On February 24, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, also known as the “Pakistani Taliban”) called on the disillusioned Baloch people in southern Balochistan province to launch an anti-state jihadist war to free themselves of Pakistani atrocities and end the government’s military oppression of the region (Umar Media, February 24). This TTP call to the Baloch people came through a nine-minute, Urdu-language video produced by the TTP central media arm, Umar Media. The video was primarily about the brutal murder of a Baloch family, including a mother with her daughter and two sons, who had been illegally detained by Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran, a pro-government Baloch tribal leader. Khetran is also a provincial minister (Dawn, February 23).
The Pakistani media reported this incident on February 21. It resulted in a country-wide protest against the alleged perpetrator, and the state’s failure to prevent such incidents. The TTP spokesperson, Muhammad Khurasani, released an immediate condemnation of these killings within hours of the incident first being reported in the Pakistani media (Umar Media, February 21).
The TTP’s calls for the Baloch people to wage war against the security forces dates back to 2014 (Umar Media, February 2014). The TTP’s increasing outreach to the Baloch people on sensitive and controversial developments is part of longstanding TTP ambitions to strengthen its organizational position in Balochistan. Further, the need to unite the movements intensified with the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan in August 2021; the incident served as an opening to recruit Baloch jihadists who had experience fighting against US and coalition forces alongside the Taliban. Only last year, however, did the TTP succeed for the first time in this effort, when two Baloch militant groups merged with the TTP. Furthermore, the TTP announced two other, newer mergers from Balochistan on April 12, (Umar Media, April 12). The TTP’s success in expanding its organization into Balochistan is considered a significant step in its efforts to wage an anti-state jihadist war in Pakistan more broadly.
TTP Mergers from Balochistan: Past and Present
The TTP announced the first merger of an indigenous militant group from Balochistan on June 25, 2022 (Umar Media, June 25, 2022). This occurred when a militant group led by commander Aslam Baloch from the southwest Noshki district pledged allegiance to TTP emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud.  The second merger involved a militant group under the command of Mazar Baloch (which is based along the Makran coastline in the southernmost part of the province), which joined the TTP on December 23, 2022 (Umar Media, December 23, 2022). The next two mergers of the Akram Baloch and Asim Baloch groups from Qalat and Quetta districts occurred on April 12, 2023 (Umar Media, April 12). These militants were all ethnic Baloch from Balochistan, which hosts both Pashtun and Baloch populations (notably, Noshki and Makran are Baloch-dominated areas).
These four mergers extended the series of TTP mergers that had begun on July 5, 2020 (see Militant Leadership Monitor, January 2021). A total of 38 groups have joined the TTP during the last three years. Among those groups are TTP splinters, to include Jumat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA), and the Hakeem Ullah Mehsud faction; the post-9/11 Pakistani affiliates of al-Qaeda, such as the Amjad Farooqi group, Ustad Aslam group, and the Commander Muneeb faction of the Ustad Ahmad Farooq group; and local militant groups from the Pashtun-majority north-western Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province (KP), such as the Ustad Aleem Khan and Tipu Gul Mehsud groups from North Waziristan and adjacent Lakki Marwat districts.
In addition, the previously merged groups included the Saif Ullah Kurd faction of the anti-Shia Sunni sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which joined the TTP in August 2020 (Umar Media, August 5, 2020). The LeJ Kurd faction was based in Balochistan, but was not a “Baloch militant group.” Instead, it operated outside of the province, was comprised of non-Baloch militants from Punjab and Sindh provinces—including its emir Khushi Muhammad Sindhi—and carried out sectarian attacks against the Shia (The News, February 17, 2015).
The TTP’s Early Outreach to the Baloch people
Umar Media started video operations in 2006, but it released its first video in the Balochi language in April 2021, which was followed by a second in May that urged the Baloch people to support the TTP’s war against the state (BBC Monitoring, January 13; Umar Media, April 13, 2021; Umar Media, May 6, 2021). The April 2021 video explained to the Baloch people that TTP’s aims were not limited to Pashtun tribespeople. Instead, the group underlined its desire to protect Muslims regardless of their language or ethnicity. The TTP’s official line was that the Baloch are as important to them as Pashtuns. The second, May 2021 video emphasized that the TTP is fighting to liberate Baloch and Pashtun lands from the security forces to implement an Islamic state.
The TTP’s first direct call to the Baloch people to join their ranks (albeit not in their native language) was in February 2014, when the TTP’s slain deputy emir Khalid Haqqani urged the Baloch people in a video message to engage in a jihadist war against the Pakistani state writ large, rather than maintaining a Baloch ethno-nationalist agenda (Umar Media, February 14, 2014). Haqqani suggested that the TTP was a similar victim of state oppression in the adjacent KP province, further emphasizing that only by fighting jointly could the groups end their oppression.
However, the Haqqani message served as the TTP’s first and last direct outreach to the Baloch people for years. It may be the case that the TTP simply could not have focused on Baloch recruitment during this period, as a series of internal and external challenges risked the group’s survival. For example, the TTP lost a number of its strongholds in the tribal belt due to robust military operations, which forced the militants to seek refuge in neighboring Afghanistan; this opened the door to infighting and organizational splintering. In addition, the TTP faced challenges from the rise of Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) (VOA Urdu, February 24).
Updated and Upgraded TTP Messaging to Balochs
The TTP efforts to woo the people of Balochistan gradually evolved after the current emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud took over the organization in June 2018 (see Terrorism Monitor, July 13, 2018). He re-defined the TTP’s objectives and strategies to expand the anti-state war beyond the Pashtun tribal belt, broadening the coalition to encompass other disaffected communities. This, then, provided the theoretical framework that would allow the TTP to change its talking points to include an end to the perceived victimization of the Baloch people, guaranteeing their rights under a future Islamic state (Umar Media, July 24, 2022).
However, the TTP’s focus on Baloch recruitment increased once Mehsud succeeded in bringing the various TTP splinter organizations and other anti-state jihadist groups under his leadership in 2020. Moreover, the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan further boosted these merger efforts, as Pakistani militants searched for a new area in which to wage armed jihad.  Among those who merged were many Baloch militants from the southern parts of Balochistan province, who had supported the Taliban insurgency for years (The Rituals of Love-1, July 30). Thus, the TTP expanded efforts to recruit Baloch people for the jihadist war in Pakistan.  For example, the two Baloch militant groups that joined TTP last year had previously been affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.  Similarly, Umar Media released a documentary about a TTP Baloch commander, Hamal Baloch (alias Anas Baloch), who defected from the Afghan Taliban and was then killed in TTP ranks fighting against the Pakistani security forces in March 2023.
The four mergers further encouraged the TTP to increase outreach to the Baloch people in the TTP’s sophisticated propaganda, in the hopes of exploiting the Baloch people’s grievances against the state. For example, Umar Media produced its first propaganda documentary on Balochistan on January 26, titled: “A glimpse of current state repression against the Baloch people in Balochistan” (Umar Media, January 26). The video condemned the Pakistani security forces for extrajudicial killings and abductions in Balochistan, and supported the Baloch people’s demand for control over their natural resources.
Balochistan has been a volatile province with an ongoing anti-state insurgency for over two decades. The Baloch separatist groups are nationalist and secular in nature, and the TTP has an extreme religious ideology. However, there are reports about covert collaboration between the TTP and Baloch separatists, despite their many ideological differences (Dawn, December 27, 2022). Although neither side has publicly admitted any connection, the Baloch separatists’ silence over the TTP’s expansion in their province strengthens the assumption of their mutual support in the war against the security forces.
The TTP has maintained a network in the Pashtun-majority northern parts of the province (bordering Afghanistan and the South Waziristan tribal district, with the latter being the TTP’s birthplace and traditional stronghold) (The Balochistan Post, December 29, 2022). However, the TTP’s expansion to the Baloch-majority areas can further open the door to operational collaboration and the establishment of joint strongholds with local separatist groups. As such, the TTP’s success in any alliance with Baloch separatists will be an alarming development for Islamabad.
 It is important to note here that the “Commander Asam Baloch,” who joined the TTP, is different from the Baloch commander with the same name; this second “Asam Baloch” was the supreme commander of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a major Baloch separatist militant organization. He was killed in a suicide attack in Kandahar province of southern Afghanistan in September 2018. See Behzad Dedag Baloch, “Aslam Baloch: A Baloch General,” The Balochistan Post, 25 December 2019.
 Author interviews with multiple sources including Baloch separatists, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, conducted on various occasions during 2022.
 Author interviews, 2022.
 Author interviews, 2022.