The South Asia Channel

The new, new face of the Pakistani Taliban?

The new, new face of the Pakistani Taliban?

As news reports emerge that Wali ur-Rehman is now leading Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan operations in Waziristan, Mansur Khan Mahsud briefly looks at his history.

Wali ur-Rehman, around 40 years old and the son of Asmatullah, is from a middle-class family in the Mal Khel branch of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. His family lives in Miram Shah, but he moves around Waziristan quite a bit; he is currently believed to reside in the Momi Karam area, and studied in the Jamia Islamia Imdadia madrassa in Faisalabad.[i] After graduating in 1996, he returned to South Waziristan to teach in a madrassa in Kani Guram. Before joining the Taliban movement in 2004, Wali ur-Rehman was affiliated with the Islamist political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), with which he still maintains contacts.[ii]

Wali ur-Rehman is reputed to be humble, cool-minded, intelligent, and polite. Despite earlier disagreements over the TTP’s line of succession, he was believed to be a close ally of the fiery Hakimullah Mehsud and currently serves as chief of the TTP in South Waziristan, as well as the organization’s primary military strategist. In 2007 he was given responsibility for looking after the movement’s financial matters. Wali ur-Rehman has also participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO forces, and against Pakistani security forces in 2005 and 2008. His brother, Qareeb-ur-Rehman, was killed by Pakistani forces when the militants attacked the Splitoi fort in South Waziristan in July 2008.[iii]

After TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud’s death in August of 2009, his onetime personal driver and spokesman Hakimullah Mehsud was a top contender for the TTP leadership, along with Qari Hussain, Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud, Noor Saeed, Maulvi Azmatullah Mehsud, and Rais Khan Mehsud alias Azam Tariq. Intervention by Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the legendary Afghan mujahideen fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani, apparently prevented an armed confrontation between the various factions of would-be Taliban chiefs, telling them they "must follow the path of a great leader … [and] save your bullets for your true enemies."[iv] Hakimullah and Wali ur-Rehman also sought to avoid violent conflict, aware that it could splinter the entire movement, not just in South Waziristan but across the FATA and NWFP. Wali ur-Rehman is believed to have had knowledge of the impending Pakistani military operations across the tribal regions and thus wanted to avoid disunity within the TTP.[v]

The top three candidates for amir of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain, and Azam Tariq — belonged to the Bahlolzai branch of the Mehsud tribe, whereas Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud, Maulvi Azmatullah Mehsud, and Noor Saeed came from the Manzais, which historically had been at the forefront of power politics in Mehsud territory.[vi] Furthermore, the Mehsud Taliban in South Waziristan reportedly favored the accession of Wali ur-Rehman because he had been a deputy of Baitullah.

After several weeks of reported infighting and deliberations during the late summer of 2009,[vii] however, the Manzai finally lost to the Bahlolzai in the succession battle, as Hakimullah’s support included not only the Bahlolzais, but also Taliban fighters in the tribal agencies of Khyber, Bajaur, Kurram, and Orakzai. During these tense weeks, there were reports that Hakimullah was killed in conflict with Wali ur-Rehman,[viii] but the militant group’s leadership later invited local journalists to South Waziristan and put on a show of unity by sitting side by side.[ix] After Hakimullah sidelined the rest of the contenders, the 40-member Taliban shura was left with no option but to choose him as head of the TTP. As a consolation, Wali ur-Rehman was made the head of Mehsud Taliban in South Waziristan, where he commands some 7,000 to 10,000 men.[x]

According to local sources, Hakimullah, Hussain, and Azam Tariq consolidated power over the Mehsud Taliban based in South Waziristan, and are now fighting against the Pakistani army and international forces in Afghanistan. Taliban sources in South Waziristan also have said Hakimullah shifted his family to Miram Shah, in North Waziristan, where they are supported by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the current head of the Taliban in North Waziristan. Wali ur-Rehman is reported to be living there with his family as well.[xi]

Sailab Mehsud, a South Waziristan correspondent for the FATA Research Center, assesses that tension between Hakimullah and Wali ur-Rehman had been on the rise because Wali ur-Rehman wanted to end the TTP’s war with the Pakistani government, saying it has destroyed the Mehsud tribe. At one point, Wali ur-Rehman was reportedly in secret negotiations with elements of the Pakistani government in Peshawar or Khyber, but Hakimullah and Qari Hussain wanted to carry on fighting the Pakistani military.[xii]

Mansur Khan Mahsud is the research coordinator for the FATA Research Center, an Islamabad-based think tank. He is from the Mahsud tribe of South Waziristan and has worked with several NGOs and news outlets as a researcher. He holds a masters degree in Pakistan studies from the University of Peshawar. This is excerpted from a longer research paper on militancy in South Waziristan, and is part of the New America Foundation’s "Battle for Pakistan" series.


[i] Interview with Shah Sawar Mehsud, TTP commander in Ladha, November 24, 2009, in Gomal, South Waziristan.

[ii] Alamgir Bitani, "Waziristan Power Politics," Dawn, September 13, 2009, http://www.dawn.http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/provinces/04-waziristan-power-politics-qs-02

[iii] Interview with Ishtiaq Mahsud, Associated Press reporter, October 14, 2009, in D.I. Khan. 

[iv] Matthew Rosenberg, "New Wave of Warlords Bedevils U.S.," Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704561004575012703221192966.html

[v] Interview with Sailab Mehsud, November 22, 2009, in D.I. Khan; interview with Sailab Mehsud, October 28, 2009.

[vi] Alamgir Bitani, "Waziristan Power Politics," Dawn, September 13, 2009, http://www.dawn.http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/provinces/04-waziristan-power-politics-qs-02

[vii] Ibid.; Daud Khattak, "The new face of the TTP," Foreign Policy, August 24, 2009, http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/08/24/the_new_face_of_the_ttp.

[viii] Interview with Malik Sadat Khan, Mehsud tribal elder with Manzai branch, November 6, 2009; Sailab Mehsud, September 7, 2009, Tank City.

[ix] Sailab Mehsud interview; interview with Alamgir Bitani, reporter, Dawn, September 9, 2009.

[x] Abid Shaman Khel interview; Sailab Mehsud interview, November 30, 2009, in Islamabad, Pakistan; "Obituary: Baitullah Mehsud," BBC, August 25, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7163626.stm.

[xi] Interview with Shah Swar Mehsud, TTP commander in Ladha, November 24, 2009, in Gomal, South Waziristan.

[xii] Interview with Sailab Mehsud, January 19, 2010, in Frontier Region Jandola.