Pakistani Taliban Widen Jihad with Strikes on Fellow Muslims

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 28

Leader of Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), Maulana Sufi Mohammad

The local chapter of Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Islamist political party held a rally on April 19 in the historic Kissa Khwani Bazaar of Peshawar to protest the extremely low gas pressure and rolling blackouts that affect Peshawar residents up to 10 hours per day (for the shortages, see Daily Times [Lahore], January 18; Frontier Post [Peshawar], July 10). As leaders announced the end of the rally and protesters started to leave, a 14-year old suicide bomber ignited his suicide vest, killing 23 persons and injuring 50 others. The suicide bomber successfully targeted local JI leaders and police officers – among the dead were JI Peshawar vice-amir Haji Dost Mohammad and deputy superintendent of police Gulfat Hussain (The News [Islamabad], April 20).

Due to the fact that Deputy Superintendent Hussain was a Shi’a Muslim, it was initially thought that the suicide bomber had specifically targeted him. However, all other evidence suggested that the real target of the bomber was the JI leaders. Had it been by chance or mistake, they would not have continued to target more JI leaders later on. In order to downplay its differences with the Taliban and other jihadist groups, JI tried to blame the Americans for the bombing, with JI leader Hafiz Hashmat accusing private security firm Blackwater (Xe Services LLE) for the attack (Dawn [Karachi] April 20).

The suicide bombing of the JI rally was an attempt to widen the war that the Pakistani Taliban are fighting against the state of Pakistan. Although the bombing was not the only attack on JI leaders in recent months, it was the biggest, and such targeted attacks have continued. On June 16 the Taliban in Hangu assassinated JI leader Fida Saadi, a provincial executive council member (News, June 17). Soon afterwards they killed JI leader Haji Mohammad Khan and kidnapped his son in Darra Adamkhel on June 23 (Dawn, June 24).

The aim of the Pakistani Taliban is to establish an Islamic caliphate, one excluding the participation of all other Islamist groups. When the Afghan mujahideen found Kabul in sight after the fall of Dr. Najibullah’s regime in the early 1990s, they threw themselves at one another’s throats. The ensuing civil war gave birth to the Taliban movement. Recently, the Pakistani Taliban intensified their war on the Barelvi movement and Sufi Islam by bringing the conflict to Punjab. New fronts were opened against the JI with the April 19 suicide bombing in Peshawar and against the Ahmadi community with a suicide bombing in Lahore on May 28 (see Terrorism Monitor, June 12).

The enmity between the JI and different parts of the Pakistani Taliban is both ideological and political. Although both JI and the Deobandi groups among the Pakistani Taliban follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, JI places less stress on ritual and more on political Islam. The Deobandis abhor the JI leaders (some of whom wear Western dress) and accuse them of having a lust for political power.[1]

However, the real existential threat to the JI comes from the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah.  The pair leads the Pakistani Taliban in the Malakand Division and the valley of Swat. Maulana Sufi Mohammad was a local leader of the JI until the early 1980s, when he developed differences with the party. In his desperation to grab political power, Sufi Mohammad started opposing the JI’s policy of attaining power through elections. He argued that an Islamic state cannot be established through elections because the majority never votes in favor of Islamist parties. He started believing that the only way to establish an Islamic state is to follow the jihad philosophy of Maulana Maududi (1903-1979), the late founder of Jamaat-i-Islami.  Sufi Muhammad accused the JI leaders of deviating from Maududi’s example. [2]

The real, personalized enmity between the two started after the U.S.–led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Most Islamist and jihadist groups started holding public rallies across Pakistan in favor of the Afghan Taliban. JI was in the forefront of these demonstrations, threatening that they would cross into Afghanistan to fight Americans if U.S. forces landed there. However, only Sufi Mohammad led thousands of his followers into Afghanistan. Unprepared as they were, most of them died in the U.S. air strikes. Sufi Mohammad retreated with his decimated militia back to Pakistan, where he accused the JI of luring him and his fighters into Afghanistan to weaken or eliminate them. Sufi Mohammad never forgave the JI and started preparing his revenge. In interviews the author conducted in 2004-2005, several TNSM commanders portrayed JI as a bigger threat than the Americans.[3]

It is difficult to say which group of the Pakistani Taliban has an interest in attacking the JI at this time. It is a safe bet, however, to believe that the followers of Sufi Mohammad want to take their long delayed revenge. In the intense sectarian atmosphere, other groups would happily follow the lead. Pakistan seems to be entering a period similar to that which Afghanistan went through between the fall of Dr. Najibullah and the advent of the Taliban in the 1990s, when different factions of the mujahideen fought to eliminate their rivals. As the Pakistani Taliban spread their jihad to rival Islamist groups, the possibility of other Islamist militias being drawn into a civil war between extremist groups is looking more and more probable. If this happens, it will be bloodier than the mujahideen battles in 1990s Afghanistan, with an unimaginable international impact.

[1] Author’s interview with Maulana Ajmal Qadri, June 15, 2002.
[2] Author’s interview with Sufi Mohammad, Maidan, July, 2001.
[3] Arif Jamal, “Sharia here, in the country, in the world,” The News on Sunday, Karachi, March 6, 2005.