April 2010 Briefs

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 4

TTP COMMANDERS PROVIDE THEIR OWN PROOF OF LIFE

Several Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders whom the Pakistani Interior Ministry claimed were killed in an aerial assault earlier this year have been providing their own proof of life—their voices. In early March, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad called local reporters in Pakistan to let them know he was unscathed in a recent offensive. “I am alive and same is the case with the two other commanders, Qari Ziaur Rahman and Fateh [Muhammad],” Faqir Muhammad assured news outlets (The News International [Islamabad], March 12, 2010). Several weeks later Faqir Muhammad’s colleague, Qari Ziaur Rahman, made a similar phone call saying, “I think you would now believe that I am alive as I am personally speaking to you” (The News International [Islamabad], April 13, 2010). Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had trumpeted Fateh Muhammad’s demise in early March as a sure thing, while heavily speculating that Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and Qari Ziaur Rahman had also been “most likely” killed (Dawn, March 7, 2010). Malik proudly announced from Peshawar that deputy amir Maulvi Faqir Muhammad was killed along with 30 other fighters in a barrage by Pakistani military gunships in an anti-Taliban offensive launched in the Mohmand Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (The Nation [Lahore], March 6, 2010). Faqir Muhammad later telephoned a Pakistani daily and said defiantly, “Qari Zia and Fateh are alive. We were not there,” Faqir Muhammad said. “We are still in Bajaur [Agency]” (Dawn, March 12, 2010). TTP commanders purportedly fled Bajaur Agency to Mohmand Agency while the Bajaur offensive was underway, believing Mohmand could have been a temporary safe haven. 

All three men are significant TTP leaders. Afghan Qari Ziaur Rahman’s claim to infamy was that he gave Osama bin Laden instruction about the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad and that, compared to many other Taliban higher ups of his generation, he is both literate and learned (Asia Times, May 23, 2008). For Faqir Muhammad, once a disciple of Sufi Muhammad and temporary leader of the TTP following the assassination of Baitullah Mehsud (BBC News, August 19, 2009), denying his officially announced death is a practiced routine. In early August 2008, Faqir Muhammad, who is the primary TTP commander in Bajaur called news outlets in Pakistan to let them know that he was alive after an airstrike in Bajaur Agency on a vehicle in which he was thought to be traveling killed several of his companions (Reuters, March 6, 2010; GEO TV, August 15, 2008). How soon these men, if alive as claimed, will return to the battlefield is a vexing question for both the Pakistani military leadership and NATO forces in the adjacent Afghan provinces west of the Durand Line.

NEW KUNDUZ SHADOW GOVERNOR KILLED

In February, Militant Leadership Monitor reported that the Taliban’s Shadow Governor for northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, Mullah Abdul Salam, “a spiritual leader to the insurgents” was arrested in Pakistan (Der Spiegel, February 18, 2010). Mullah Yar Muhammad also referred to as Mullah Noor Muhammad, who many believe was tapped to replace the out-of-action Salam, has reportedly been killed by Afghan and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in the province on April 26, 2010 (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 29, 2010). It is not clear whether Yar Muhammad was anointed by what remains of the Quetta shura to take over critical insurgent operations in Kunduz or whether he rose to recent prominence of his own volition (RTT News, April 29, 2010). According to a now unclassified internal state department cable online from George Washington University’s National Security Archives [1], Mullah Yar Muhammad was a Durrani Pashtun from the Popalzai subgroup and he demonstrated an independent, perhaps disobedient streak when he served at various posts in the Taliban administration from 1995-2001 under Mullah Muhammad Omar. Yar Muhammad had served as governor of Herat province after the ousting of mujahideen leader and notorious warlord Ismail Khan but was removed from his post and sent to lead Ghazni province clear on the other side of Afghanistan. Yar Muhammad had fought in the anti-Soviet jihad as a member of Hezb-I-Islami under the command of the ruthless Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the 1980s and joined the Taliban movement in the mid-1990s. The reasoning for Mullah Omar moving Yar Muhammad may have been to prevent Yar Muhammad “from developing an independent power base in Herat.” [2] This was likely a way for Omar to monopolize control and ensure that a challenger with a strong personality and following did not emerge to challenge him within the shura’s power structure. Later Yar Muhammad was listed as the Minister of Communication during the regime’s demise in 2001 (Dawn, October 7, 2001). Yar Muhammad may have seen the disarray within the Quetta core after the string of arrests in Pakistan as a chance to lunge for power in one of the regions most critical to the Taliban in destabilizing northern Afghanistan and keeping ISAF busy in the north. ISAF issued a press release from its Kabul headquarters stating that, “a senior militant commander of Kunduz province and two senior advisors were killed in a precision air strike in northern Kunduz this morning [Monday, April 26, 2010]” and described the men as traveling 18 miles northeast of the provincial capital when they were liquidated by an airstrike. [3]

Notes

1. A PDF of the original cable can be accessed here: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB295/doc04.pdf 2. Ibid. 3. The original ISAF statement can be seen here: http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=news/news_show.php&id=48696