A Who’s Who of the Insurgency in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province: Part Two – FATA excluding North and South Waziristan

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 4

Maulana Faqir Mohammad, leader of the mainstream TTP

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the largest organization of Pakistani militants operating in the country’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which includes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Launched in a secret meeting on December 13, 2007, it is active in most of the 24 districts, seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions in the province. The militants’ strongholds are in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur, and Darra Adamkhel tribal regions and in the settled districts of Swat, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Mardan, Charsadda, and Kohat.
The following is a profile of important Pakistani Taliban commanders active in areas of the NWFP and FATA excluding South Waziristan and North Waziristan, which were covered in an earlier article (see Terrorism Monitor, September 22, 2008).
Bajaur Agency
In Bajaur Agency, where Pakistan’s armed forces launched an intensive military campaign against militants on August 6, 2008, the mainstream TTP is led by Maulana Faqir Mohammad, a former leader of the banned Islamic group Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM). The group’s founder, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, is presently playing an active role in peacefully resolving the two-year-old conflict in Swat district. In 1994, the black-turbaned followers of Maulana Sufi Mohammad (commanded by Maulana Faqir Mohammad) turned to violence in support of their demand for enforcement of Shari’a (Islamic law) in Bajaur and the rest of the Malakand region, including Swat.
Maulana Faqir Mohammad is a resident of Sewai village in Bajaur’s Mamond area, a stronghold for the Pakistani Taliban. He belongs to a family of clerics who fought in Afghanistan during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation and later as allies of the Taliban. The TTP in Bajaur is reported to have several thousand fighters and supporters. They put up stiff resistance against the Pakistani security forces but the military campaign has diminished their strength and disrupted their command structure and supply routes to other tribal regions, as well as Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces. The TTP managed to establish a Shari’a court in Sewai village with six branches in different parts of Bajaur. The courts were part of the parallel administration that the TTP set up before the military moved in and took tough action against the group. Under heavy pressure from government forces, Maulana Faqir Mohammad’s faction declared a unilateral ceasefire on February 24 in order to initiate talks with tribal elders (Daily Times [Islamabad], February 25).
Another militant group operating in Bajaur is the Jaish-e-Islami, which parted ways with the TTP in 2008 but now appears to have mended its ties with the TTP in a desperate bid to resist the Pakistan Army’s military operation. Led by Waliur Rahman (a.k.a. Raihan), the group consists of militants hailing from the Bajaur village of Damadola. Attacked with laser-guided missiles three times by CIA-operated Predator drones in 2007 and 2008, Damadola enjoys special status with the Islamist movement in Bajaur. Another important figure in the group, which used to have several hundred fighters before the military operation in August 2008, is Maulana Ismail. There were reports that Waliur Rahman had developed some differences with Maulana Faqir Mohammad, but these were apparently not serious in nature and are reported to have been resolved.
Prior to the army’s campaign in Bajaur, the Karwan-e-Niamatullah was considered one of the most powerful groups in Bajaur. Led by Haji Niamatullah of the Salarzai area, the group stuck with the TTP despite having some differences with its policies. At its height, the group had several thousand fighters. It suffered losses when tribesmen from the Salarzai area formed a tribal lashkar (an armed force usually raised with a specific objective), with support from the government and under the leadership of their tribal chiefs. The lashkar started chasing out the militants, who retaliated with suicide bombings, one of which killed scores of their armed rivals, including some tribal elders (Newsline [Karachi], October 2008). The Karwan-i-Niamatullah established its own Shari’a court in Pashat, the main town of the Salarzai area, but the group has since been uprooted from there.
Dr. Ismail (who is not a qualified medical doctor) is another powerful commander in Bajaur. He was affiliated earlier with Pakistan’s biggest religious-political party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who recently declared that the government has no writ in any part of the NWFP (Daily Times, February 20).  Dr. Ismail once employed the services of a few hundred fighters until the military struck in Bajaur and pushed his group out of their strongholds. Two young sons of Dr. Ismail were killed in Afghanistan. The TTP considers him and his supporters as part of the organization, but Dr. Ismail is against the TTP’s policy of fighting against Pakistan’s armed forces. Instead, he wants the Pakistani Taliban and other militants to concentrate on fighting the U.S.-led coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.  
Maulana Abdullah is another known commander of the militants in Bajaur. He is affiliated with the TTP and has operated mostly in the Charmang and Utmankhel areas of Bajaur. At one time he had a few hundreds fighters at his command.  Also operating until recently in the Charmang area was an Afghan Taliban commander named Saeedur Rahman. He seems to have become less active after being warned by the Afghan Taliban to decide whether he wants to fight in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Mohmand Agency
Two militant groups are known to have operated in Mohmand Agency. One of the groups was evicted after a clash with the TTP cadres in the area. Its commander, Shah Sahib (a.k.a. Shah Khalid), was active in Mohmand Agency for two years until July 2008, when TTP fighters led by Omar Khalid (a.k.a. Abdul Wali) overran his base and killed him and several of his men. Shah Sahib, a known Salafi, did not want to fight the Pakistani state or its armed forces. From his camp near the Pakistani-Afghan border, Shah Sahib sent his followers to fight in Afghanistan. He had several hundred fighters in his group, which was commonly known in the area as the Ahle Hadith group.
A larger group of militants was led by Omar Khalid (a.k.a. Abdul Wali) and was affiliated with Baitullah Mahsud’s TTP.  It emerged from obscurity in July 2007, when its fighters captured the shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai (1858-1937), a social reformer, anti-British freedom-fighter, and religious scholar, in the Lakarro area of Mohmand Agency. Omar Khalid’s group renamed the mosque adjacent to the shrine “Lal Masjid” after the radical mosque in Islamabad that was the site of a bloody siege by security forces in July 2007. The group pledged to avenge the killing of Lal Masjid’s religious students at the hands of the Pakistan Army and President General Pervez Musharraf. The group extended its control over most of the Mohmand Agency when it publicly slaughtered notorious criminal Yousaf Khan and seven members of the gang and evicted the rival Ahle Hadith militants group of Commander Shah Khalid.
Initially, the shrine of Haji Sahib Turangzai was turned into a base for the militants and a Shari’a court with Afghan scholar Sayyad as the judge was set up. The group had several hundred fighters but its strength was reduced following the military operation in Mohmand Agency in late 2008 and early 2009. Tribal elders from Mohmand recently expressed their support for continuing military operations in the area by the Mohmand Rifles of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (Daily Times, February 8).
Darra Adamkhel
There are three groups of Pakistani Taliban operating in Darra Adamkhel, a semi-tribal area known officially as the Frontier Region of Kohat. It has a strategic location due to its position on the main road linking Peshawar to the southern NWFP and beyond via the Kohat Tunnel, which was built by Japanese engineers and opened in 2003. The groups active in Darra Adamkhel are the Tehrik-e-Islami, Islami Taliban, and al-Hezb (see Terrorism Focus, February 13, 2008; March 25, 2008).
The Tehrik-e-Islami and the Islami Taliban became active in the area in mid-2007. The former was founded by a local Afridi tribesman named Muneer Khan, while the Islami Taliban was founded by Momin Afridi. The groups later merged and became part of the TTP. Both leaders were killed in a military operation in the area in 2008. Leadership then passed to Commander Mohammad Tariq, a tribesman hailing from the Bazidkhel Afridi tribe. Another important commander is Mufti Ilyas, a resident of the Sheraki area of Darra Adamkhel. Mufti Ilyas is now deputy to Commander Tariq and acts as a sort of ideologue for the group. Another known commander is Hamza Afridi, who the group’s spokesman calls simply Mohammad. Several months ago the group kidnapped a Polish engineer, Petr Stanczak, from the Attock district in Punjab and killed him in February 2009 after the Pakistan government refused to accept a demand for the release of its members (The News International, February 15). The group has several hundred fighters under its command. Following the military operation, the militants lost control of the Kohat Tunnel and the Darra bazaar, a gun-manufacturing center for over a century. The leadership has shifted to the adjacent Orakzai Agency, but the group’s fighters are still able to occasionally attack security forces in the area.
An obscure group calling itself al-Hezb made its appearance in Darra Adamkhel in late 2008 by distributing pamphlets and leaflets and pasting them in shops. Al-Hezb declared its opposition to the other militant groups and offered an alternative platform. However, al-Hezb never held any public meetings and its leaders are still unknown. In fact, it has even stopped distributing leaflets. Both militants and tribesmen in Darra Adamkhel felt it was part of a trick by the government to confuse the Taliban groups and create differences in their ranks.
Kurram Agency
The TTP, through its regional commander Hakimullah Mahsud, has set up bases in the Lower Kurram valley, which is inhabited by Sunnis, unlike the Upper Kurram valley where the Shi’a are in the majority. Recently, the U.S. carried out its first Predator missile strike in Kurram against an alleged hideout of Afghan Taliban in an Afghan refugee camp. The attack killed at least 26 people, including several militants (Daily Times, February 17; The News International, February 17).
Orakzai Agency
The TTP has sanctuaries in the Orakzai Agency, a tribal territory with a Sunni majority and Shia minority. Orakzai is the only tribal region in Pakistan that does not border Afghanistan. Hakimullah Mahsud, a young tribesman from South Waziristan and a deputy to TTP head Baitullah Mahsud, operates out of Oarkzai Agency and is also commander of the militants in the Kurram and Khyber tribal regions. A young man in his late 20s, Hakimullah Mahsud invited the media to his hideout in Orakzai Agency in November 2008 to give his first news conference. This interaction enabled him to emerge from the shadows of Baitullah Mahsud and become known as a commander in his own right (The News International, November 29, 2008).
Khyber Agency
Kamran Mustafa Hijrat (a.k.a. Mohammad Yahya Hijrat) was, until a few months ago, the top Taliban commander in the Khyber Agency, which is named after the famous Khyber Pass that serves as a gateway between Central and South Asia and has been the route taken by invaders, conquerors, and traders for centuries. Hijrat was arrested in Peshawar’s Hayatabad town in late 2008 and is now in the custody of Pakistan’s security services (The News International, December 10, 2008).
Hijrat was a deputy to Hakimullah Mahsud and was reportedly responsible for attacks on trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. His men also burnt more than 300 vehicles destined for Afghanistan at a terminal for NATO trucks on Peshawar’s Ring Road (see Terrorism Focus, January 21). Hijrat is an Afghan by birth and was a small-time Afghan Taliban commander before making it big as a member of the Pakistani TTP. His deputy, Rahmanullah, also an Afghan national, has taken over as acting commander of TTP for Khyber Agency.
Several non-Taliban Islamist militant groups are active in Khyber Agency, mostly in the Bara area. These include Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam, the late Haji Namdar’s Amr Bil Maruf wa Nahi Anil Munkar (Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice), and Ustad Mahbubul Haq’s Ansar-ul-Islam (Newsline, October 2008).