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FOREIGN ANALYZES N°15
FRAGMENTED YET FATAL : TEHREEK-E-TALIBAN PAKISTAN

Dr Farhan Zahid
31-01-2015

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Farhan Zahid (Pakistan), Ph D, is a Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst.

 

 

 

 

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP/Movement Of Taliban In Pakistan), though a newcomer at Pakistani jihadist scene, has become the lynchpin of all Islamist violent non-state actors. The TTP though an agglomerate of more than 40 Islamist tribal factions, is in true sense a violent non-state actor that could be compared with internationally known large-scale terrorist groups such as Colombian FARC, Lebanese Hezbollah, Northern Ireland's IRA, and Sri Lankan LTTE. Established in August 2007[1], the TTP was from the beginning closely linked to Al-Qaeda. Even before its creation, the Islamist tribal sympathizers of Al-Qaeda were instrumental in providing shelter to Al-Qaeda's on-the-run leadership in tribal areas of Pakistan after the US invasion in October 2001.

TTP was formed by Al-Qaeda-linked tribes, by tribesmen having links with Al-Qaeda leadership since Afghan War days.[2] Therefore it is more of an extension of Al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan. TTP has developed a high level liaison with Al-Qaeda and other Pakistani Islamist terrorist organizations (HuJI, HuM, JeM, LeJ and LeT aka Punjabi Taliban). The TTP's leadership and cadres are Pashtun-dominated but it has managed to merge Punjabi Taliban groups and their splinters. TTP provides these Punjab-based groups shelter and logistical support in launching terrorist attacks on mainland Pakistan. It is headquartered in tribal districts of North and South Waziristan but having tentacles spread over other five districts of tribal areas (almost the size of Belgium).

 

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Figure1: TTP's interconnected group

 

 

Ideology

Ideologically, TTP is of Deobandi-Wahabi school of thoughts and many of its leaders were formerly members of Islamist party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). Baitullah Mehsud, the first chief (Amir) of TTP, used to be associated with JUI's tribal area chapter.[3] Time and again, JUI and other Deobandi Islamist parties have refused to condemn TTP's acts of terror, most importantly the suicide attacks.[4]

 

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Figure 2: The TTP Ideology

 

TTP is not monolithic. It is in fact a loose alliance of factions comprising of tribesmen of many different tribes having a long standing relationship with Al-Qaeda's leadership and had remained part of jihad during 1980s. The several different factions now part of TTP took some time in joining hands together. The alliance came to fruition after the initiation of Pakistani military operation against Wazir and Mehsud tribes, supporting and sheltering Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban remnants fleeing Afghanistan after the US invasion. Therefore the TTP formally came into being in August 2007; the group existed before that without any formal and institutionalized set up. The influence of TTP could be ascertained from the peace deals the authorities had to sign with this tribal militia (Shakia Accord, Wana Accord, Sara Rogha and Mir Ali)[5].

The insurgent elements of Wazir and Mehsud tribes had been able to form an informal structure since after the arrival of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fleeing rank and files in tribal areas months after US assault began against the Taliban regime. The question arises here  : why Al-Qaeda and Taliban decided to land in Pakistani tribal areas? Anne Stenersen describes this phenomenon because of long standing relations between the Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Ahmedzai Waziris and Mehsud tribes. The links were established during Afghan War period. It was during those days when Arab participants of Afghan War such as Bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, Abu Laith al-Libbi, Abdullah Azzam and others had established training camps and bases in Pakistani tribal areas alongside Afghan mujahedeen. In her own words: "Bin Laden's first base on Afghan soil was Jaji, in southeastern Afghanistan, in cooperation with Jalal-uddin Haqqani (...) after the Taliban came to power, Al-Qaeda's headquarters moved to Kandahar at the request of Mullah Omar, but Al-Qaeda continued to operate training camps in the southeastern and eastern part of the country. After the US-led campaign against Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Qaeda's last battles were staged in the same regions - the battle of Tora Bora in Nangarhar (December 2001) and the battle of Shah-i-Kot in Khost, also known as ‘Operation Anaconda' (March 2002). Militants connected with eastern Afghan Taliban factions (including Haqqani, Khalis and others) appear to have helped the Arabs to flee across the border to FATA." [6]

It is not only Al-Qaeda's leaders that have taken refuge in tribal but there are many others, such as Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, leaders from Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Emirate Kaukav (Chechens) and radical Muslim youth from the US and western Europe. Therefore the Al-Qaeda connections have been there since the beginning and that helped establish Pakistani Taliban network a formidable one to be confronted.[7]

The tribal supporters of Al-Qaeda elements resisted Pakistani forces' efforts to pursue them. Tribal warlord Nek Mohammad Wazir[8] from South Waziristan district of tribal areas was the first one to lead Al-Qaeda support-group against Pakistani security forces. Wazir was a veteran jihadist with old ties Afghan War era mujahedeen group Hizb-e-Islami (Khalis faction) and in later years he fought by the side of Afghan Taliban against Northern Alliance forces during Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Being an ethnic Pashtun and an ardent follower of Deobandi school of thought he had obvious sympathies with Afghan Taliban and their brand of Islam.[9] He took pride in providing them with food, shelter and safe havens in Wazir tribe areas. Nek Mohammad had been able to raise a significant tribal militia, armed to the teeth with an advantage of being on rugged home turf.[10]  

The confederation of Waziri tribes under the leadership of Nek Mohammad continued fighting with Pakistani security forces from 2002 to 2004. There had been many ups and downs, with pauses because of peace deals between Waziri militias and Pakistani forces. Wazir tested the patience of both Pakistani and US authorities by violating every peace agreement by providing access to foreign Islamist militants. He was finally killed in a Hellfire missile attack, launched from an MQ-9 Reaper (UAV) in June 2004.[11] His death made no difference and fighting between rebel tribes and Pakistani forces kept on.

Juxtaposing Nek Mohammad was another tribesman named Abdullah Mehsud (aka Noor Alam), an ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner and hard line Taliban. Like Nek Mohammad Wazir, Mehsud had fought against Northern Alliance forces during Taliban period. He was arrested during battle of Kunduz by Northern Alliance forces and then handed over to the US. He was later shifted to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation but US interrogators failed to get anything out of him and he was released in 2003.[12] Abdullah Mehsud immediately joined back his former mates in Mehsud tribe's territory in South Waziristan and reportedly had been able to raise a 5 000 men strong militia against Pakistani military. Mehsud's militia continued to create havoc till his death while fighting Pakistani forces in 2007. According to one US Defense Department report, "Mahsud, now reputed to be a militant leader, claimed to be an office clerk and driver for the Taliban from 1996 to 1998 or 1999. He consistently denied having any affiliation with al Qaida. He also claimed to have received no weapons or military training due to his handicap (an amputation resulting from when he stepped on a land mine 10 years ago). He claimed that after September 11, 2001 he was forcibly conscripted by the Taliban military." [13]

Baitullah Mehsud, another militiaman took over the reins of Islamist tribal insurgency after Nek Mohammad and Abdullah in 2007. Baitullah, a former gym instructor and Taliban soldier was the one who organized and formally launched Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the most vicious of all Pakistani Islamist terrorist organizations.[14] Under Baitullah, the Pashtun-dominated militia TTP managed to inflict crushing defeats to Pakistani Army. The most humiliating moment came in, when in a broad day light raid, Baitullah seized a military convoy and more than 100 officers and soldiers of Pakistani Army surrendered to tribesmen under his command.[15]

The most significant act of terror attributed to TTP, was the assassination of two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007.[16] She was killed in a gun-suicide attack when a pair of suicide bombers first tried to shoot her down and after failing to do so, pressed the suicide belt trigger. Bhutto died few hours later whereas 24 other people lost their lives in the same attack. The government sources claimed that the two were sent by Baitullah to eliminate her from Pakistan's political scene. Evidence later confirmed his involvement. Mehsud later met the same fate as his fellow tribesman Abdullah when he was hit by a UAV guided missile in May 2009.[17]

Even United Nations commission of inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of PM Bhutto reflects about Mehsud's role:" Senior officials of current Pakistani government have experessed their belief in Mr Mehsud's involvement, although they continue to believe that he was part of a larger conspiracy (...) the commission believes that the competent authorities of Pakistan should aggressively pursue the possible role of the TTP and Pakistani jihadi groups in Ms Bhutto's assassination." [18]

According to Hassan Abbas, the TTP is an agglomerate of several different Pashtun tribes, of not only South and North Waziristan districts of tribal areas but also from other five tribal districts and some from settled area districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province of Pakistan. These tribes have been Al-Qaeda allies since the arrival of Al-Qaeda on-the-run leaders from Afghanistan. He explains this phenomenon as: "The transition from being Taliban supporters and sympathizers to becoming a mainstream Taliban force in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) initiated when many small militant groups operating independently in the area started networking with one another, this sequence of developments occurred while Pakistani forces were spending the majority of their resources finding ‘foreigners' in the area linked to al-Qaeda (roughly in 2002-04 period)." [19]

Unlike like-minded Punjabi Taliban groups such as JeM, HuM, LJ and LeT, the TTP is neither well organized nor well structured. It is in fact a loose tribal confederation of tribes with religio-tribal agonies against the state of intruding into their autonomous areas of control. It's a network of 28 tribal groups and Punjabi groups. The TTP was formed by pro-All-Qaeda tribes with links to other foreign elements.[20] All TTP stalwarts starting from Baitullah Mehsud, Hakeemullah Mehsud, Fazalullah (current Amir) and district leaders Omar Khalid (Mohmand district chief of operations), Faqir Mohammad (former Amir of Bajaur district), Hafiz Gul Bahadar (North Waziristan), Maulvi Nazir (South Waziristan), and others are integrated into a loose organizational network in 2007.[21] 

Fragmentations

The splintering process was overdue but somehow averted as the key commanders had developed major differences over getting control over tribal districts. Fierce clashes erupted between militants loyal to Khalid Mehsud (alias Sajna) and Sheryar Mehsud over the control of South Waziristan district. Fazalullah impatient to prove his iron grip over TTP immediately sacked Khalid Mehsud and appointed a Khalid Haqqani as the new commander of South Waziristan district. The TTP Shura refused to endorse Fazalullah's decision leading to fragmentation.

In fact the TTP started to fragment right after the death of its former Emir Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone attack in South Waziristan last December. The TTP's supreme Shura council met several times to decide about the new Emir. Shura members reluctantly agreed on the name of Fazalullah, the notorious head of TTP-affiliated Tehreek-e-Nizam Shariat-e-Mohammadi. Supreme leader of Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar is believed to put his weight behind and Fazalullah, leading to his selection as Emir of TTP. Unlike previous Emirs of TTP (namely Baitullah Mehsud and Hakeemullah Mehsud) Fazalullah belongs to Mingora district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province of Pakistan. 

Since the TTP is an agglomerate of 27-40 Taliban groups based in tribal areas of Pakistan (7 districts and 5 Frontier regions) and traditionally the Emir is from tribal areas, the selection of Fazalullah had become the bone of contention among other group leaders, all vying for the slot from the very beginning. The TTP was founded by Mehsud tribesmen in August 2007 with Baitullah Mehsud as its first Emir. As the TTP is Mehsud and Wazir dominated therefore it was difficult for both Mehsud and Wazir tribesmen to appoint a non-Mehsud and non-Wazir Emir who is not even from the tribal areas. It was more or less like a non-Arab commanding Al-Qaeda Central.

 

 

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Most of the 425 suicide attacks in Pakistan from 2002 to present were claimed by TTP and its affiliated groups (the Punjabi Islamist groups). The TTP has Al-Qaeda expertise on its side. It is the most significant overt threat to the security of Pakistan.[22] The TTP is considered the most-allied ally of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. It is because of TTP that other five principal Islamist terrorist organizations HuM, HuJI, JeM, LeJ and LeT have been able to target Pakistani cities and military installations. It is observed that during most of the suicide attacks in Pakistan most of the suicide bombers were provided by TTP to other five organizations (HuJI, HuM, LeJ, LeT and JeM), and the organization had facilitated the suicide operations. Many of the suicide attacks and bombings including high profile cases such as assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf in 2002 and 2003,  Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in 2004, Marriot Hotel bombing in 2008; were even planned by Al-Qaeda operatives such as Abu Faraj al Libi based in tribal areas in collusion with TTP.




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