But observers believe they can't stage a comeback in Pakistan
Despite weakening of the Pakistani Taliban due to successive military operations by Pakistan and differences among key commanders, the group continues to regain its strength by reuniting itself.
Jamaatul Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar (also known as Mohmand Taliban), the two breakaway factions of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have rejoined the group, the Pakistani Taliban confirmed Monday.
JuA chief Omar Khalid Khurasani and HuA’s emir Omar Khurasani have pledged allegiance to TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban said in their statement.
Jamaatul Ahrar parted ways with the TTP in 2014 after developing differences with the then leader of the group, Mullah Fazlullah. It had even condemned the Pakistani Taliban’s December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. Over 140 schoolchildren were killed in the attack.
Later, Hizbul Ahrar was formed after the Jamaatul Ahrar split into two groups.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban and Jamaatul Ahrar who escaped from Pakistan’s custody in January 2020, told SAMAA Digital that Jamaatul Ahrar had parted ways with the TTP after developing differences over the organisational structure.
“They demanded that our organisational structure should be similar to the Afghan Taliban and all decisions should be taken by an independent Shura,” Ehsan said. “And all groups should be given representation in it based on their capabilities.”
Wali is different from other TTP leaders because he adopted a “reconciliatory policy” after becoming the emir and assured the disgruntled groups of addressing their concerns, Ehsan said.
Jamaatul Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar are not the only groups that have rejoined the Pakistani Taliban lately. Some commanders of the Sheheryar Mehsud group and a faction of the Punjabi Taliban have pledged allegiance to Wali too.
Some observers also credit Wali for TTP’s regrouping. Rifatullah Orakzai, a journalist based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who has interviewed several militant commanders in the past, says Wali has more control over the group as compared to Mullah Fazlullah.
Wali became the TTP chief after the killing of Fazlullah in a US drone strike in Afghanistan in 2018.
“People from Mehsud tribe were the main foot soldiers of the TTP when it was first formed,” Orakzai says. Wali was close to former TTP supremo Hakimullah Mehsud who was also killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in 2013.
“Noor Wali was a member of Halqa-e-Mehsud (a powerful group within the Pakistani Taliban),” he says.
Wali was a fighter but he has always been considered an “Aalim” and a “politician” within the TTP, according to the journalist.
“He has also written a book,” the KP-based journalist said. “In his book Inquilab-e-Mehsud, he openly highlighted the flaws within the TTP that proves that he is capable of understanding the ground realities.”
Can a united TTP stage a comeback in Pakistan?
In 2014, the Pakistani military under its former chief General (retired) Raheel Sharif launched operation Zarb-e-Azb in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The operation weakened the TTP and its main leadership was driven away from their strongholds. They have since been living in Afghanistan’s Paktia, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces.
According to a recent United Nation’s report, at least 6,000 fighters of the Pakistani Taliban are in Afghanistan.
But Ehsan doesn’t believe the group is capable of occupying any area or establishing its writ in Pakistan.
“But they still have the capability to stage major attacks in Pakistan and the regrouping will certainly increase its power,” Ehsan told Samaa Digital.
Orakzai agrees with Ehsan. “Noor Wali Mehsud has been trying to re-unite the TTP since the day he became the group’s emir and he has done it, but their comeback in Pakistan is almost impossible.”
The TTP has not claimed any major attack in Pakistan recently. But Jamaatul Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar do have presence in several areas in KP and Balochistan.
“They can create tension for Pakistan,” Orakzai says. “They will continue the targeted attacks.”