Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Factions Reunited for ‘Holy War’ Against Islamabad

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 17

(source: tribune.com.pk)

Since the death of firebrand Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah in June 2018, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has witnessed a substantial decline in stature and firepower due to a leadership crisis, inherent factionalism, and a sustained military offensive on its strongholds across the Durand Line, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following nearly two years of internal conflict, the Pakistani Taliban under the leadership of Abu Mansoor Asim Mehsud (a.k.a. Noor Wali Mehsud) has seemingly recovered from those reversals and is back from a near obsolescence.

In a surprise show of force and integration, Taliban factions in Pakistan renewed their pledge of allegiance to the present TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud on August 17. Two major, violent Taliban factions—Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) under Omar Khalid Khurasani and Hizb ul-Ahrar (HuA) led by Omar Khurasani—have re-joined the anti-Pakistan jihadist conglomerate. The statement issued by TTP’s official media arm Umar Media congratulated the Muslim Ummah and the Taliban commanders for the merger. The announcement communicated that the factions are currently fighting individually, and that the jihad in Pakistan and efforts to establish sharia would be strengthened following the merger. The statement also emphasized the ‘Holy War’ (jihad) and vowed to continue it until the ‘tyrannical system’ in Pakistan is eradicated. [1] Both of the Ahrar factions have pledged to join TTP and adhere to the principles of TTP and Islamic sharia law.

The other major pro-Taliban groups that re-joined the TTP bandwagon were Maulvi Khush Muhammed Sindhi, led by Lashkar-e Jhangvi (of the Saifullah Kurd faction), the Amjad Farooqi-led Punjabi Taliban, and the Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed group. A video message issued later by Umar Media showed the oath of allegiance ceremony (Jihadology, August 8; Jihadolgy, August 19).

Exactly a month before this Taliban amalgamation, the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) blacklisted TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud, designating him as a global terrorist on July 16, 2020. In September 2019, the United States imposed sanctions on the TTP chief and also designated him as a global terrorist (Daily Times, September 12, 2019).

TTP and its factions are believed to be operating from Afghanistan, in the border provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, and Khost. These groups often stage anti-Pakistan attacks from their bases across the border. A recent UN report noted this phenomenon, indicating that more than 6,000 Pakistani militants from different groups have a sanctuary in Afghanistan (Dawn, July 26).

TTP’s renewed operational capacity was on display within weeks of the merger, when the group claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in South Waziristan. TTP’s spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing on September 2 that killed at least three soldiers in the South Waziristan area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the border with Afghanistan (Gandhara, September 3). On August 30, three Pakistani soldiers were killed and several others wounded in an ambush by TTP militants in the Ladha area of South Waziristan. TTP exaggerated the death count, claiming that 11 soldiers were killed (Express Tribune, August 31; Gandhara, August 31). Attacks targeting police also took place in Karachi, Sindhand Lower Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that are suspected to be the handiwork of TTP militants (Dawn, September 1). TTP reportedly carried out these latest attacks to avenge the death of multiple senior commanders, including Tawakkal Zulqarnain and his associate Hamza Ali, who were killed in South Waziristan on August 24.

JuA moved away from the parent TTP organization due to operational differences with then-chief Mullah Fazlullah in August 2014. The leader of the faction, however, never quit the group and retained the TTP name as a prefix to Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (TTP-JuA). JuA leaders have reiterated several times in the past that the split was nothing but a restructuring of Pakistani Taliban groups (Terrorism Monitor, September 16, 2016). HuA too had a similar origin, when the disgruntled commander of JuA moved away from the TTP in November 2017 to form what became the organization’s most violent offshoot. Both HuA and JuA have perpetrated numerous deadly assaults targeting armed forces, police, politicians, and minorities in Pakistan. JuA’s March 2016 suicide bombing that targeted Christians in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal amusement park in Lahore was one of the deadliest sectarian attacks in Pakistan in a decade (Express Tribune, April 01, 2016). Similarly, For example,  HuA’s anti-military offensive named Operation Shamzai, launched in February 2019, and Operation bin Qasim, in April 2018, managed to inflict significant damage on the Pakistani army in Sindh, Punjab, and Baluchistan provinces (Terrorism Monitor, December 17, 2019).

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is independent from, but ideologically loyal to, the Afghan Taliban, was formed as an umbrella group in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. Since then, the group has witnessed setbacks due to internecine rivalries, ideological differences within the senior leadership, and persistent military offensives. In JuA’s October 2014 magazine, Ihyae Khilafat, it clearly noted the objectives for the group: to fight for an Islamic state, full implementation of sharia in Pakistan, and to avenge the deaths of TTP members. [2] Even when factions have parted ways and merged again, these Taliban formations have never drifted away from these core objectives.

Behind the Pakistan Taliban’s strategic merger, a tacit role was possibly played by core al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) senior leadership. The merger was widely reported and praised by the prominent pro-al-Qaeda media group Thabat on social media platforms and Telegram after its announcement (AGC News, August 19). Even though al-Qaeda leaders present in the region have for decades often carried out a mediator role between the warring militant groups, it is unclear clear which leaders were involved in the Taliban reunion and how they brought the factions back together. Regardless of how TTP reconsolidated, the formal return of two powerful Taliban commanders to the TTP’s fold can be seen as a game-changer for the organization in Pakistan, as it strengthens the withered group both in terms of manpower and military capability.


[1] “Declaration of Tehereek e Taliban Pakistan regarding the Merger of Jamaat ul Ahrar and Hizb-ul Ahrar with Tehreek e Taliban” Jihadology, August 17, 2020, https://jihadology.net/wp-content/uploads/_pda/2020/08/Muḥammad-al-Khurāsānī-22Congratulating-the-Muslim-Nation-In-General-and-the-Mujāhidīn-In-Particular-On-the-Merger-of-the-Two-Main-Groups-of-Jihād-in-Pakistan22.pdf

[2] “Ihyae Khilafat: Vice of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan”, No.1, October 2014. See, MEMRI Special Announcements No. 338, https://www.memri.org/reports/jttm-reports-about-tehreek-e-taliban-pakistans-ttp-english-language-ihya-e-khilafat-magazine