TTP a global threat
January 28, 2011
With the terrorist groups expanding their outreach, incorporating local, regional and international allies, the global threat of terrorism appears far from over. Although the international campaign led by the U.S has significantly damaged the physical infrastructure of various interlinked terrorist groups operating in different parts of world, the victory seems unattainable without addressing the root-causes of violent radicalization. Ultimately, al-Qaeda’s message of global Jihad is engulfing more individuals (as is evident from the rise of homegrown terror in the West) and groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia, al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and most importantly Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP has undergone radical transformation since its inception in December 2007. An entity that was formed to safeguard and strengthen Afghan Taliban’s movement against the foreign forces is gradually enhancing its global profile through its aggressive propaganda against the West in general and the U.S in particular. The group’s transformation into a global entity offers an interesting case study.
The group is often confused as a Pakistani branch of Afghan Taliban with similar objectives. However, this is not the case as the TTP and Afghan Taliban are two totally different entities with different goals. Since its inception, the TTP leadership always pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar who is also recognized as the spiritual leader of Taliban on both sides of Pak-Afghan border. This move by the late Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of group, was probably intended to capitalize on the significant support and sympathies available to Afghan Taliban from a large segment of Pakistani population. It was also propagated by the TTP that Mullah Omar had personally appointed Baitullah Mehsud as the head of Pakistani Taliban. However, it is pertinent to mention that despite all the rhetoric and propaganda by TTP, Afghan Taliban never approved Baitullah Mehsud and his outfit. Pervasive confusion over the links between the two groups forced Afghan Taliban to publically disown TTP. In January 2008, the official spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid set the record straight and stated
“Ours is an Afghan movement and we as a matter of policy do not support militant activity in Pakistan... Baitullah is a Pakistani and we as the Afghan Taliban have nothing to do with his appointment or his expulsion. We did not appoint him and we have not expelled him.”
The timing of the statement was very crucial. The Afghan Taliban publically denounced TTP when the latter unleashed a wave of terror across Pakistan and thousands of Pakistani security forces, government officials and civilians were being killed indiscriminately. The Pakhtuns inhabiting the FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have become the prime victims of the atrocities committed by the TTP. There would be a great fear among the Afghan Taliban of losing popular support from the Pakistani Pakhtoons due to the anti-Pakistan activities of TTP. Therefore, it was necessary for the Afghan Taliban to distance from the TTP in order to secure their support base in the Pakhtuns dominated areas of Pakistan.
Another factor defining the rifts between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban is the former’s policy vis-à-vis the non-TTP Taliban of FATA. These factions are more focused on Afghanistan and do not necessarily support TTP’s terrorist activities in Pakistan. On the other hand, TTP has always tried to persuade and coerce these groups to join hands to “enforce Sharia in Pakistan” and such failed efforts have caused violent clashes between TTP and various factions of Afghanistan-focused tribal militias of FATA. For instance, in July 2008, the TTP killed two veteran Jihadis in Mohmand Agency who maintained close links with Afghan Taliban movement.
The tribal areas of Pakistan are considered to be an important base for the Afghan Taliban to wage guerrilla warfare against foreign forces in Afghanistan. The loss of key commanders would have displeased the Afghan Taliban, which led them to publically disown TTP.
Today al-Qaeda exerts more influence on Pakistani Taliban than the Afghan Taliban. In fact, the TTP has crossed the red line by vociferously endorsing al-Qaeda’s agenda of global Jihad and closely collaborating with the global terrorist outfit in various acts of international terrorism. The group has not only intended to operate globally but it has also demonstrated the required capabilities to carry out attacks beyond the territorial borders of Pakistan.
Apart from TTP’s explicit intentions to wage an international Jihad in line with al-Qaeda’s global strategy, content analysis of the video interviews and official statements issued by group’s leadership also reveals startling insights into group’s global agenda. In order to access the scale of threat from a totally different angle, 10 official video statements and interviews of TTP’s leadership released and issued during 2007 to 2009 were randomly selected for content analysis. The videos and interviews collected through enhanced field and online research were closely scrutinized to identify the specific characteristics of TTP’s communication, which ultimately define its global ambitions.
An examination of TTP’s official communication using the techniques of content analysis reveals that increased attention to the West and global conflicts has replaced talk of supporting Afghan Taliban’s cause, which was one of the group’s main concerns in the early phase of its formation. Compared to Afghan Taliban, the texts from Pakistani Taliban are more emotional, angry and concerned with other groups and governments, similar features define al-Qaeda's texts. Keywords such as apostates ( a term to define Pakistani soldiers and anyone supporting the government actions against Pakistani Taliban), Iraq, Palestine, India, global, international, glory of Islam and Crusades occur frequently in spoken and written communication of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Under Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group has also vowed to replace existing imperial system with Caliphate that will be extended throughout the world. Pakistan army is repeatedly described as American puppet. Interestingly, number of TTP’s official video statements has been filmed by al-Qaeda’s media wing known as al-Sahab, which comes as another indication of close ideological and operational collaboration between the two groups.
The international war against terrorism has radically transformed into a global threat environment; fractured alliances and gave birth to world’s deadliest terrorist groups. Whereas Afghan Taliban appear to have realized the risks associated with linking their group to global Jihad movement, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has risen to embrace al-Qaeda and its global agenda. TTP, as al Qaeda’s front organization, does not only intend to take its fight to the West, it is also gradually acquiring capabilities to fulfill its global designs. The history of TTP’s involvement in the acts of international terrorism is detrimental in comprehending the global threat posed by the outfit. The newly emerged alliances and the post-9/11 shifts in the links between various Jihadi outfits active in the region demand an immediate review of regional counter-terrorism strategies. Since the core objective of war on terror was to eliminate al-Qaeda and its support structure, more resources and efforts need to be spent on securing FATA where al-Qaeda is hiding, regrouping and reorganizing in collaboration with and under the protection of TTP.
Given the complicity of problem in FATA, it could only be best handled and managed by the Pakistani government itself. An outside force without sufficient knowledge of the people, culture, militant groups and the terrain would only deteriorate the situation. Any direct western involvement on operational level will be highly counter-productive. There is a need for enhanced regional and global collaboration to counter the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is not just a Pakistani challenge anymore but a global threat.