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TNR: In a Ditch

Author: Nicholas Schmidle
May 4, 2010

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Nicholas Schmidle discusses the growing--and murderous--divide between old and new guard jihadists in Pakistan.

Corpses have been showing up on roadsides in North and South Waziristan for years. Some of the time they are headless; almost all of the time they display a note alleging that the deceased was a spy. Khalid Khawaja's death was no different, except that he never hid the fact that he had once worked for Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, the ISI. The association gave him credibility in many circles. Khawaja's generation of spooks, after all, trained local and foreign jihadis in Afghanistan during the 1980s, frequented Taliban-controlled Afghanistan during the 1990s, and continued—at least unofficially—to support some insurgents in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) throughout the past decade. Between his intel background and his continued devotion to the cause, Khawaja was an important, outspoken player on the jihadi scene.

It was shocking, then, to hear that a previously unknown faction of militants calling themselves the Asian Tigers had kidnapped Khawaja, along with a British reporter and another retired ISI officer, a month ago in North Waziristan. Two weeks later, Khawaja appeared in a hostage video, confessing to have been secretly working for the ISI throughout the crisis at the Red Mosque, the hyper-radical mosque in Islamabad that was stormed by commandos in July 2007. And on Friday, Khawaja's dead body appeared on a roadside in North Waziristan, along with a note claiming that he was an American spy.

So how could someone like Khawaja—a self-described confidant of Osama bin Laden who relished affiliations with the Taliban of old—have ended up dead in a ditch, murdered by the kind of people he was previously accused of aiding? And what does that say about the dramatic cultural changes underway in Pakistan?

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