Waziristan Militant Leader Aleem Khan Ustad Joins Tehreek-e-Taliban — JamestownOn December 15,

by Abdul Sayed

Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, the emir of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), appeared in a video released by Umar Media, the official media arm of TTP ( Umar Media, December 15). This video demonstrated a continuation of the series of mergers of Pakistani jihadist groups into TTP, which started in July 2020.

The video contains footage of the bay’ah (oath of allegiance) ceremonies of two jihadist organizations from Waziristan, Pakistan, including Mulawi Aleem Khan Ustad, and Commander Umar Azzam groups. Khan is a powerful jihadist commander who joined TTP with nine commanders and dozens of fighters ( Tribal News, November 28).

TTP announced the mergers of both groups into its ranks on November 27 ( Umar Media, November 27). The video shows that the merger ceremony apparently took place outside Afghanistan, most probably in Waziristan’s remote areas bordering the country. The footages include video clips of both commanders’ oath-taking, holding Mahsud’s hands and announcing their pledges of allegiance to him.

Who is Mulawi Aleem Khan Ustad?

Aleem Khan is from the tribal North Waziristan district, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which served as the base of al-Qaeda for more than a decade after 9/11, from 2004 to 2015 ( Asia Times, November 5). Khan was deputy to Hafiz Gul Bahadur-the al-Qaeda host and shadow governor of Waziristan ( Gandhara, March 16, 2015). The Gul Bahadur group became the largest local group in Waziristan between 2008 and 2014 and even hosted TTP in North Waziristan after the organization lost its strongholds in neighboring South Waziristan.

Gul Bahadur’s decline started after the 2014 military operation in North Waziristan, when the jihadists escaping that military operation sought shelter in Afghanistan. [1] Khan disassociated from Bahadur that same year and since then has operated independently ( The News, August 20, 2014).

During this period, serious differences emerged that would divide Khan and Bahadur, resulting in the latter ultimately seeking leadership of the group ( The News, August 20, 2014). Bahadur alleged that Khan was in league with the Pakistani government, and in return was receiving protection for his areas and tribesmen from military operations. As a reaction to this accusation, Khan announced that he was now emir of the group, removing Bahadur, who had moved to the Afghanistan side of the border to escape military operations.

A few months later, Aleem Khan somewhat confirmed what Bahadur had accused him of when he surprisingly announced an end to the war against the Pakistani Army, and offered his group’s assistance in returning the internally displaced people (IDPs) of North Waziristan back to their homes. Like thousands of others from North Waziristan, these IDPs had left their homes due to the military operations that took place in 2014. His group had taken responsibility for restoring peace in North Waziristan and threatened military operations against all those aiming to engage in an insurgency against the state ( Daily Pakistan, March 16 2015).

Thus, the merger of the Aleem Khan group into TTP is important from two perspectives. First, it is a major blow to the Pakistani Army’s efforts to coopt the anti-state militants in Waziristan for peace and the restoration of government authority in the area ( Gandahara, July 24 2018). Second, Khan’s bay’ah to TTP is the first time that a jihadist group from North Waziristan is joining the organization. It is particularly signicant that Khan’s group is a strong splinter of the Gul Bahadur organization.

The TTP and the Gul Bahadur group share a history of rivalry rooted in the tribal politics of the region. The senior leadership of al-Qaeda, particularly its Afghanistan-Pakistan chief, Mustafa Abu Yazid, tried to unify the TTP and Bahadur group, but the latter did not accept it for long [2]. Gul Bahadur’s rejection has roots in the historical tribal feuds between Mehsuds and Wazir tribes of Waziristan. [3] Thus, Gul Bahadur, being the strongest leader of the Wazir tribes, never agreed to merge into TTP, which was led by the Mehsuds.

TTP Emir Emphasizes Unity

A major portion of the Umar Media video consists of Mufti Mehsud’s speech to a large gathering of TTP commanders, including members of the newly merged groups. The speech mainly focused on unity among the jihadist groups fighting against the Pakistani state. The TTP emir presents the Middle East’s jihadist landscape as an example, which he says collapsed despite conquering large territories in Iraq and Syria, resulting in Islamic State’s caliphate. According to him, jihadists lost power there due to infighting and divisions.

Mufti Mehsud says that something similar happened in Pakistan. He mentions that the jihadist groups emerged as a massive threat to the state, but they soon lost their momentum due to infighting and disunity. He portrays the Afghan Taliban as a role model, which, according to him, possesses thousands of drawbacks but remains an internationally recognized power due to unity in its ranks. He specifically referenced U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks praising the Taliban, calling them brave fighters ( Urdu News, March 1). Mufti Mehsud called on all Pakistani jihadist groups to join together to reach their final goal of implementing Sharia law.

A Series of TTP Mergers

The series of mergers into TTP started in early July when Hakeem Ullah Mehsud group, a TTP splinter group, announced its dissolution and incorporation back into TTP ( Umar Media, July 6). A few weeks later, in August, another two powerful TTP splinters, Jumat ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb ul-Ahrar (HuA), merged back into TTP ( Umar Media, August 17). JuA was founded by Commander Abdul Wali Mohmand, a.k.a. Umar Khalid Khurasani, in 2014. Khurasani is one of the founders of TTP. HuA splintered from JuA in 2017, and up to recently was the most active terrorist group in Pakistan (see Terrorism Monitor, December 17, 2019). Similarly, the Saif Ullah Kurd faction of the notorious Sunni sectarian group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), now headed by Khushi Muhammad, also merged into TTP on August 5 ( Umar Media, August 5). The Kurd faction of LeJ has remained active in Baluchistan province, particularly in its capital Quetta, having claimed responsibility for the killings of hundreds of Shias Muslims (see Terrorism Monitor, July 26, 2016).

Aside from these splinter organizations, two major Pakistani al-Qaeda groups also announced their merger into TTP at the end of July ( Umar Media, July 29). Commander Muneeb, a close aide of the slain AQIS deputy chief Ustad Ahmad Farooq, merged his group into TTP. Farooq was the senior leader of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and played a leading role in establishing and expanding its Pakistan. [4] At the same time, al-Qaeda’s Amjad Farooqi group also joined TTP. The Amjad Farooqi group was al-Qaeda’s earliest ally in Pakistan and one of the founders of post-9/11 jihadist terrorism in the country. The group carried out most of the sophisticated high-profile attacks in Pakistan, including multiple attacks targeting General Pervez Musharraf in 2003, an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, and attack on the General Headquarters of the Pakistani army in Rawalpindi in 2009. [5]

Conclusion

The Aleem Khan group is the first militant group of Waziri tribes from North Waziristan to join TTP, following a recent series of mergers that started in June 2020. This implies that the TTP, under the leadership of Mufti Noor Wali Mehusd, has grown past the days of 2013–2014, which was defined by infighting between its Mehusd groups of Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakeem Ullah. Today, the TTP has surprisingly recovered from internal turmoil, and appears to be growing. The joining of a powerful splinter faction of Bahadur´s group from North Waziristan shows that the TTP is organizationally becoming more powerful than the group was during its peak years of 2009–2012.

Notes

[1] See for details, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, Inqilab-i-Mehsud, (Mehsuds Revolution) [In Urdu], (Al-Shahab Publishers: Paktika, 2017).

[2] Ustad Ahmad Farooq, “Shaikh Saeed (Mustafa Abu Yazid)”, Hitteen, Issue 9, pp. 117–138

[3] Mehsud, 2017.

[4] Ustad Ahmad Farooq, Pakistan mi jihad jari rihna chaheay [In Urdu: Jihad should continue in Pakistan], Hitteen Publications, Oct 2016.

[5] For details on Amjad Farooqi and his group, see, Mujahid Hussain, Punjabi Taliban: Driving Extremism in Pakistan, (Pentagon Press: New Delhi, India, 2012).

Originally published at https://jamestown.org.

Researcher: Af-Pak and South Asia´s Security and Politics; (Sunni Jihad: AQ, AQIS, ISKP, Taliban/Jihadi groups) (MSc: Pol.Sci) (BSc: Peace & Development; IR)