COMMANDERS OF THE TTP: THE TRAITORS WITHIN

February 4, 2014 OPINION/NEWS

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         By

         Sabena Siddiqi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tehreek Taliban Pakistan came into being under Nek Mohammed Wazir in 2002 when the Pakistani military conducted incursions into the tribal areas to capture foreign militants fleeing from the Afghan war into tribal areas of Pakistan. The operations were not a success and ended with an initial retreat of the Army and a ceasefire agreement called the Shakai truce. The ceasefire was signed at a place called Shakai with five tribal leaders.

 

The Waziri and Mehsud tribes were traditional opponents with the Waziri tribe constantly trying to evict the Mehsud tribe from their land. The first ever US drone strike happened in 2004 claiming Nek Muhammad Wazir’s life in a strike on South Waziristan. It was done after the Mehsuds refused to give up foreign militants hiding in their midst.

 

The Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerged as an official militant group in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud, the first ‘commander’ of the rebel outfit. It acted as an umbrella organisation for about 13 Islamist militant factions, starting as an ‘alternate’ local group from the Afghan Taliban after the Pakistan army scourged South Waziristan and the valleys for foreign militants responsible for rampant terrorism in Pakistan. Some Waziri tribes took offence and took it personally and the TTP started. Astonishingly their objective was to oppose the state of Pakistan, enforce their own interpretation of Sharia and work against NATO. Baitullah Mehsud was under considerable influence of the Uzbek IMU leader Tahir Yuldashev who imbibed a hardline Shia ideology to him. The first fatwas against the Pakistan army and government were announced after this and a chain of suicide bombings was started.  This was a stark contrast from the Afghan Taliban who never work against Pakistan, up till now most of TTP’s concentration and handiwork being against Pakistan. They can rightly be called the enemy within.

 

Shortly after TTP became official under Baitullah Mehsud’s leadership, the government of Pakistan placed a bounty on his head, banning media appearances, freezing assets and bank accounts . Mullah Omar sent a delegation to Baitullah to persuade him to help engage the Americans in Afghanistan. They came to an understanding which collapsed shortly after. Baitullah Mehsud is believed to have been behind numerous terrorist attacks within Pakistan including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and is said also to have commanded up to 5000 fighters, according to US analysts. Abdullah Mehsud was also one of the Taliban field commanders who was handed over to USA, kept under detention in Guantanamo Bay and judicially released subsequently. He became remarkably close to the Americans, going on to plan an attack on Chinese engineers working in Baluchistan, claiming responsibility for the Islamabad hotel bombing also. Agencies conducted a raid on the house where he was staying and he killed himself by detonating a hand grenade.

 

Suicide attacks increased during Baitullah’s tenure and 90% of them could be traced back to his stronghold. A transcript is available in which he discusses the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, though he later denied it . He did claim responsibility though for attacking a Police Academy in Lahore in March 2009 in retaliation for drone attacks in which he said the Pakistan government was involved. Strangely he also claimed responsibility for the April 2009 Binghamton, New York  shootings in which 13 people were killed, even though the attacker was Vietnamese and confessed to different motives.

 

Baitullah Mehsud was killed in August 2009 in a drone attack in South Waziristan though there were rumours of his death many times before in false attacks. Tahir Yuldashev was also killed in a US Predator drone airstrike shortly after Mehsud’s death .

 

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Baitullah was succeeded by Hakimullah Mehsud, a young and aggressive field commander who had also been their spokesman. He maintained links with both AlQaeda and the Afghan Taliban, the TTP emerging alongside as an umbrella for different factions.  AlQaeda and TTP never got along with the Lashkar e Taiba (LET) as they had expelled the Arab militants from their land. They both issued a Fatwa against LET and a huge rift ensued. Hakimullah Mehsud organised raids against US military convoys from 2007 to 2008 resulting in the closure of the Khyber Pass six times, the Pakistan government in 2009 announcing a Rs50 million ($600,000US) reward for information that could lead to his capture.  There were rumours of Mehsud’s death from US drone strikes in 2010 and 2012, though accounts suggest he was killed on 1st November  2013, now officially accepted by the Taliban .

 

Maulana Fazlullah or ‘Mullah Radio’, is the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a banned Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist group, son in law also of Sufi Muhammad, the founder of TNSM. Fazlullah owes his nickname to the fact that he started an illegal FM radio channel in Swat in 2006 where he forced the locals to stop paying their utility bills and disobey the State of Pakistan. He also banned music, opposed the polio vaccination, stopped women from studying and refused them the right to vote. In nightly broadcasts the radio channel was used to perpetuate horrifying announcements of violators sentenced to beheading and other punishments.  Many believe also that Fazlullah ordered the attack on Malala Yousufzai.

After the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid, a TTP and TNSM merger took place as Mehsud and Fazlullah reached an understanding. After this Fazlullah received direct orders from Mehsud, managing to consolidate his political forces in Swat during a short ceasefire with the army. In November 2007, the Pakistani army captured Fazlullah’s headquarters and arrested his brother, prompting him to flee, hiding in the US controlled Kunar province in Afghanistan. Pakistan had urged Afghanistan and the US to take action against Fazlullah in response to cross-border raids but they made no efforts to do so .

 

On 7 Nov 2013 Fazlullah was elected Amir of the TTP, succeeding Hakimullah Mehsud. The decision to appoint him was surprising as it was assumed the leadership would remain in the hands of a member of the Mehsud tribe, this perhaps to quell criticism that the TTP head is always of this tribe. Fazlullah is undoubtedly the worst hardliner the TTP has, carrying also the dubious title of being Al Qaeda’s aide as well as CIA backed. It is rumoured also that the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar backed him just because it was announced from Afghanistan.

 

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The other strongest contender was Said Ahmad aka Khalid Sajna, who opposed Fazlullah’s candidature. It is possible the Mehsuds are feeling cornered now and may soon become a weak link, there being a strong possibility of splinter groups forming in the near future. There are different factions in the TTP, Fazlullah being from the Swat camp.  Recently the TTP Shura expelled Ismatullah Muaviya, head of the Punjab Taliban as he welcomed talks with the government. He responded by saying that the Punjab Taliban has its own Shura and TTP cannot remove him. The Punjab Taliban split does not bode well for the TTP as this provided them with a foothold in the mainland, in addition to transportation and logistics. They even resorted to attacking Muaviya which resulted in his defection.

 

The TTP may have outlived its utility for those that held its reins and helped organise it. The Americans are leaving Afghanistan in 2014 and are in the process of slowly disowning, wanting no longer to be any part of it. It therefore appears that India will be left behind to deal with the aftermath and take most of the blame. Maulana Fazlullah definitely has the backing of some factions in the Afghan government, but the Karzai setup refuses to acknowledge this.

 

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The Afghan Taliban have termed Hakimullah Mehsud a martyr yet show TTP as a separate entity, simply playing games with them. This is also in America’s favour as the US wants to have talks with the Afghan Taliban yet no dealings with the TTP. In the long run America would definitely still have some vested interest in the TTP, as long as it safely leaves the region. After the US leave it will be TTP and India left dealing with them …or the remnants of the TTP. Another interesting case study is that of the Jamaat Islami (JI), PTI and TTP. The JI are the origin of the Takfiri ideology so they can be called the father of TTP, many PTI members today ex Jamaat. All three are interlinked, the Jamaat leader Munawar Hasan’s son having very close links to Al Qaeda and the CIA. The PTI may also be clamouring to stop NATO supplies, yet the province it rules, KPK, has received Rs35 bn ($560 millionUS) aid from NATO. They all have common links and refuse therefore to condemn each other. As the TTP has excluded JI, PTI, PMLN and JUI from bomb attacks , the game now edges to a close as the TTP becomes less useful for its masters, more of a liability.

 

 

 

 

sabena sidiqi

Sabena Siddiqi

Lawyer by education, writer and observer at large.
I write on Pakistan-centric and geopolitical matters to highlight Pakistan and its real potential vis a vis this region. This is my contribution for my country 

@Sabena_Siddiqi  on Twitter

 

 

 

 

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