Pakistani peace mediator killed in tribal area

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Noted for his controversial attempts to foster peace deals with the Taliban, Pakistani NGO leader Khalid Khawaja was killed early today morning, a week after being kidnapped in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas while helping a British filmmaker. He was shot twice, in the head and chest, and his body was dumped near Miran Shah.

A former member of the Pakistani ISI and associate of Osama bin Laden, Khawaja fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and was an outspoken critic of the American-led invasion. The leader of the Defence of Human Rights NGO, Khawaja was often accused of being an apologist for Islamist militants due to his stringent demands for better treatment and legal rights for prisoners captured by both the American and Pakistani forces.

Khawaja had travelled into North Waziristan along with former ISI colleague Colonel Imam, to help British cameraman Ased Qureshi meet with Sirajuddin Haqqani and Wali-ur-Rehman as he sought to film a documentary about the rise of Islamic militancy in the region. The three were kidnapped, and their captors demanded the release of ten imprisoned militants, including Mullah Baradar, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah and Maulvi Kabir, as well as $10 million for the release of the two former ISI officers. Pakistani officials anonymously confirmed the money would likely be paid, but the insurgent leaders were unlikely to be released.

Khawaja had most recently landed on the legal defence team of five Americans arrested by Pakistan who were accused of membership in Jaish-e-Mohammed. Immediate reports suggest that a note was pinned to his body, claiming responsibility for his death in the name of the Asian Tigers which some have ironically theorised could be a splinter group of the militant organisation. The note also accused him of spying for the United States, and having taken the government's side in the 2007 Siege of Lal Masjid. The note blamed the government for refusing to negotiate on the desired release of the jailed Pakistani militants.

The Taliban condemned those responsible for the kidnapping of the three men, noting that targeting retired officers was "an act of cowardly people".

Unrelated to the death of Khawaja, and intending to honour the memory of those "who embraced martyrdom in the continuing war on terror", the Pakistani government announced they were declaring April 30 Yaum e Shuhada, or "Day of the Martyrs". Khawaja's son Omar told the New York Times that his father "was fond of martyrdom [...] and now he is lucky because he has it".