By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Former Provincial Minister for Agriculture and livestock and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate for Province Khyber Paktunkhwa-99 (PK-99) Ikramullah Khan Gandapur was killed along with his driver and six persons, including two Police guards, seriously injured, in a suicide attack near his hometown Kulachi in Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on July 22, 2018. The head of the bomb disposal unit (BDU) in Dera Ismail Khan, Inayat Tiger, said that eight kilogrammes of explosives had been packed in the suicide vest when it was detonated. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ‘spokesperson’, Muhammad Khurasani, claimed the responsibility and termed the attack “an act of vengeance for their fallen comrades.”
On July 13, 2018, at least four persons were killed and another 32 injured in a bomb triggered by remote control, targeting the convoy of Akram Khan Durrani in the Haved Bazaar (market) area of Bannu town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Durrani had served as Federal Minister for Housing and Works between June 2013 and May 2018, and as Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between 2002 and 2007. He was heading back from an election rally near North Waziristan District. Durrani, who escaped unhurt, is the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) candidate for the National Assembly seat of Province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-35 (PK-35, Bannu), standing against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan. The attack was claimed by the TTP.
On July 10, 2018, at least 22 persons, including Awami National Party (ANP) leader Haroon Bilour, were killed and over 30 people injured in a suicide blast which targeted an ANP election gathering in the Yakatoot area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The blast took place when Haroon Bilour, who was a candidate for the National Assembly Province Khyber Paktunkhwa-78 (PK-78), arrived at the site where the ANP workers had gathered for a meeting. Bilour suffered serious injuries and was shifted to hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds. Mohammad Khurasani, TTP ‘spokesperson’, claimed responsibility for the blast. Earlier, on April 16, 2013, TTP had carried out an attack targeting Bilour in the Mundabheri area of Yakatoot in Peshawar. Though Haroon escaped unhurt on that occasion, 16 persons were killed and more than 35 others were injured in the attack. Among the injured was Haroon’s uncle and senior ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. While claiming responsibility, the then TTP ‘spokesperson’ Ehsanullah Ehsan told journalists that Haroon was the target, but “unfortunately Ghulam Ahmed Bilour got injured”. Haroon Bilour was the son of Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a senior ANP leader and the then Minister for Local Government and Rural Development in the KP Assembly, who was killed by a suicide bomber during a party meeting in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar area of Peshawar on December 22, 2012. Eight others were killed and another 17 others had sustained injuries in that incident, and TTP had claimed the attack.
TTP also claimed the July 13, 2018, Mastung suicide attack in which at least 149 persons were killed and another 186 injuredat Dringarh village in the Mastung District of Balochistan. However,the Islamic State (IS) had also claimed the attack. Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on the Interior on July 19, 2018, Inspector-General (IG) Balochistan Mohsin Hassan Buttdisclosed, “The suicide bomber was a part of Daesh (IS) and had been affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as well. The facilitators of the attack have also been detected.”
Even if the‘credit’ of Mastung incident, which is the second worst terrorism-linked attack (in terms of fatalities) recorded in Pakistan since March 2000, when the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database commenced compiling data on terrorism-related fatalities in Pakistan, is ‘taken away’ from the TTP, the outfit appears to be in overdrive, seeking to avenge the killing of its former chief Maulana Fazlullah. The TTP was responsible for carrying out the worst attack, in Pakistan till date, at the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, in which at least 150 persons, including 134 children, nine school staff members and all seven suicide attackers, were killed.
On June 15, 2018, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to confirm the news regarding the killing of TTP ‘chief’ Mullah Fazlullah in a US drone strike in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan on June 14, 2018. On June 23, 2018, TTP announced it had appointed Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud as the new leader of the group. In a statement sent to AFP, TTP ‘spokesman’ Mohammad Khorasani confirmed Fazlullah was killed in the US drone strike. “It is a matter of pride that all leaders of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have been martyred by infidels,” Khorasani declared, referring to Fazlullah’s two predecessors – Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud – who were also killed in drone strikes. He also disclosed that the shura(council)elected Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud aka Abu Mansoor Asimas the ‘chief’, while Mufti Mazahim aka Mufti Hafza Ullah, was appointed ‘deputy chief’.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) which had claimed that Mullah Fazlullah was “hiding in Afghanistan since 2009” termed Fazlullah’s killing “a positive development”, adding that the TTP leader’s death “gives relief to scores of Pakistani families who fell victims to TTP terror including the APS massacre.” However, the surge in TTP-linked violence within one month of Fazlullah’s killingestablishes the fact that the threat is far from over. It is useful to recall that the last TTP-claimed attack, prior to Fazlullah’s death, had taken place on January 9, 2018, when seven people, including five Policemen, were killed and 16 others, including eight Policemen, were injured, in a suicide blast near GPO Chowk on Zarghoon Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The suicide bomber had targeted the Police contingent returning from duty at the Provincial Assembly building and rammed into the parked Police truck.
Since its formation on December 14, 2007, TTP has emerged as the biggest threat to Pakistan. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, out of 56,461 fatalities (19,166 civilians, 5,755 SFs, 31,540 militants) recorded in Pakistan since the formation of TTP, at least 9,699 fatalities were attributable to one or other militant outfit. The TTP-related fatalities alone stand at 6,345, i.e., 65.41 per cent. More worryingly, out of 19,166 civilians killed in Pakistan, during this period, at least 3,122 were attributable. The TTP alone was responsible for 2,004 deaths, i.e. 64.16 per cent. Out of 5,755 SF fatalities recorded, at least 1,351 were attributable. The TTP accounted for 953 such deaths, i.e., 70.54 per cent. Out of 407 suicide attacks resulting in 6,283 fatalities recorded in Pakistan since the formation of TTP, at least 133 incidents were attributable resulting in death 2,897. The TTP alone was responsible for 96 such incidents resulting in 2,163 fatalities, i.e. 72.18 per cent of the total such incidents and 74.65 resulting fatalities.
Moreover, according to thePakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) security report published on January 6, 2018, TTP and its associated outfits remain the most potent threat despite a 16 per cent decline in overall terrorist attacks in 2017. The report noted that 370 terrorist attacks were reported from 64 districts of Pakistan in 2017, including 24 suicide and gun-and-suicide coordinated attacks, killing 815 people, besides injuring 1,736. Of these attacks, as many as 213, or 58 per cent, were perpetrated by TTP, its splinter groups, mainly Jamaat-u-Ahrar (JuA), and other formations with similar objectives, such as local Taliban groups, killing 186 people. Rising internal rifts within the group and several Army operations, primarily the Zarb-e-Azb, have nevertheless had significant impact on the operational capability of these outfits, specially TTP.
TTP was formed under the leadership ofBaitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike at his father-in-law’s house in Zangara in the Laddha sub-division of the South Waziristan Agency of FATA on August 9, 2009. He was succeeded by Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in US drone attack in the Dandy Darpakhel area, five kilometers north of Miranshah, the main town of the North Waziristan Agency, on November 1, 2013.A power struggle emerged within the group followed the appointment of a non-Mehsud tribe leader, Maulana Fazlullah, as the group’s chief in the aftermath of Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing. TTP draws most of its cadres from the Mehsud tribe and Fazlullah ‘s appointment cut that supply line. The new leader, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, is from Mehsud tribe and this is an ominous sign for the Pakistani security establishment. Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on the Taliban thus observed on June 24, 2018,
With the appointment of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud the leadership of TTP has returned to Mehsud tribe in its home base South Waziristan as Fazlullah was from Swat. Mehsud’s leadership could see the breakaway factions which emerged in the TTP after Fazlullah fled to Afghanistan in 2009 reunite.
Mufti Noor Wali Mehsudbelongs to the Michi Khel sub-clan of the Mehsud tribe, andhad served as a deputy to TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud. Wali Mehsudis considered a ruthless commander who has led the group’s activities in Pakistan’s urban areas, particularly Karachi (Chief of Karachi chapter from June 2013 to May 2015). Wali Mehsud, also known as Abu Mansoor Asim, was born on June 26, 1978 at Gorgoray village in the Sararogha tehsil (revenue unit) of the South Waziristan Agency of erstwhile FATA (FATA has been a part of KP since June 1, 2018). Educated in various seminaries in the Pakistani cities of Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Karachi, Wali Mehsud authored a book in Urdu titled “Inqalab-e-Mehsud-South Waziristan: Farangi Raj say Amreeki Samraj Tak” (The Mehsud Revolution, South Waziristan: From British Raj to American Imperialism). In the book, he, on behalf of TTP, claimed for the first time that the TTP cadres were involved in the killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in 2007. Mehsud also admitted that the TTP platform was used for extortion, kidnapping and killings to get money to finance the groups’ activities.
Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud will indeed try to reunify the various TTP factions under his command. On August 26, 2014, a group of TTP ‘commanders’ broke away’ from the parent organization led by Maulana Fazlullah and formed a new outfit called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA, Assembly of Freedom) under the leadership of Maulana Qasim Omar Khorasani.JuA included TTP factions from the Bajaur, Khyber, Mohmand, and Orakzai Agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); and Charsadda, Peshawar, and Swat Districts in KP. While announcing the split, Khorasani claimed, “The leadership of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan [TTP] is a victim of narrow, personal objectives. A separate group was announced after the efforts to keep TTP united ended in failure.”Wali Mehsud’s job would now be to reconcile tribal splinters.
If TTP manages to regroup and restore its strength under the new leadership, the relative calm achieved by the Pakistani security establishment over the past few years will come under grave threat.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management