like them, behaved like them and was an ardent believer in the obscurantist religious doctrine of the Taliban. He led the Taliban to prayers and into battle. With his rag-tag army, he struck deep inside Afghanistan, right up to the Panjshir Valley. Colonel Imam battled Soviet forces, shot down gunship helicopters, and performed deeds of valor. He was so dear to the Taliban, that they accorded him with the title of Imam. He was deeply admired by them for his exploits.
From Kakul to Kabul
Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar AKA Colonel Imam passed out from Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul and then proceeded to Fort Bragg in the US, for commando training. After passing out his first posting was to the 15th Frontier Force Regiment as a second lieutenant. He again traveled to the US in 1974 where he trained with the US Special Forces. Upon graduating, he was awarded the Green Beret. He joined the Special Service Group (SSG) after returning from the US.
The army officer then became a guerilla operations specialist and also served as a member of the and an officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). At one point, he also served as the Consul-General of Pakistan in Herat.
After being defeated in Afghanistan in 1989 the USSR collapsed and was broken into a dozen independent countries. US and its allies had scored their biggest victory in the Cold War against the communist bloc. In response, American President George W Bush invited Colonel Imam to visit the US. In Washington D.C. he was received with protocol reserved for foreign dignitaries. George W Bush presented him with a piece of the Berlin wall with a brass plaque. Its inscription read: “To the one who dealt the first blow”. The US President had officially admitted that Colonel Imam played a vital role in the defeat of Russian forces in Afghanistan.
The End Years
In the early 2000s it was speculated that Colonel Imam died fighting. The rumors detailed that while fighting alongside other Pakistani officers, all ideologically motivated to provide support to the Taliban under Mullah Omar. Pakistan may have refused to support the Afghan Taliban after September 11, but that did not hold back these officers. But in fact, Colonel Imam was alive and fully involved in arming the Taliban forces on the run during the ‘War on Terror’. He died in 2011.
Colonel Imam, also known as ‘Father of the Taliban’, was fully responsible for helping the US train the Afghan Mujahedeen, and simultaneously, ironically, for playing a key role in the formation of Taliban in Afghanistan. His belief was that peace in the region was only possible if the US and Mullah Omar negotiated and came to a compromise, and he wanted to be the one to arrange that. Instead he was assassinated by the very men he empowered.