By: Dr. Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari
Dated: March 26, 2015
On 12 March 2015, the TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the re-merger of TTP’s factions – TTP and TTP-Jamaatul Ahrar – along with a separate militant group, Lashker Islam, which operates from the Khyber Agency.
A written statement issued by the TTP’s spokesman, Muhammad Khorasani, confirmed the development. In the statement, Khorasani said:
“We happily inform and congratulate the Muslim Ummah in general and Pakistani people and mujahideen in particular that and strong jihadist parties like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat ul Ahrar, Tehrik-e-Lashkar-e-Islam and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have united under the name of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] to fight against the Taghooti (satanic), Infidel, democratic, un-Islamic system and the Na-Pak (urdu for impure) Murtad (Arabic for apostate) Army. This blessed decision was taken by the leaders of all the three jihadi groups, Respected Maulana Fazlullah Khorasani, Omar Khalid Khorasani and Haji Mangal Bagh in a joint consultative meeting. An organizing committee was formed which will form a central supreme Shura (Rehbari Shura) and an organizing body in few days. We warn the followers and defenders of the Infidel democratic system of Pakistan that in any situation we will not let the conspiracies of the Murtad Na-Pak Army being succeeded. It should be clear that to disagree and divide this blessed organization the notorious agency ISI martyred four of our members but Insha’Allah our enemy will not succeed in his plans and the organizing committee will investigate this incident and will punish anyone found guilty according to Shariah. On the other side, Maulana Shakeel Ahmed Haqqani Shaheed and Doctor Tariq Ali also known as Abu Obaidah Al Islamabadi Shaheed’s martyrdom was carried out by the agents of the notorious ISI. Therefore, the revenge for these martyrs will be taken collectively by the Tehreek [-e-Taliban].
The re-merger could be seen as an attempt to survive the military onslaught against them – both by the Pakistani and Afghan governments. It is also an attempt to collectivize their efforts, energy and resources to hit the Pakistani state and government in a more effective and deadly way. The unity effort of the TTP constituents or factions could be seen in the context of healing their differences.
While the TTP was an umbrella or conglomeration of various Taliban constituents belonging to the FATA Agencies and KPK districts, the later remained largely autonomous of the former. This independence in the decision making of the TTP constituents was even visible during the time of its founding father, late Baitullah Mahsud. For example, the decision of the Swati Taliban to continue its fight against the Pakistani security forces in late 2007 and early 2008, while Baitullah Mahsud signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in the wake of military operation, Tri Star, explains how both the groups took into consideration their respective interests and that of their tribes while making decisions. Similarly, the killing of Shah Khalid group of Mohmand Agency as well as the decision of the Swati, Bajaur and Mohmand Taliban to destroy schools despite remonstration and appeals from Baitullah Mahsud fell on deaf ears. Later on, the cleavage widened as Hakimullah Mahsud succeeded as the central leader and it finally resulted in its dismemberment after the death of Mahsud.
Two reasons could be attributed to the breakup of the TTP constituents from the umbrella group: First, differences cropped over the issue of whether to hold negotiations with the government in 2013-2014. While some factions favoured a peaceful approach to further their agenda, others like Fazlullah and Omar Khalid Khorasani opposed it tooth and nail. Secondly, the succession of Fazlullah as the head of the TTP was not absorbed by many leaders of the TTP constituents.
Omar Khalid Khorasani, for example, did not only oppose holding negotiations with the government but also felt he was sidelined in the power struggle for the selection of the TTP central head. Khorasani is one of those leaders who remained active from the beginning. It was he who first used the name Tehrik-e-Taliban for his newly formed group when they occupied the religious shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai (a British colonial-era freedom fighter) in Mohmand Agency in July 2007 in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid Operation. Later on, he was instrumental in sending delegations to many Taliban groups operating in various parts of FATA and KP, including to Mullah Fazlullah of Swat and Baitullah Mahsud of South Waziristan, to join hands and wage a collective struggle against the Pakistani government and Army. His proposal was very much liked by Baitullah and subsequently the entire effort materialized in the form of the TTP. Although Khorasani did not enjoy a position in the top hierarchy of the TTP, however he remained quite influential on TTP affairs from the beginning. Almost all the central spokesman, including Ehsanullah Ehsan belonged to his faction. His deputy, Qari Shakeel Haqqani, not only remained a member of the Central Shura of the TTP, but also headed it for a while. Similarly, Khorasani remained active in furthering the global Jihadist agenda of the TTP. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani terrorist involved in the failed Time Square bombing in the US, visited Mohmand Agency and met Khorasani before he was dispatched to South Waziristan for training and indoctrination.
Similarly, the Mohmand Taliban are among those TTP constituents who are known for their dread and brutality as well as their ability to strike deep into Pakistan. The TTP Mohmand had been able to establish their militant network in the entire Pakistan and their sleeper cells were operating in the KPK, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. The other active TTP constituents were the Mahsud Taliban and the Darra Adamkhel Taliban. The Swati Taliban and the Bajaur Taliban as well as those belonging to Orakzai and Kurram Agency had never been able to successful establish and conduct activities in Pakistan and they were largely confined to their respective areas/Agencies. Hence, under the leadership Late Baitullah Mahsud or his successor, Hakimullah Mahsud, the TTP was able to carry out attacks as far away as Karachi.
Similarly, Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) has remained confined mainly to the Khyber Agency’s Bara area and some suburbs of Peshawar. The offer to the LI from the TTP to join it has been there since 2008, but the former never contemplated joining the latter for the fear that the TTP would sneak into the entire Khyber and create law and order and security problems that would invite the wrath of the government. The TTP did try to establish itself in the Khyber Agency and its first constituent group led by Mullah Hazrat Ali aka Tamancha Mullah and Hazrat Nabi in Landi Kotal, but timely action by the government dislodged them from the area and both are now based in the adjoining Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan.
However, when the fighting between the LI and its rival, Ansarul Islam (AI) intensified, the TTP factions from the adjoining Orakzai Agency jumped into the fray; some supported the LI while others supported the AI. This was because the LI belongs to the Panjpiri sect of Islam while the AI is Deobandi outfit. Similarly, the TTP constituent of Orakzai Agency was divided into Panjpiri and Deobandi sects and their support to their sectarian brothers in Khyber was a natural act. The LI was able to push the AI from the Tirah Valley due to help and support from the TTP fighters.
In a later fighting between the LI and Tauheedul Islam (TI), a pro-government tribal lashkar of Zakakhel sub-tribe of the Afridis which also included some former prominent members of the LI, the LI was forced to seek the TTP’s help and successfully ward off the TI. During this time, the LI and the TTP announced that they would coordinate their activities while maintaining their independent status and groups respectively.
The LI’s decision to allow the TTP constituents to seek refuge in the Tirah Valley around the time when the NATO forces were withdrawing from Afghanistan, spurred the government into action and the subsequent launch of Operation Khyber 1 in Bara area of the Agency. When the operation intensified and the Pakistan Army marched towards Tirah, Mullah Fazlullah announced unequivocal support to the LI and advised all his fighters to support the LI in its fight against the Army. The Jamaatul Ahrar fighters are also supporting the LI.
While the government claims to have cleared the Bara area of Khyber Agency and is set to allow the internally displaced persons from Bara to return to their homes, it is planning a major operation dubbed “Operation Khyber 2” which will target the Tirah Valley. In the past few days, intensified air sorties combined with ground advancement has seen the Army taking control of the strategic passes in the Tirah Valley which connects it with the adjoining Nangarhar Province.
Post-December 2014, there is a joint coordination between the Afghan and Pakistan security forces on eliminating the TTP on both sides of the border. In this respect, the TTP and TTP Jamaatul Ahrar sanctuaries are being targeted in both the Nazyan district and the Lalpur district of Nangarhar. Due to this, the operational space as well as survival ability of the TTP has shrank considerably.
Hence, the TTP is contemplating attacks in mainland Pakistan, especially in Punjab. However, only the Jamaatul Ahrar faction has this capability to strike deep inside Pakistan as manifested in their recent attacks in Punjab. Therefore, by joining hands the TTP wants to come out with a strategy to defend itself as well as inflict damage in Pakistan.
Recent attacks in Nangarhar has caused much damage to all the groups. The 12 March drone strike in Ranai parchao in Lalpur district of Nangarhar killed four prominent persons, three of whom were:
- Qari Shakeel Haqqani
- Dr Tariq Ali aka Abu Obaidah Al Islamabadi
- And the brother of Commander Abu bakr who is from Bajaur Agency but from the Safi tribe.
The earlier operation by Afghan forces in Nazyan district of Nangarhar Province on 22 February led to the killing of the following:
- Commander Fazl amin (LI)
- Commander Wajid Malikdinkhel ) of LI
- Shakir Afridi (driver of Mangal Bagh)
- Commander Sahar Gul (LI)
- Commander Shahamat (LI)
The Jamaatul Ahrar is based mainly in Lalpur district of Nangarhar Province
The Nazyan district of Nangarhar Province contains fighters of LI, Fazlullah’s TTP and Daesh fighters (formerly TTP)
Khan Sayed alias Sajna Mahsud remains quite. He has not given any indication at the moment that he would merge his group again with TTP. At the moment he and his group are neutral. But even if Khan Sayed agree to join the alliance then he would like to be in the commanding position because he would not like to work under the leaders of the above-mentioned groups. At the moment khan sayed is focused on his peace talks with government although tension remains between Sajna group and the government but still peace talks are going on between the two sides.
The Daesh militants are not getting the response which they were hoping for and many of the militants groups including the above mentioned groups have so far expressed their support for Daesh but shown no desire to join the IS. However, situation can change radically if the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar decides to hold talks with the Afghan government. There could be a massive defection within the Afghan Taliban field force since they would not countenance such a move. Mullah Omar may lose his legitimacy to lead the Afghan Taliban, most of whom may approach Daesh to join it. Reports indicating Abdul Qayum Zakir, military head of Afghan Taliban, opposing peace talks with the Afghan government could be based on such a premise since he realizes the repercussions of such a move. In any such eventuality, the existing TTP rank and file which opposes talks with the Pakistani government and holds similar opinion viz Mullah Omar and Afghan Government may also decide to renege on their bay’aa (oath of allegiance) and seek fresh bay’aa with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This would change the picture altogether and may raise serious challenges for the regional countries and NATO.
There are reports that Sheryar Mahsud the head of Hakimullah Mahsud group who is nowadays living in Khyber Agency from the past couple of months may also join the above mentioned alliance. Lashker Jhangvi militants may also join the alliance because they are also on the hit list of the government and many of their leaders and commanders have been arrested or killed by the security forces