ISLAMABAD // A former Pakistani spy who helped the Taliban rise to power in Afghanistan has died in militant captivity 10 months after he was seized in north-west Pakistan, a top official said yesterday.
Sultan Amir Tarar died of a heart attack while in custody, but his body remains with the insurgents, said Tariq Hayat, the top government representative in the north-west tribal regions.
Tarar was kidnapped along with a British journalist who was released in September and another former spy, Khalid Khawaja, who was executed by his captors in April.
Tarar's kidnapping appeared to indicate the extent to which some insurgents in the north-west had abandoned any loyalties to Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Tarar, known as Colonel Imam, played a major role in funnelling Pakistani support and training to Afghans fighting Soviet rule in the 1980s, a push also supported by the CIA.
After the Soviets withdrew, he continued to be Pakistan's point man with the Taliban, which were seen by Islamabad as allies, providing them with arms, funding and training. He and Khawaja remained publicly sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar, since their downfall in the US-led invasion of 2001.
Some media reports have said Tarar maintained operational ties with insurgents in recent years, which he denied. In interviews before his kidnapping, he had spoken of the need to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban to end the almost 10-year-long war.
It is unclear why the two men travelled to the north-west, but they presumably felt their background and Islamist views offered some protection while travelling there. The region is now home to groups battling the Pakistan state and its intelligence agencies, as well as al Qa'eda and Afghan Taliban factions fighting in Afghanistan.
A previously unknown militant group calling itself the "Asian Tigers" initially said it had seized the men. Analysts speculated the captors were a new breed of militants who had turned against their former protectors.
In July, Tarar appeared on a video saying he was being held by another group and that it was demanding the release of prisoners held by the government in exchange for his release.
Tarar's death was first reported on Sunday, but officials could not confirm it. It was believed he was being held in North Waziristan, a region bordering Afghanistan that is under effective militant control.