The South Asia Channel

The TTP’s hybrid insurgency

Awar of words erupted in Pakistan this week, following reportsthat the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had declared a ceasefire with thePakistani government, as part of allegedly ongoing talks between the two sides.TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan deniedany ceasefire Wednesday, but the prospect of negotiations require that weexamine the TTP’s current orientation, and how the group’s outlook on ...

A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

Awar of words erupted in Pakistan this week, following reportsthat the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had declared a ceasefire with thePakistani government, as part of allegedly ongoing talks between the two sides.TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan deniedany ceasefire Wednesday, but the prospect of negotiations require that weexamine the TTP’s current orientation, and how the group’s outlook on its fightagainst Pakistan and the West has changed.

OnNovember 8, a written messagefrom Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP’s amir, was released on jihadi Internetforums on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic holiday that ends the annualHajj pilgrimage season. The message was released simultaneously in Urdu,Pashtu, Arabic, and English on Internet forums used by transnational Sunnijihadis and their supporters. It was distributed by the GlobalIslamic Media Front (GIMF), a shadowy network of translators and media operatives whoproduce numerous translations of key jihadi texts, videos, and songs, as wellas original material. Earlier this year new videos and written statements fromthe TTP were being distributed by a branch of the GIMF, Al-Qadisiyyah MediaFoundation, which is devoted to translating jihadi texts, primarily fromArabic, into languages of the Indian Subcontinent including Urdu, Bangla,Pashtu, Hindi, and Persian. The shift to GIMF distribution earlier this year suggeststhat the TTP continues to draw upon the transnational Sunni jihadi rhetoricdeployed by groups like al-Qaeda Central (AQC) and its regional affiliateswhile continuing to maintain a strong focus on waging a domestic insurgency inPakistan. The result is a type of "glocal"militancy that combines both elements of transnational jihadism with the TTP’s morecountry- and region-specific goals.   

Inhis message, the TTP amir addresses four main groups: the worldwideMuslim community (Ummah), the Pashtuns living in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pukhtunkhwaprovince and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Pakistani peoplegenerally, and the Pakistani military and security agencies. Mehsud alsoreaffirms the TTP’s allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar,and delivers an overview of his movement’s widespread targeting of Pakistanimilitary, security, and other government agencies as well as targets connectedto the United States. Mehsud further claims that the TTP has regained controlof many Pashtun tribal areas and have launched an "open war" in others,including Dir, Swat, and Buner, after the movement made a "strategic"withdrawal earlier in order to draw the Pakistani state into a costly guerillawar.

Mehsudmakes multiple referencesto the fall of the Caliphate, the transnational Islamic state last represented,mostly symbolically by its end, by the Ottoman Empire before its dissolution in1924, as well as its possible reformation. He urges Muslims worldwide to supporttheir oppressed brethren in Pakistan, describing the Ummah as "one body"in which "it is not possible for one part of it to be in pain and for others toremain insensitive to it." Specifically, he says that they should fight againstthe "agents of the unbelievers" who have sold their hereafter for worldly powerand wealth. Differences among Muslims, Mehsud argues, should be put aside inthe interest of uniting for the greater good, which to him is supporting the"commander of the faithful," Mullah Muhammad Omar, and working towards thebuilding of a new caliphate, "a dream that awaits fulfillment." 

Incontrast to this strident but fairly standard global jihadi rhetoric, MullahOmar’s annual Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr messages have adopted a much morenationalist rhetoric that emphasizes the Afghanistan-specific goals of theQuetta Shura and its Afghan allies, such as the Haqqani Network and otherTaliban groups inside the country that declare allegiance, sometimes nominally,to him. Omar, unlike his Pakistani Taliban counterpart, continues to emphasizenation-specific goals, albeit ones tinged with a reactionary form of militantSunni Islamism.  Omar signs his Eidmessage as "the servant of Islam," suggesting that he wishes to be seen as morethan simply the leader of a militant movement. This description has been usedto describe Muslims, including the famous English translator of the Qur’anMarmaduke Picthall, who have attempted to contribute to spreading the messageof Islam. Mullah Omar has used this signature for a number of years.  Mehsud, in contrast, signs his message as"the servant of the mujahideen," noting his primary identity as theleader of a militant umbrella movement that has brought together numerous localPakistani Taliban militias under the banner of the TTP.

Mehsudtakes care toward the end of his message to claim that the TTP "are under thestrict guidance of the [religious] scholars of the movement, who ensure thatall work is done in line with Islam and the Sharia (law) of the ProphetMuhammad." The TTP, together with its ally AQC, have taken great pains sincethe autumn of 2009 to distancethemselves from wanton attacks throughout Pakistan that have killed hundredsof civilians, instead blaming the West or companies such as the security firmXe Services, formerly known as Blackwater. Mullah Omar made similar claims inhis 2010 Eid al-Adha message and he dedicated a significant part of this year’sEidmessage, released on November 5, to urging local Afghan Taliban commandersto avoid killingcivilians in their military operations, something which the movement continuesto regularly do. Mehsud makes no specific mention of civilian casualties in TTPattacks. 

UnlikeMehsud, Mullah Omar and other Afghan Taliban leaders have continually sought toattract support from employees of the Afghan government, particularly thepolice and military, urging them to abandon the "apostate" client government ofHamid Karzai. The TTP amir, in contrast, promises those working for thePakistani government and particularly its security agencies that they willcontinue to be targets for the "mujahideen." He accuses them of beingresponsible for "the bloodshed of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and forhanding over Arab, Uzbek, and other mujahideen to the Unbelievers [U.S.and NATO]," hinting at the TTP’s close working relationships with AQC and theIslamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Addressing the Pakistani public generally,Mehsud urges them to support the TTP, which he says is steadily approachingvictory against the country’s government, whose rulers are, in Mehsud’s words, continuallyfinding the territory in which they are safe shrink. 

Mehsudthen addresses Pakistani Pashtuns at length, recognizing their suffering, whichhe disingenuously blames solely on military operations of the state andAmerican ally. He makes strategic reference to the disregard for damage tocivilian areas, torture and abuse, and extrajudicialexecutions carried out by the Pakistani military against Pashtuns in regionssuch as the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, as well as recent political violence inKarachi that has killed scores of Pashtuns and other Pakistanis in severefighting between the secular Pashtun Awami Nationalist Party and the MuttahidaQaumi Movementt (MQM). Mehsud’s appeal to Pashtun solidarity contrasts,somewhat, with his global jihadi rhetoric like that of AQC, whose leaders areopposed to nationalism and identification outside of Islam.

Purportedfootage of these human rights abuses have become staples in videos produced by theTTP, AQC, and the IMU. Mehsud tells Pakistani Pashtuns that his movement is"trying to the best of our abilities" to ensure that "you may all return safelyto your homes and live with honor." His outreach to the TTP’s prospective basein Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and the country’s tribal areas continues efforts by othersenior TTP leaders, such as deputy amir Wali-ur Rehman Mehsud, whopenned a letter to tribal leaders, released on April 19, warning them not tosell their hereafter for worldly promises by the Pakistani state. This wasfollowed with a video message from Rehman to tribal leaders released on April30, and a second video released on June 1, reminding the Pashtun tribes oftheir proud history of resisting invaders, hinting that the tribes should nowresist the new invaders, the apostate Pakistani state and its "Crusader" ally,the United States. Both videos were produced by Al-Qadisiyyah and distributedonline by the GIMF.

Themedia materials produced by the TTP and the Afghan Taliban provide windows intotheir larger driving ideologies. Although they share some significantsimilarities, such as subscription to militant forms of Sunni Islamism, the twomovements also diverge on a number of important issues. Broadly explained, the TTPhas drawn on AQC’s transnational militancy in developing its own ‘glocal’jihadi ideology, focusing on insurgency in Pakistan but openly threatening toexpand outside the country’s borders in response to U.S. drone strikes insidethe country, while the Afghan Taliban has embraced, at least in public, morenation-specific goals that are largely parochial toAfghanistan.  The Afghan Taliban and TTPhave diverged in their media messaging as their political goals shift and, insome ways, grow further apart. Strategically, the Afghan Taliban, or at leastits "old guard," is seemingly seeking a place for itself within the broaderAfghan political context, and has gone to great lengths to assure its neighborsthat it does not have expansionist goals. In contrast, the TTP has expanded itsrhetoric and, in a few cases, its operational reach beyond Pakistan’s borders,adopting parts of AQC’s global jihadi rhetoric, though it remains focusedmainly on waging a war against the Pakistani state and has utilized thisrhetoric in aid of this insurgency.

ChristopherAnzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGillUniversity where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi’iteIslam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident andAl-Wasat.

The author would like to thank his colleague Muhammad Ahmad Munir, anUrdu and Arabic instructor and graduate student in the Institute, for analyzingand discussing with him several key Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan primary sourcesused in preparing this article.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola