Col Imam.

By Brig Yasub Ali Dogar (Retd), 35th PMA

Brig Yasub Ali Dogar (Retd), 35 PMAEditor’s Comment: Brig Yasub Ali Dogar (Retd) was commissioned in Guides Infantry FF in Nov 1965. He has served in SSG. He is a former Head of Afghan Desk in ISI. After the retirement, he has settled in Lahore.

Col Sultan Amir Tarar (Alias Col Imam), SSG, ex ISII had known Sultan Amir (later ‘Col Imam’) since mid-1966. I had been commissioned about 6 months earlier than him. My unit Guides Infantry FF came to Lahore as a result of pull back of forces due to Tashkent Accord in 1966 about the time he was commissioned in the 2nd Pathans (FF), later named as 15 FF. Both of us young and energetic, plunged into the lives of young officers of that time which was divided in training, sports events, assaulting Xing water obstacles & field exercises. Even evenings were devoted to regimental dinner and guest nights, leaving very little time for fun and frolic. Only on Sundays one could indulge in ‘non-training events’. Most of us made up for our sleeplessness of the previous six days of the week on Sundays.

Col Imam - Major Sultan Amir (later 'Col Imam') - Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar, SSG Pakistan ArmyIn December 1970 both of us found ourselves competing for selection into the elite SSG (Special Services Group). I must have just crawled through but Sultan Amir passed through the three days of grueling selection tests with flying colours. Only 24 officers were selected from the large number of officers who had volunteered for the SSG. The basic Commando Course started in early 1971. It was here we discovered the real Sultan Amir. Originally designed by the US Special Forces instructors, it was considered as one of the toughest courses in Pakistan if not of other modern armies. He would carry the heaviest load to farthest distance not asking for relief or respite till one of us felt that we are not being fair to him. He was the most helpful among all of us, willing to carry anyone else’s belongings though he was dead tired himself because of carrying his own weapons, ammunition and other such items. After 25-30 miles night marches over the most rugged terrain, when we would just slump down he would run around to select location for our hideout, gather fire wood, cook food and see to the security drills of the hideout, etc. It was here that his real leadership qualities came out. A few days before we were to graduate from the course, he was with us in setting a record of crossing the Mangla Lake at its widest, approximately swimming 6 miles both ways in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. This record remains unbeaten till today. He along with Brig Akram, later Commander SSG, came out with the highest grade in that course.

Maj Sultan Amir (later Col Imam) and Maj Yasub Dogar at Para School, Peshawar, 1976He was posted to the elite Tipu Company and I went over to 2 Commando Battalion (SSG). During the 1971 War he had infiltrated behind the Indian troops in the Desert Sector and laid a blocking position. Unfortunately the Pakistani ground offensive just petered out. It goes to his credit that although forsaken, lost and hungry he was able to safely extricate along with his troops. By the end of 1973 he had undergone the US Special Forces Course at Fort Bragg along with Psychological Operations Course. His visit to the US was to bring about a marked change in him; appreciating their training methodology while criticizing their materialistic way of life that he saw there. Later, as the Officer Commanding Parachute Training School he had also become a jump master with golden ensign (over 100 jumps).

Col Imam - Maj Sultan Amir as OC Parachute Training School Peshawar - Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar, SSG Pakistan Army

We went up our career ladders, commanding our parent battalions and landed back together in 1976. I was the Commanding Officer (officiating) and he as the Second in Command of 2 Commando Battalion (SSG). We went through hectic training, exercise, operations, etc. together. During this period we were involved in training of the Mujahedeen on a small-scale courtesy General Naseerullah Khan Babar who was the architect of the forward policy and had advised Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to be proactive along the Durand Line and payback in the same coin for what the Afghans were doing in NWFP in particular. Promoted to the rank of Lt Col he commanded his Paltan and landed in the Afghan cell of the ISI in early 80’s and was to become a larger than life legend. His stay there was to also change his earlier outlook towards life as well as profession. It was here that he adopted the nom de guerre of ‘Col Imam’ which became a world-famous identity.

Imam went after his job with single-minded devotion. Firstly, training the Afghan Mujahedeen and later leading them into operations against the Soviet troops. The animosity among Afghan groups was so great that Ahmad Shah Masoud and Gulbuddin Hikmatyar killed more of each other’s cadres than the Russians did. Without, belittling the efforts of the Mujahedeen it was the immense efforts of this small group of officers and men in coordinating operations inside Afghan area which finally resulted in the Soviet withdrawal. Imam had a low opinion about the operational capability of the Russian forces except the Spetsnaz. He had a healthy high regard for them and thought that they were among the best Special Forces in the world. He always took pride in being the first stone in the dismemberment of the Evil Empire.

He was one of ISI operators who stayed the longest, went the deepest and earned total respect of the Mujahedeen for his leadership, operational handling, tact and coordination. This was also the most dangerous period with Soviet gunships ruling the sky with total air superiority, making any moves by Mujihedeen very difficult particularly by day. However, Charlie Wilson’s effort bore fruits and the induction of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles severely challenged the Soviet air superiority. Very few people know or understand that most difficult period. Were it not for the timely induction of these SAMs Dr. Najibullah might have been still around. At the same time he was not without his detractors. While handing over the Afghan desk to me, my predecessor Gen Afzal Janjua remarked that one of the biggest worry he had was the personal security of Imam. He was apprehensive that Gulbuddin Hikmatyar (GB) may eliminate him for his patronage of Akhunzada Nasim, the leader of the Mujahideen in Helmand Province who was vehemently anti GB. During my stay as the Head of the Afghan desk I too had to ensure that they do not come into each other’s domain.

Editor: “Charlie” Wilson (Charles Nesbitt Wilson) was a United States Naval officer and former 12-term Democratic Rep from Texas. He led Congress into supporting ‘Operation Cyclone’, the largest-ever CIA covert operation which, under the Carter and Reagan administration, supplied military equipment including Stinger missiles and paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet War in Afghanistan.

Photo: Col Imam with Charlie Wilson.

Col Imam - Col Imam with Democrat Charlie Wilson - Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar Pakistan Army

The Peshawar Accord of 1992 owed itself to hectic work of pushing the Mujahideen leaders round the clock to come out with a solution. Prince Turki Al Faisal Head of Saudi intelligence was also there to pressurize the Afghan leaders. However it was a handful of people including Imam who utilized their friendship, influence, charm or arms twisting abilities to force the Afghan leaders to come out with an accord. Although not to the full satisfaction of Iranian diplomats waiting in line to exercise their own influence on future of Afghanistan. The efforts to bring out an accord were by itself one of the major achievements of ISI. Till the last moments there were hiccups and a possibility of its being sabotaged by any of the great  players who felt they were not being allowed their part in the game.

The Mujahideen Government led by Hazrat Mujadadi was installed in April 1992. Most of our work in operations had finished. I asked for a posting out while Imam stayed there till his retirement. Afghanistan remained in a state of civil war even after the installation of the Mujahideen Government. It was the period of the warlords, Turan Ismael in Herat, Gul Agha in Kandahar, Rashid Dostum Uzbek at Mazar-e-Sharif, Ahmed Shah Massoud in Panjshir Valley and other Tajik areas. The Central Government was confined to parts of Kabul only.

The Pakistan Foreign Service officers were not interested or keen in serving in a turbulent Afghanistan particularly after the assault on Pak Embassy and drubbing of our diplomats in Kabul. Col Imam came in handy and was appointed as Pakistan’s Counsel General at Herat. Having very good personal relations with Turan Ismael and his brother, he went after his job with gusto. There is no record of Imam having strayed beyond his official responsibility and interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. However his personal friendship with so many of them does not rule out his influence over them. As a Counsel General Imam utilized these bonds for getting favours in the interest of Pakistan. He was also target of kidnapping and assassination more than once. Probably his detractors wanted to shoot two birds with one shot i.e. embarrass Pakistan besides eliminating him.

The Pakistan Government during this period was conceiving its own plan for opening up Central Asian Republics through over land routes through Afghanistan. His location at Herat and Kandahar was ideally suited for facilitating this purpose. The Interior Minister Gen Babar was particularly very keen though some saner elements had advised against this adventure. Unfortunately the very first convoy led by Imam got mired in the intra Afghan feuds and was made hostage. The timely arrival of the Taliban saved Imam and the convoy from annihilation. The arrival of the Taliban in 1996 onwards was a home-grown affair in Afghanistan though it was laid at the doors of the Pakistani establishment. Imam’s personal knowledge was most useful in establishing contact and ultimately recognizing the Taliban. This was done somewhat prematurely and without the input of the foreign office. One of the key figures of Charlie Wilson’s war, he was personally known to everyone who mattered, from Charlie Wilson to the bigwigs in Pakistan, his input was considered vital in policy formulations in those crucial years.

Till the last Col Imam remained an admirer of the Taliban and prided in having been Mullah Omar’s instructor. We had heated discussions on the subject particularly after the destruction of the largest Buddha’s statue at Bamiyan. However it was difficult to convince Imam. He basked in the limelight he was getting as mentor of Taliban. His impressive, tall and handsome looks with a white turban did knock off some pretty journalists. He also had a knack of impressing people with his candid and frank opinion particularly on the future of American occupation in Afghanistan. He felt that more innocent Afghans had been killed by the US forces – called euphemistically as collateral damage – than the Russians did. Understanding Afghan psyche he believed that the time and space was on the side of the Afghan. Prophetic words to come true when President Obama directed withdrawal of the American Forces.

Lastly what ultimately happened to Col Imam is the most difficult question to be answered by anyone close to him. His last public appearance was at the marriage of my daughter on 5th of March 2010. A few days later he was apparently kidnapped by the Punjabi Taliban known as Asian Tigers on a visit to Waziristan along with Khaled Khawaja and Asjad Qureshi a British Pakistani journalist. Imam had earlier told me that during President Karzai’s last call on President Musharraf Karzai had complained that rogue elements of ISI under Col Imam were training the Afghan Taliban. Imam was called upon by his old Directorate where he told them that if he was training them then they would surely know it because nothing remains hidden from the plethora of Intelligence agencies for long. He was probably lured into coming to the tribal belt by one of the foreign funded Taliban groups with the aim of finding out what was ISI or Imam’s linkages with the Afghan Taliban. When nothing came out he had to be eliminated otherwise the game would be up.

The incredible story of arrest of Raymond Davis and Imam’s purported execution by the Pakistani Taliban soon after seems to be interwoven and interlinked somewhere. Were they trying to coerce the whereabouts of OBL from him considering him as a renegade or rouge ISI person. It also gives credence to the perception in Pakistan’s establishment of Pakistani Taliban being a tool in the pay of distant paymasters as part of the new great game. It will remain a mystery till his remains are found, DNA tested and given a proper Islamic burial. His friends, colleagues and lastly his family will miss his colourful personality for a long time to come. It is very difficult to fill such vacuum.

Photo: Col Imam in captivity of Punjabi Taiban.

Col Imam - Col Imam in captivity of Punjabi Taliban - Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar, SSG Pakistan Army

Related Posts:
Remembering Our Comrades

Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)

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  1. Real Mujahid and Sarfarosh SSG Commando and pride of nation ‘Col Imam’ was deceived by Hakimullah Mehsood, a black spot on real Taliban’s name. They are not Taliban, they are traitors and Indian agents, criminals and America’s mercenaries.

  2. Shahid Hussain S. Saqib says:

    Kaya zabardast Muslim tha kay jaan ki parwah na kartay hooway zalamoun kay samnay kalma-e-Haq kehtay hooway Shaheed ho gaya. Allah Talla hum sub ko aisi istaqamat atta farmaye aur Shahadat ki mout naseeb karay, Aameen summa Aameen.

  3. Brig Yasoob Ali Dogar,
    Sir, Thanks a lot for details of the extraordinary brave human, Mujahid, soldier, commander and son of soil, in fact they themselves are the institution itself …admire the services for our beloved country and salute to the National Hero….may Allah Pak bless the departed soul of Col Imam in the highest place of Janat ul Firdous. Ameen.

  4. Lt Col Muzaffar Ali (R) says:

    A befitting tribute to the son of the soil Late Col Imam in this article, including comments. I served in ISI from 1983 to 1989 and proceeded to Iran on cover assignment thereafter. During my stay in ISI, I had a chance to see Col Imam in different meetings quite often. What a loss to the country in losing son of the soil in this way. May ALLAH bless his soul.
    Lt Col (R) Muzaffar Ali
    0300 4810120

  5. Its a really nice article. I did not know about him but during my research on Afghan jihad and Taliban I really feel happy to know about him. He is really a legend persnality. Allah give him the highest rank in janat, Aameen.

  6. Lt Col Syed Ali Baqar, Engrs (retd) says:

    A superb account of a SOLDIER PAR EXCELLENCE, who is now lost in the pages of history, an unsung hero.

  7. Asad Dogar says:

    Great article, sir.

    • Shahid Hussain S. Saqib, Hyderabadi says:

      He was the bravest in this time and as SHAHEED will live till Qayamat in our hearts, In Sha Allah, ‘Aisay mukhlis loge abb kahan!’

  8. Ali Muhammad Lashari, Director ISI (Retd) says:

    I after training of SSG in Sep 1976 landed in 2 Commando Bn (SSG) and found both officers; Brig Yasub and Col Imam Shaheed and also felt big personality difference among them. Col Imam was most loved one than the former in our Bn. I as soldier interacted with Col Imam and always found him helpful though I was not from his company or area. Allah Almighty may accept his sacrifice and raise his status in His Court. He was real soldier of Islam and will be remembered for his role in the annals of history like of Brig T M Shaheed.

  9. Atif Mueed says:

    An excellent article. A few questions if can be answered by the writer:-
    Why ISI disassociated with such high profile operator?
    What benefits Taliban got by killing the great man?

    • Saqib Masood says:

      In such a fragile and lawless country it’s easier to find a safe heaven for everyone finding refuge and time for organization and preparation to launch terrorist attacks as per their agenda…… Therefore at one point in time a number of players with varying agendas were present in Afghanistan….Hungry for funding and patronage any group could have carried out the heinous act of killing COL IMAM.

  10. One question. Was his dead body sent back to his family by Punjabi Taliban? Please answer.

    • Brig Yasub Dogar (Retd) says:

      His body was not found, please read the last paragraph of this article. The family has decided not have any comments or ghaibana namaz-e-janaza prayers till his body is found.

      • Malik Muhammad Shehryar says:

        Brilliant article, Sir. A great tale about a great son of the soil.
        My father, Maj (R) Shahzad-ul-Hassan always remembers you in kind words. I think he served in Siachen with you.
        Good to read a wonderful article, Thanks.

  11. Mirza Jahangir B. says:

    I have no words to praise “The Ustad”. I am reading about him from last 2 or 3 years. A great inspirational stories I have heard about him. He is a SHAHEED. A genius man. May Allah bless Pakistan.
    Please post more about him.

  12. Lt Col Masood Alam (retd) says:

    In 1975 -76 I went for para course. There I saw Maj Sultan Amir, a very impresive and elegant officer whom one can never forget. May Allah award him highest place in Jannah, Ameen.

  13. Maj Tariq Junaidi (R) says:

    Tipu Company, SSG & our Sig Bn were almost neighbours in Chhor, way back in 1972 with the Avn Sec located adjacent. We then became friends, Col Amir Sultan, then Captain could be spotted from far for his impressive personality, mannerism & above all smartness and sharp looks; he would blush, if someone praised him.
    Again in 1981-82, we were together at Peshawar, where he commanded his parent unit 15 FF. Occasionally, we would call on & enjoyed tea & life otherwise. He had by then kept a beard which added to his personality. He was a staunch Mussalman with all the goodness as a gentleman. A great individual & will be remembered by anyone who met him. An open case for the highest place in Jannat-ul-Firdous! Aameen.

  14. Respected Editor,
    I am student of BS Computer Science and I have been given an assignment to Interview one Army man and a lady who were the part of 1965 War or 1971 War. Please reply with address of the retired Army Officers who are living in Lahore, so I get in touch with them.
    Thank you,

    • Dear Moeen Aslam,
      Please give following info about you, only then some War veteran will contact you, (I hope you understand the security conditions in the country?):-
      Home address, College address, cell #, Phone number of your Univercity, Title of your paper/thesis, email, etc.

      • Dear Editor,
        Here are my personal details:-
        1. Name: Moeen Aslam
        2 Father’s Name: Muhammad Aslam Khan
        3. CNIC # 37406-4600084-9
        4. Date of Birth: 05 Dec 1995
        5. Address
        a. Permanent Address: Street No.32, Muhalla Jamilabad, Taxila, District Rawalpindi
        b. Residential Address: House No. E-34, Engro Fertilizers Colony, Daharki, District Ghotki
        c. Lahore Address: currently my semester has been completed and leaving my hostel so I can give my relative’s address. (NFC Housing Scheme Phase I, Room #2, underwater storage tank.
        6. University: I am studying BSCS in Information Technology University, 6th Floor, Arfa Software Technology Park, Ferozepur Road, Lahore
        7. Roll No.: BSCS14039
        8. Phone No. of University: (92) 42 35880062
        9. Title for Thesis/Paper:” Pakistan Studies Assignment 2 – 1965 War Interview”
        10: Email: bscs14039@itu.edu.pk
        11. My Mobile No. 03072865452
        I’ve only 3 days for assignment. I need urgent help of some War veteran.

        • Dear Moeen Aslam,
          Brig Yasub Dogar, the writer of this aticle, is a veteran of 1971 War. He has agreed to give you time for the interview. I have sent his Mobile # on your both email addresses. Please contact him as soon as possible.

  15. Asma Zahoor says:

    Col Imam spent his childhood before joining Army at my grandfather’s place. He used to call my father as Mamoo (maternal uncle) and he owns him like a child. The last time he came to see my parents a few months before his kidnapping my father asked him to keep away from journalists and talk shows and he agreed like most respectful son. After his departure my mother said,’Uss ka chehra zyyarat kay qabil tha’.
    And he left never to return. I also wrote an article on him in my college magazine.

  16. Lt Col Moaziz Syed (R), Avn (1st War Course) Canada says:

    Col Imam was very honest about what he believed and could not have had personal enmity with anyone. He should not have gone the way he did.

  17. Shahid Hussain S. Saqib says:

    Indeed he was a great soldier. He was a Shaheed, killed for a noble cause without any financial benefits. May Allah give us the courage as he had.

  18. Col Shah Alam (R), Avn (34 PMA) Canada says:

    Thanks for sharing the story of a great and legendary soldier. Such souls are rare and it’s an honor to have been associated and worked alongside such icons: indeed you, Brig Yasub, are fortunate to have been blessed with that honor.

    It’s tragic that his death occurred in such mysterious circumstances but our inability not to resolve that puzzle makes it sadder. Difficult to say if it was lack of will or giving up to political compulsions that a sincere effort to investigate his mysterious death wasn’t undertaken. Each passing day the trail is getting colder and unless we expedite this investigation with a renewed zeal, his remains may be lost to oblivion.

    This article is an excellent tribute to Col Imam but he definitely deserves greater recognition in the archives of Pakistan Army’s history. Conferring upon him a posthumous award may thence be equally befitting to recognizing his contributions to an Afghan Jihad that was instrumental in the dismemberment of a World Super Power.

    May Allah Bless Col Imam’s soul. Amen.

  19. Maj Hasan Jawaid (R) 1st SSC, USA says:

    Brig Yasub,
    Excellent memoir and recap of the events that would have gone unknown to most of us who have had brief interaction with him during our training while he was OC Para School back in 70’s. He was very demanding and strict when he came around during our training sessions but totally different at the end of the day. He spoke fondly about his motorbike ride to Badaber and other cities and the adventures that he encountered back and forth to these places. He sure was a breed apart, man of courage and steel.
    Please do share more of such events with us.

  20. Lt Col Zubair Ahmed (Retd), Canada says:

    I had the honor to know Maj Sultan Amir as OC Para Training Wing (later named as Para Trg School) briefly in the end of 1974 for the duration of para jumping course. Sometime ones interaction with people is brief yet leaves a deep and long lasting impact on you and ‘Col Imam’ was one of those few. One of the biggest compliments for a soldier is that others want to be by his side at the biggest time of trial and he was one of the kind.


    May Almighty bless the unsung soldier & bless him the highest of rewards for his efforts. Aameen.

  21. Lt Col Shahbaz Thuthaal (Retd) says:

    The last two Paragraphs speak volumes of our Establishment’s perception of things/operations only from their own point of view like the “Good British Col (Alec Guinness) in the famous film ‘BRIDGE ON RIVER KAWAI’. No one consider the implications of their actions? Like Kargil operation A Masterpiece of Tactical Surprise but having disastrous Strategical implications for us?

    Majority of the SSG officers involved in Afghan War 1979-1992, never gave up and wanted to always play a role in the AFGHAN affairs thinking they were the Experts little realizing that the such wars are fought under the Government Patronage and can not be fought in isolation.

    I know of another friend, who had to retire from service because he wanted to live in the Past. Even After retirement he visited Afghanistan till he had shown the door by the Taliban?

    One of our friends would always Boast that GB was his student till I reminded him that now he is Prime Minister of Afghanistan, so he must be considered as such and he should attend to his own personal affairs. But this is possible because majority of them were busy with the War and had failed to do the Staff course, which could enable them further promotions in the Army. Gen Afzal Janjua and others were lucky they continued advancement in their careers as such left the Afghan War to the Government of the day. The end of Col Imam was very tragic. May Almighty Allah bless his soul.

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