By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On July 28, 2022, Security Forces (SFs) killed two Hafiz Gul Bahadur (HGB) militants in the Manzer Khel area of the North Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction is a breakaway of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
On July 23, 2022, three HGB militants were killed in the North Waziristan District.
On July 13, 2022, SFs killed four HGB militants in the Karam Khel area of the North Waziristan District.
On July 6, 2022, in an attack, HGB militants killed a Pakistani soldier and injured another in the North Waziristan District.
On July 5, 2022, at least 15 Pakistani soldiers were injured when a motorcycle-borne HGB suicide attacker targeted a SF convoy at Tahir Dawar Chowk near Khadi Market on Bannu-Miran Shah Road under the Mir Ali subdivision of North Waziristan District.
On July 2, 2022, the Security Forces conducted an Intelligence-based Operation (IBO) and killed three HGB militants in North Waziristan District. Two soldiers were also killed during the operation.
According to Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-based journalist affiliated with New York Times, HGB has now expanded its area of operation from its traditional areas of North Waziristan to the neighboring Districts of Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, all in KP.
Some of the suspected HGB-linked incidents reported from these areas included:
On July 24, 2022, a soldier, Lance Naik Mujeeb (31), was killed in a clash between SFs and terrorists in the Draban area of Dera Ismail Khan District.
On July 5, 2022, two Police personnel were killed by militants in Tank District.
On July 4, 2022, two traffic Police personnel were shot dead by militants in Dera Ismail Khan District.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, HGB-linked incidents have resulted in 52 fatalities (two civilians, 25 SF personnel and 25 terrorists) since October 21, 2021, when a 20-day ceasefire announced by HGB ended (data till July 31, 2022). During the corresponding period preceding, no HGB-linked fatality was reported.
However, one HGB-linked incident was reported before October 21, 2021. On April 20, 2020, five HGB militants and one soldier were killed when militants opened fire on a military checkpoint in Boya in the North Waziristan District. Three soldiers were injured in the ensuing clash.
After the Taliban’s ouster from power in Afghanistan in 2001, Hafiz Gul Bahadur left for Pakistan and took shelter in the tribal areas. He formed his group and later, when TTP was formed, he led the TTP in NWA. However, differences erupted within the TTP leadership. Tribal differences are believed to be responsible for the split – as TTP was mostly led by the Mehsud tribe. Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the HGB leader, on the other hand, is from the Mada Khel clan of the Uthmanzai Wazirs. Beside Gul Bahadur, other prominent leaders of the HGB faction include Maulana Sadiq Noor of the Daur tribe. North Waziristan District, which is HGB’s traditional base, is dominated by the Wazir and Duar tribes.
HGB broke away from TTP in July 2008 as it wanted to focus on the Afghan theatre. It maintained good relations with the Afghan Taliban and, according to a December 2021 report, the Afghan Taliban handed over parts of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s abandoned base in Shkin in the Gomal District of Paktika Province of Afghanistan to HGB, as a reward for their role in the Afghan insurgency.
Hafiz Gul Bahadar had an undocumented/verbal agreement with the Pakistani government in 2006 which was renewed in 2008. However, Bahadar formally renounced the agreement on May 30, 2014, after accusing the Pakistani government of launching air strikes in the then North Waziristan Agency (NWA), which killed seven key HGB ‘commanders.’ He also asked tribesmen in NWA to vacate homes and shift to safer places. Further, he requested the tribesmen not to seek shelter in the camps for displaced persons set up by the government, and told them, instead, to relocate to Afghanistan.
Subsequently, the Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of the Prophet) on June 15, 2014, targeting TTP. The operation also weakened HGB, forcing its cadres to flee across the border, into Afghanistan. One of Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s close aides, Maulvi Aleem Khan Ustad, deserted him in 2014 and started operating independently. Subsequently, in 2014 itself, TTP’s then chief Mullah Fazlullah appointed Akhtar Khalil as Amir of North Waziristan, to fill the void left by HGB. Later in 2021, Akhtar Khalil parted ways with TTP and joined HGB. In between, on November 27, 2020, Maulvi Aleem Khan Ustad, who had earlier left HGB, joined TTP.
According to partial data compiled by SATP, 87 HGB militants were killed in 2014 in just four separate incidents. These included:
December 7: 30 HGB militants were killed when their hideouts were pounded from the air in Mra Panga and Masdaq villages in the Dattakhel area of NWA.
October 21: Pakistan Airforce (PAF) fighter jets targeted terrorist hideouts in the Madakhel, Dattakhel, and Shawal Valley areas of NWA in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and reportedly killed 30 HGB militants, including a ‘commander,’ Daud Wazir.
October 11: At least four suspected HGB militants were killed in a US drone strike in the Shawal tehsil of NWA.
September 13: SFs killed 23 HGB militants in air strikes in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency of erstwhile FATA.
No further HGB-linked incidents were recorded in 2015 and 2016, as HGB lay low and failed to carry out any operations within Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a senior HGB ‘commander’ visited Peshawar and Islamabad in August 2021 to meet senior Pakistani security officials, leading to the release of 20 of the group’s members by the government. Later, on October 1, 2021, HGB announced a ceasefire for 20 days. However, on October 22, 2021, HGB’s Shura, based in the Pasa Mela area of Spera in the Khost Province of Afghanistan, announced the termination of the ceasefire, claiming no headway in the talks. There was no response from the Government regarding the HGB faction’s assertion.
HGB, like TTP, has regrouped after the Afghan Taliban’s takeover in Kabul. Both HGB- and TTP-linked violence has increased. Amir Rana, Director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in the article, “Pakistan’s peace talks with TTP: Prospective outcome and implications,” published on July 20, 2022, noted,
The TTP [led by Nur Wali Mehsud] has not claimed responsibility for any terrorist attack since May 9th , but the Gul Bahadar group has intensified terrorist attacks against the security forces during the ceasefire times. The group was believed to be involved in six terrorist attacks since the announcement of the ceasefire which indicates the displeasure of the Gul Bahadar group with the peace talks. The group believes that the state must negotiate with them, as they have more presence on the ground in Waziristan and believe they can counter TTP if allowed.
Indeed, HGB wants to put pressure on Islamabad. The group’s growing belligerence stems from the belief that the Pakistani state apparatus, under extreme economic duress, can be forced to grant greater concessions, if strong-arm tactics are adopted. It is, consequently, quite likely that that HGB violence will continue, even escalate, even as the government continues with its talks with TTP.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management