Brotherhood of bombs

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Pakistan’s war Insight By Mohammad Shehzad

A report on the changing organization and loyalties of the Pakistani Taliban


Hakimullah Mehsud is the emir of Pakistan’s biggest terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. He is also wanted by the US for murdering seven Americans on December 30, 2009 at a CIA base in Khost, and the failed bombing of Times Square in New York City on May 1, 2010. Washington and Islamabad have announced a bounty of $5m and Rs50m on his head. But the chief of the country’s biggest religious party – Jamaat-e-Islami – says he does not exist.

“Hakimullah is a product of the media,” says Syed Munawar Hasan (To the Point on Express TV, Nov 1). He contradicts himself in the next sentence. “The army failed to keep its promises with the Pakistani Taliban, so they are justified in launching attacks against the army and civilians.”

The Taliban of Bajaur, Mohmand and Darra Adam Khel are autonomous but they consider Hakimullah their leader

The first major terrorist attack by the TTP after its inception in 2007 was a suicide attack on former interior minister Aftab Sherpao in Charsadda on December 21, 2007. Sherpao survived but at least 50 people were killed in the bombing and 100 were injured. The group’s latest attack killed a leader of Awami National Party and head of a peace lashkar Fateh Khan and his five guards in Buner on November 3. So far, the TTP has carried out 200 suicide attacks killing 561 security personnel and 2,403 civilians. At least 702 security men and 6,125 civilians were injured in these attacks. It has also carried out 1,300 IED attacks killing 2,060 security men and 2,073 civilians, and injuring 1,532 troops and 2,309 civilians. The group has blown up more than 300 schools during this period.

The TTP has attacked the army’s general headquarters, key naval and airforce bases, Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel, police stations, offices of intelligence agencies, buses carrying school children, mosques, shrines, funerals, and peace lashkars, and has abducted and beheaded people claiming they were US spies. But public opinion did not turn against them until they claimed responsibility for the attack on child activist Malala Yousafzai in Swat.

TTP – history and organization

Political analysts believe that TTP is no more an organized outfit under a centralized command and control system after the death of its founder Baitullah Mehsud in a drone attack on August 5, 2009.

“The TTP is highly decentralized now. The most powerful of its groups is the one led by Hakimullah Mehsud,” says Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Afghan affairs and militancy. “The level of interaction and contacts between different TTP groups is weakening. The Taliban of Swat and Malakand, who are around 1,500 in number, are in Afghanistan. They are totally independent in their decision making. The Taliban of Bajaur, Mohmand and Darra Adam Khel are autonomous but they consider Hakimullah their emir. They can carry out attacks anywhere independently, but they obey Hakimullah if he issues an order, like the recent one of targeting journalists,” Rahimullah adds.

At the time of its formation, the TTP consisted of 40 different Taliban groups

“At the time of its formation, the TTP consisted of 40 different Taliban groups,” says Hamid Mir, a journalist who claims to have interviewed Osama Bin Laden and in the 1990s edited a pro-Jehad paper called Ausaf. “The decisions were made by a Shura that elected Hafiz Bahadur as TTP’s deputy emir. Baitullah Mehsud was in the saddle.” But after Baitullah’s death, Maulvi Faqeer Mohammad of Bajaur and Mullah Fazlullah of Swat made failed attempts to take over the TTP, he says. “Although Hakimullah became the TTP chief because of the strength of his group, he is fast losing his grip on the alliance. Four major groups – headed by Fazlullah, Gul Bahadur (North Waziristan), Maulvi Nazir (South Waziristan) and the Haqqanis don’t listen to him. But they are all connected with each other through a medium – Ehsanullah Ehsan – whose real name is Sajjad Mehmond.”

If Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur don’t listen to Hakimullah, why do they shelter him in their areas? “They don’t want Hakimullah in their area,” says Yusufzai. “But they can’t help it. They fear him. He has a huge squad of suicide bombers and target killers.”

“North Waziristan is the hub of all kinds of militants,” says Saifullah Mahsud, executive director of Islamabad-based Fata Research Center. “Nazir or Bahadur might be having differences with Hakimullah, but all the militants in the area follow the Pashtun code. They never assist anyone against each other.”

Hakimullah’s group is the largest in the TTP – with a strength of 3,000 to 4,000 men, according to Yusufzai. The total strength of TTP is no more than 8,000, according to Fata Research Center.

Hakimullah removed Maulvi Faqir Hussain as TTP’s deputy in May 2012. Although he never appointed a new deputy, some media organizations say Waliur Rehman Mehsud (former spokesman of Baitullah Mehsud) is the new deputy. Saifullah Mahsud says Waliur Rehman is the head of TTP South Waziristan, and not TTP’s number two.

TTP and Pakistan Army

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Pakistan Army has negotiated deals with the TTP leadership in the past to seek release of its kidnapped soldiers. The Pakistani government released 55 militants and paid a ransom of Rs20m for the release of Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin in 2008. But analysts are divided over support for the TTP in the Pakistani establishment.

“Pakistan Army does not support the TTP as an institution, but certain elements within the army do,” says Hamid Mir. “For instance, Pakistan Army raised Baitullah against Abdullah Mehsud. The latter had never carried out any activity inside Pakistan. After the military operation on the Red Mosque, Baitullah turned against his creators and he formed the TTP.”

Rahimullah Yusufzai disagrees. “Nobody can claim at this point that even some elements in the army are supporting the TTP. There is an open war between the two. Both are attacking each other,” he says. “But the army does have peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban in North and South Waziristan.”

Divisions in the TTP

The attack on Malala has not created a consensus in Pakistan on going after the Taliban, but it has created divisions among the various Taliban groups in the country.

Hamid Mir says one Taliban faction had called him saying that TTP would attack Malala again, but other Taliban leaders, including Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur, have told him they condemn the attack because it was un-Islamic and maligned Taliban’s cause.

The TTP has fragmented into half a dozen independent groups that are not completely dissociated with Hakimullah.

TTP Bajaur was led by Mullah Dadullah who was killed in a drone attack in Kunar in August. It is now led by 45-year-old Maulvi Abu Bakar. Its strength is no more than 600. The army forced it out of Bajaur in 2008. It has taken refuge in Afghanistan from where it carries out ‘hit-and-run’ attacks on Pakistan Army.

TTP Mohmand is led by Omar Khalid who comes from the Safi tribe. Its spokesman is Mukarram Khurasani. Its strength is about 500. The group has safe havens in the Afghan province of Nangarhar from where it launches cross border attacks on Pakistan Army’s checkposts.

TTP Darra Adamkhel is seen as the most dangerous group in TTP. It raises funds by abductions for ransom. It kidnapped and killed a Polish engineer in February 2009. Its emir Tariq Afridi, who constituted a suicide brigade within the group under the name ‘Al Mansooreen’, was reportedly killed in August. But the TTP has not confirmed his death. “There is no doubt he has been killed,” Saifullah Mahsud says. “It is up to his people whether to keep him alive or nominate a deputy.”

Afridi is also a member of an outlawed sectarian outfit responsible for killing Shias. On August 16, this group claimed the responsibility of pulling 20 Shia Muslims out of a bus killing them at point blank range in Mansehra. Its latest activity was a bombing in the main market of Darra Adamkhel on October 12 in which 15 people were killed and several were injured. The group’s strength is around 800.

TTP Dir is led by Commander Hafizullah aka Commander Kochwan. Along with more than 500 comrades, he is hiding in Afghanistan. He launches cross border attacks on army checkposts from time to time. The last such activity was reported in August in Lower Dir. He is supported by Mullah Fazlullah of TTP Swat.

TTP Kurram has split into two factions. One is led by Hakimullah loyalist commander Noor Jamal, aka Mullah Toofan, a local prayer leader from Hangu, and the other by Maulana Fazle Saeed Haqqani. The latter parted ways with the former, citing suicide bombings in mosques and killing of innocent people as the reason. He is a student of Maulana Samiul Haq. The strength of both the groups – Noor Jamal and Fazle Saeed – is a few hundred.

TTP Mansehra is headed by Momin Khan. He was able to organize a group in Mansehra in early 2009 setting up training centers. In April, five of its militants raided the district jail Mansehra to release two of their men. The strength of this group is about 200.

TTP Orakzai is led by Qari Saeed. There were reports last month that he was arrested by Nowshera police but they were contradicted by TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. The strength of this group is around 200.

The future of TTP

“The TTP has to die sooner or later,” says Saifullah Mahsud. “People will kill its militants because they have committed unimaginable atrocities against them.” He says locals believe that the army is capable of eliminating the TTP, but is not doing so because it is “using them for ulterior objectives”.

“When the Haqqanis have to attack US/NATO forces, they get manpower from TTP,” Saifullah adds. He believes Hakimullah is the only Taliban commander who is not in the army’s control. Other leaders like Mullah Nazir, Gul Bahadur and Waliur Rehman, he says, are “good boys”.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher. His work is archived at www.pol-dev.com. Email: yamankalyan@gmail.com

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