A U.S.-Trained Pakistani Is Said to Support the Taliban

March 4, 2010

Carlotta Gall

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – With his white turban, untrimmed beard and worn army jacket, the man known uniformly here by his nom de guerre, Col. Imam, is a particular Pakistani enigma.

A United States-trained former colonel in Pakistan’s spy agency, he spent 20 years running insurgents in and out of Afghanistan, first to fight the Soviet Army, and later to support the Taliban, as Pakistani allies, in their push to conquer Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Today those Taliban forces are battling his onetime mentor, the United States, and Western officials say Colonel Imam has continued to train, recruit and finance the insurgents. Along with a number of other retired Pakistani intelligence officials, they say, he has helped the Taliban stage a remarkable comeback since 2006.

In two recent interviews with The New York Times, Colonel Imam denied that. But he remains a vocal advocate of the Taliban, and his views reveal the sympathies that have long run deep in the ranks of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.

Despite Pakistan’s recent arrest of several high-level Taliban commanders, men like Colonel Imam sit at the center of the questions that linger around what Pakistan’s actual intentions are toward the Taliban.

American and NATO officials suspect that retired officers like Colonel Imam have served as a quasi-official bridge to Taliban leaders and their rank and file as well as other militant groups.

Now retired, Colonel Imam (his real name is Brig. Sultan Amir) lives in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, just yards from the Pakistani Army headquarters.

In the interviews, Colonel Imam denied any continued link to the Taliban. But he admitted that some “freelancers” – meaning former Pakistani military or intelligence officials – might still be assisting the insurgents.

If Colonel Imam personifies the double edge of Pakistan’s policy toward the Taliban, he also embodies the deep connection Pakistan has to the Afghan insurgents, and possibly the key to controlling them.

Once a promising protégé for the United States, he underwent Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1974, learning in particular the use of explosives, and he went on to do a master parachutist course with the 82nd Airborne Division.

On his return to Pakistan, he taught insurgent tactics to the first Afghan students who fled the country’s Communist revolution in 1978, among them future resistance leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masood. He then worked closely with the C.I.A. to train and support thousands of guerrilla fighters for the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Army throughout the 1980s.

Once the Soviets were pushed out, the Taliban emerged and Colonel Imam, then serving as a Pakistani consular official in Afghanistan, provided critical support to their bid to rule the country, Western officials said.

By his own account, he was so close to the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, that he visited him in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and left only when the American bombing campaign began later in 2001. He says he has not returned since. His parting advice to Mullah Omar, he said, was to fight on, but stick to guerrilla tactics.

Today, Colonel Imam speaks highly of the Americans he worked with. But he predicts failure for the United States in Afghanistan. While his views are clearly colored by his ardor for the Taliban cause, they also carry the weight of someone who knows his subject well.

The Taliban cannot be defeated, he said, and they will not be weakened by the recent capture of senior commanders, including the No.2, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The Taliban movement is so devolved, he said, that commanders on the ground make most of their own decisions and can raise money and arrange for weapons supplies themselves.

“The Taliban cannot be forced out, you cannot subjugate them,” he said. “But they can tire the Americans. In another three to four years, the Americans will be tired.”

He criticized President Obama’s decision last year to send more American troops into Afghanistan. “They are doing what you should never do in military strategy, reinforcing the error,” he said.

“They will have more convoys, more planes, more supply convoys, and the insurgents will have a bigger target,” he added. “The insurgents are very happy.”

The plan by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, to win over the Afghan people while pressing the Taliban militarily could have worked in 2003 or 2004, when the Taliban were weak and had less support, but now the Taliban had a presence in virtually every province, he said.

He also said the idea of paying members of the Taliban to change sides would not work and only bogus figures would come forward. “It is shameful for a superpower to bribe,” he said.

Meanwhile, he has nothing but praise for Mullah Omar, who is suspected of hiding in Pakistan today. Of all the thousands of men he trained, he said, religious students like Mullah Omar were the most “formidable” opponents because of their commitment.

The Taliban had been tainted in recent years by bad characters joining the movement and committing crimes, and Mullah Omar was now cracking down on them, he said.

He pointedly criticized the Pakistani Taliban who turned to fight the Pakistani Army in Swat last year and unleashed a wave of bombings in Pakistan’s cities. They were “troublemakers” that should be “neutralized,” he said.

Yet for Afghanistan, the solution was to negotiate with the Taliban leadership, he said. Mullah Omar wants peace and is capable of compromise, he said.

He was also the only leader who could keep Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan or in abeyance, including Osama bin Laden, he said. Mullah Omar’s popular support was such that Mr. bin Laden would have to listen, he said.

Mullah Omar had refused to hand over Mr. bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, in 2001 because he calculated that if he did, it would be only the first of many demands placed on him, he said.



  1. Col.Imam the Great Allah bless him

  2. Imam did what he had to do. His actions only expose the Pakistani duplicity in this whole drama. I’ve personally got no qualms about the whole geo-political game, but just remember, the snake that you feed will strike back at you one day.

    • @Amused – you have a brain of 2 years old and like your mentally retarded chief of rat army Generl Kapoora you always come with very stupid ideas such as capturing pakistan and china in 90 hours. You idiot men like Col. Imam and Hamid Gul are real men who defeated a superpower unlike your retarded general kapoora who thinks now he has weapons of mass destruction and can defeat pakistan and china – cowards the win does not come alone with more men and better weapons but with courage which you snakes don’t have i mean nishta in rat army. So keep your ideas to yourself

  3. Col Imam ….May Allah bless you………..
    u have done what u should do in utilizing that position ……u r part of training that Army …..from which Imam Mehdi will emerge!

  4. i m greatly impresse by colImam

    may ALLAH bless him

  5. @Amused,the Swami Nithynanda,

    It is none of your business.Go to your snakes(Swami and Mallu prostitute) who are exposing the realities of your faith.

  6. Colonel Imam is a great man. While so many military officials were confused and had no clear understanding of what is happening around them under the dark dark days of that harami dictator who left us between USArmy-TTP-NROZardari-IOKDams and went on to a good and secure life in Europe while our children were dieing in the streets men like Colonel Imam and General Hamid Gul kept fighting on in their own capacity for the future of Pakistan and the Umma.

    • How many of ur children have died in the streets?

      • Tummay kissi kay bachay apnay tarrah nahin lagtay? Yan to tumhari umar choti hai yan tumhara dil pathar hai.

        My cousin Brigadier Syed Hussain Abbas’ helicopter was shot down and him killed in Khyber while on a rescue mission.

  7. Col Imran , it is people like you who create terror cells in pakistan

    • You should be awarded a Ph.D for this research.No wonder you may get one from so many fake universities in Pakistan.

      • This is American properganada, and all u silly pakistanis have fallem for it, I though New york times is all BS ??

    • You probably so much obsessed by western media.

  8. People like Col. Imam are Pakistani asset and hero for the free world. Only a few such Pakistani military trainers/fighters turned the rag tag Afghan resistance into a formidable guerilla force to win the world’s largest guerilla war against a superpower, the USSR. These brave men turned the course of the global history and rid the world of the menace of communism forever. The fatal soviet defeat in Afghanistan lead to the disintegration of the erstwhile USSR and the freedom of eastern Europe and central Asia. The free world owes a lot to Col. Imam and other heros of Afghan war against the soviets. I offer my humble salute to all those heros.

    Many people, especially Indians, would accuse Col. Imam of promoting terrorism. That accusation is no more than an attempt to vent their disappointment at the defeat of their Soviet mentors and to show their hatred towards the Muslims of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indians tried their evil best by helping their Soviet masters in keeping the people of Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation because both shared evil goal of disintegrating Pakistan. But the fact is that Col. Imam did his duty faithfully, achieved a sounding victory for the Afghans (that was as important for the free world too), and safeguarded the freedom of their homeland, Pakistan. Every one knows (and Ex-Soviet officials now admit) that had the USSR been able to subjugate Afghans, the next target was Pakistan – to get at least a corridor to Gwadar at Arabian Sea if not a complete disintegration of Pakistan.

    Pakistan’s intelligence agencies fought and won the largest guerilla war in human history. They attacked legitimate military targets. That is not called terrorism. Hitting soft targets (i.e. innocent civilians), as the disgraced Indian RAW does all the time at all places (in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal, etc), is called terrorism. It is an eternal disgrace for Indians that they orchestrated a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan. Well, let’s stop talking about these lowest of the lows, Hindu mallus. Let’s talk more about the valiant fight by the Pakistani and Afghani brothers that saved the world from the Soviet red-monsters.

    If you see the history of 1960-80, you would find the buoyant Soviets strategically advancing and chasing the Americans and west Europeans all over the world. The so-called free world was on the run and the red revolution was fast spreading its tentacles in all four directions. Soviets had been planning to reach the warm waters in their south (i.e. Arabian Sea) for over five decades. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, Americans were in almost complete retreat. Then came the master Soviet stroke to take the first step toward their cherished goal of getting access to the warm waters. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the American, in fact, lost their senses and forgot their plans. They were persuading Pakistan not to antagonize Soviets, forget Afghanistan, and worry about saving Pakistan. The Pakistani government of Zia-ul-Haq understood the Soviet game and saw a bigger danger if the Soviets were left to succeed in getting a firm foothold in Afghanistan. Pakistan, thus, decided to organize and support the Afghan resistance forces. The actual fighters on the ground were the people like Col. Imam. The Afghan Mujahideen gave a bloody nose to the invading bear, turned its face, and kicked its ass out of the country. It was indeed a miracle of the last century.

    • agree

    • The Soviet Union was not going to invade Pakistan,all ameriecan properganda even if it did, the world both islamic and western would not sit back and watch, there was no Soviet invasion of Afganistan, Russia had been running afganistan since the 1800s

      • You saying Russian will not come into pakistan now see Americans have already inside us how can you make a decision without being positive!!!!!!
        Russians needed warm water even if Afghani Mir jaffar rulers invited Russians in Afghanistan at that time but that was all set plan!!!!!!

      • Muslims world lol what you did with Afghanistan when americans invaded them you stood with Americans and you expect from the muslim world they would had stood with you what happen to you in 1971, where was America to help you and where were the muslims leaders to help you, everyone is busy in its own little world my dear this is time of fitnah we have been caught by the fitnah of democracy fitnah of jihad is fasad, and saying there is no jihad, fitnah of opposing mujahideen, fitnah of sitting with jews and helping them and saying own brothers terrorists these are the fitnahs.

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