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Spy games turn deadly in Pakistan's lawless regions

January 24, 2013 13:42 IST

Though the Taliban have mercilessly targeted the CIA’s spies, locals living in the desperately poor border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan still provide information to the American agency to earn some money, reports Tahir Ali

The Pakistan Taliban on Wednesday released the dead body of Asmatullah Kharoti, an Afghan national who, they claimed, was a spy who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Taliban alleged that the ‘spy’ had helped the CIA locate Commander Mullah Nazir and the agency had subsequently killed him, his deputy and five other militants in a drone stroke on January 2.

'Asmatullah Kharoti was a spy and it has been proved by our investigation that he was responsible for the killing of Mullah Nazir and his five companions. He was providing information to United States forces and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He has confessed to his role in the killing of Mullah Nazir,' stated a leaflet attached to the body of Kharoti, which was found in Wana Bazaar in the largely lawless South Waziristan region of Pakistan.

According to local militants, Kharoti had gifted Mullah Nazir a Quran fitted with digital chips, which helped the CIA track him.

The Taliban had warned the locals not to remove the body until 10 am so that more people could see the body lying in the market and “learn a lesson” from it.

Mullah Nazir was the leader of the Taliban unit at South Waziristan’s headquarters Wana. Nazir had been on the target list of the CIA as he helped ferry militants across the border to Afghanistan.

Since its inception in 2004, the CIA’s drone strikes have managed to take out several leaders of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda.

A report released by legal lobby group Reprieve in September last year estimates that between 474 and 881 civilians were among the 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan between June 2004 and September 2012.

The number of drone strikes has reduced significantly over the years -- only 46 strikes were carried out last year compared to 72 the year before.

The ‘spies’, who help the CIA locate the targets for its drone strikes, often get involved in the dangerous task for a meagre amount of money.

Though the Taliban have mercilessly targeted the CIA’s spies, locals living in the desperately poor border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan still provide information to the American agency to earn some money. 

Earlier, Taliban militants would release the body of the slain spy with a warning note but lately, they have released videos in which the men are seen admitting to the espionage.

Before the Pakistani Army targeted Mullah Fazlullah in Swat Valley, the killing of alleged spies by Taliban militants was a common practice in the tribal region. The Green Square in Mingora City’s Swat Valley was nicknamed Khoni Square (blood Square) as the decapitated bodies of CIA ‘spies’ were found there frequently.

“People accuse us of butchering people. Yes, we have done so, but only for the sake of Islam. Those people confessed to their involvement in anti-Islamic activities like espionage,” Mullah Fazlullah’s deputy Shah Dawran had stated.  

In the videos released by the Taliban, most of these spies were seen admitting to acts of espionage before warning others, “Don’t get involved in spying. Otherwise, you will meet the same fate”.

Maulvi Noor Jamal or Mullah Toofan, a Taliban commander in Orakzai agency, devised three different and barbaric ways of killing these alleged spies. The spy was either butchered with a knife, shot dead from a distance or an explosive was fitted in the man’s turban and then detonated with a remote control device.

Recently, a propaganda video released by the Taliban in North Waziristan showed some tribesmen admitting that they had planted chips at various locations in militants’ compounds for a reward of Rs 30,000.

“I urge my brothers to stay away from dollars as it will bring certain death,” said one of the alleged spies featured in the video.

According to Salim Dawar, a local from Mir Ali, North Waziristan, “A number of innocent tribesmen have been killed by militants merely on the basis of suspicion even though they were not spies. Any man who has a score to settle with an enemy can complain to the Taliban that his adversary is involved in spying. The militants believe in killing the accused first and investigating the matter later.”

The much-publicised involvement of Dr Shakeel Afridi, who helped the CIA trace Osama Bin Ladin to a compound in Pakistan’s Abbottabad under the guise of a polio vaccination drive, has made the Taliban so nervous that the extremist outfit has banned such campaigns in the region.

Last year, the Taliban unit led by Commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan banned polio campaigns, saying, “There are strong chances of using the polio campaign as a tool of spying against militants. Shakeel Afridi is a leading example in this regard. We declare a complete ban over polio campaigns in North Waziristan”.

Tahir Ali in Islamabad