By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On August 7, 2023, Mufti Khair Zaman, a party member and local government office bearer of the Jamiat ul Ulema Islam–Fazl (JUI-F), was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the Lakki Marwat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
On August 7, 2023, the social media in-charge of JUI-F for the North Waziristan District of KP, Javed Noor Dawar, sustained injuries in firing by unidentified assailants in the Mir Ali town of North Waziristan District.
On July 30, 2023, at least 64 people were killed and more than 100 sustained injuries in a suicide blast at the JUI-F workers’ convention at Shanday Morr near the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) office in Khar Town, Bajaur District, KP. The blast took place during the speech of a JUI-F leader Maulana Laeeq. One of the dead includes JUI-F’s Khar tehsil (revenue unit) Amir, Maulana Ziaullah. JUI-F KP spokesperson Abdul Jalil Khan said that JUI-F Member of National Assembly (MNA) Maulana Jamaluddin and Senator Abdul Rasheed were also present during the convention, though they escaped unhurt.
Though the first two attacks remain unclaimed, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP), through its propaganda news channel Amaq, claimed responsibility for the July 30 suicide blast.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), KP has recorded at least 10 attacks targeting the JUI-F, resulting in 72 deaths, since October 29, 2019. Of these, eight (including the July 30 attack) have been reported from Bajaur alone, and all of them were carried out by unidentified assailants, but have been claimed by IS-KP. The other seven incidents in Bajaur included:
June 22, 2023: IS-KP assassinated JUI-F leader Maulana Noor Muhammad in the Inayat Kalay Bazaar of Bajaur District.
April 18, 2023: Maz Khan, the son of Mufti Bashir Ahmad, was killed and his friend was injured when unidentified assailants opened fire on them in the Inayat Kallay Bazaar of Bajaur District. Earlier, on April 26, 2022, JUI-F leader Mufti Bashir Ahmad was shot dead by unidentified motorcyclists at the Thani village of Mamond tehsil in Bajaur District. Mufti Ahmad was a former party contender for the National Assembly in the 2008 general elections, and was on way home in the Sewai area, when two unidentified motorcyclists opened fire on him.
October 1, 2022: Unidentified assailants killed a senior JUI-F leader, Maulana Shafiullah, in Mamond tehsil of Bajaur District. Maulana Shafiullah was on his way to a nearby street to teach children of local residents when gunmen attacked him in the Badan area.
November 22, 2021: Unidentified assailants shot dead JUI-F activist and party nominee for the then upcoming local government elections, Mohammad Qari Ilyas, outside Government High School Khar No.1, in Bajaur District.
March 26, 2021: JUI-F leader Maulana Abdul Salam was killed in a remote-controlled bomb blast in the Dama Dola area of Mamond tehsil in Bajaur District. Police said Maulana Salam was going to his madrassa (seminary) early in the morning when he was hit by a roadside bomb.
October 29, 2019: Senior leader JUI-F Mufti Sultan Mohammad was shot dead by unidentified assailants near a mosque in the Badan area of Mamond tehsil in Bajaur District. Mufti Mohammad, who was the head of JUI-F Mamond tehsil, was going to a nearby mosque for morning prayers, when unidentified assailants opened fire at him with automatic weapons.
On July 30, 2023, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, at a Press briefing in Peshawar, KP, disclosed that 18 of his party workers had been killed in Bajaur between 2019 and 2023. He, however, refrained from identifying the perpetrators responsible for these killings.
The Khorasan Diary (TKD), an Islamabad-based news and research platform that monitors militant groups, however, noted on August 1, 2023, that the IS-KP had claimed responsibility for at least 23 attacks, exclusively targeting the JUI-F in Bajaur alone, since 2019. Riccardo Valle, director of research at The Khorasan Diary, revealed on August 1, 2023,
The IS-KP has a long history of enmity towards JUI-F in Bajaur which goes back to 2019 when the group started systematically assassinating JUI-F activists in Khar, the district’s main town. Ever since, the IS-KP has conducted many attacks in Mamund and Khar areas, either claimed or unclaimed by the outfit.
The seeds of enmity between IS-KP and JUI-F lie their conflicting politics.
The anti-JUI-F sentiments initially developed within a sub-group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by the then TTP chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, who supported the idea of targeting JUI-F’s chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and the rest of his party’s senior leadership due to their pro-democracy and pro-Pakistani constitution stance. Another sup-group, led by TTP’s the then deputy chief Maulana Wali ur Rehman, condemned attacks on Fazl and his party’s members. Wali even vowed “stern action against any TTP commander found going against JUI-F members” after a suicide attack was carried out near the District Coordination Officer’s (DCO’s) office on Nowshera Road in Charsadda District, targeting Fazl on March 31, 2011, in which 12 persons were killed and 42 were injured. Fazl escaped unhurt, as the explosion occurred just after his vehicle passed the area. The differences between the two sub-groups later resulted in infighting within the outfit. While Hakimullah was killed in a drone strike by the United States on November 1, 2013, in the Dandy Darpakhel area of North Waziristan District, his anti-Fazl sentiments were inherited by a close aide, Hafiz Saeed Khan, ‘commander’ of the Orakzai Agency.
At the end of 2014, some prominent leaders of a breakaway faction of the TTP pledged bayah (allegiance) to Islamic State (IS)-Central’s then Amir, Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi. Those who pledged allegiance to the IS included the then TTP ‘spokesperson’ Shahidullah Shahid; Kurram Agency ‘chief’ Hafiz Quran Dolat; Khyber Agency ‘chief’ Gul Zaman; Peshawar ‘chief’ Mufti Hassan; Hangu ‘chief’ Khalid Mansoor; and Orakzai Agency ‘commander’ Hafiz Saeed Khan. Soon after, this group shifted base into the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, as did most terrorist groups operating in the tribal areas of Pakistan, under the impact of Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched by the Pakistani SFs. On January 26, 2015, IS-KP was officially announced with a 12-member Shura (governing council) consisting of nine Pakistanis, two Afghans, and one person of unknown origin. Hafiz Saeed Khan became the Amir. He was, however, killed on July 26, 2016, in the Achin District of Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan. Later, in May 2019, a separate chapter for Pakistan – Islamic State-Pakistan Province (IS-PP) – was established.
While the animosity between the IS-KP and JUI-F does have a history, there has been a significant escalation in attacks in recent times, as the IS-KP perceives the JUI-F as being closely connected with the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. As disclosed by Muhammad Israr Madani, head of the International Research Council for Religious Affairs (IRCRA), an Islamabad-based research body, “when the Taliban established its government in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul in August 2021, several religious scholars and individuals from Bajaur were appointed to important positions.” Most of the appointees were close to JUI-F.
While the Afghan Taliban has increased action against IS-KP cadres on its soil, vengeance attacks by IS-KP have also intensified, targeting Afghan Taliban allies in Pakistan. The cycle is likely to continue, even escalate, in the near term.
- Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management