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The South Asia Channel

The militant web

A recently published jihadi Internet magazine, Azan: A Call to Jihad, produced by a group calling itself the "Taliban of Khurasan," has led to speculation about disappearing lines between Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban, and other affiliated groups in the region.  The numerous "Taliban" groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the TTP ...

Majid Saeedi/Getty Image
Majid Saeedi/Getty Image

A recently published jihadi Internet magazine, Azan: A Call to Jihad, produced by a group calling itself the "Taliban of Khurasan," has led to speculation about disappearing lines between Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban, and other affiliated groups in the region.  The numerous "Taliban" groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the TTP umbrella movement to factions of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, pay allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Umar, the founder of the original Afghan Taliban movement.  However, the degree to which this rhetoric translates into active cooperation and coordination on the ground remains hotly debated.  Using available primary sources, it is possible to sketch out the complex militant milieu in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions, and get a picture of the types of cooperation and inter-group dynamics at play among the different organizations. 

The TTP, for example, has forged a close alliance with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an Uzbek militant group that has had a presence inside Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal regions for over a decade.  Having previously been aligned with the Afghan Taliban, the IMU shifted many of its fighters and senior leadership to Pakistan following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.  In late 2003, the IMU’s leader, Uzbek preacher Tahir Yuldashev, met with his followers in Waziristan and announced that he was dedicating himself to fight the Pakistani state due to its targeting of the IMU’s local allies and protectors.  Since then, the IMU has integrated into segments of the local societies that have sheltered it for over a decade.  It has forged alliances with local militant outfits such as the TTP, with which it has carried out joint attacks on Pakistani state targets, though it also carries out independent operations. 

Most recently, the IMU claimed responsibility for the May 12 "martyrdom operation" that targeted Pakistani police in Quetta, which it said was carried out in retaliation for an attack by the Pakistani military on one of the IMU’s "jihad schools." And one of the most successful joint operations was the April 2012 attack on Pakistan’s Bannu prison, an operation which freed nearly 400 prisoners.  Among those freed was Adnan Rashid, a former member of the Pakistani military who had been imprisoned for his role in an assassination attempt on then-Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf.  Rashid has since been featured in media productions produced by both the TTP’s Umar Media and the IMU’s Jundullah Studio. 

Both the TTP and IMU have acknowledged the groups’ integration, as well as some instances of intermarriage between non-Pashtun/non-Pakistani members of the IMU and local Pashtuns, including the daughters of one of the IMU’s most important local patrons, Hajji Nur Islam. In addition to drawing upon a pool of foreign fighters from Central Asia, Europe, and the Arab world, the IMU recruits local Pashtuns in both Pakistan and Afghanistan

The two groups have shown ideological cross-fertilization, too. TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud has said that one of his earliest influences was Yuldashev, whose example played a significant role in his decision to join the "jihad in Pakistan."  The TTP and IMU also share the juridical voice of Abu Zarr al-Burmi, a militant Pakistani preacher and religious scholar.  Al-Burmi is a key jihadi religious scholar and has long been featured in TTP, IMU, and other regional jihadi audiovisual productions.  He starred in a widely discussed audio exchange with a Pakistan military spokesman, who fared rather poorly in the debate, and was at the forefront of attempting to delegitimize Malala Yousafzai, who was severely wounded in an attack carried out by the TTP’s Swat faction earlier this year. 

With regard to the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Umar, the TTP continues to pledge at least rhetorical allegiance to him as the so-called "commander of the believers." In his 2011 message for the annual Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Hakimullah Mehsud stated that Mullah Umar was the TTP’s "amir, guide, and leader," for whom he and other TTP leaders and fighters were "loyal soldiers." 

Yet, the TTP is first and foremost engaged in a war with the Pakistani state — both its political leadership and military establishment — the latter of which has historically been one of the primary patrons of Mullah Umar and the original Afghan Taliban, as well as affiliated groups such as the Haqqani Network. 

The TTP has, according to its own statements, participated in some joint military operations inside Afghanistan alongside the Afghan Taliban.  Most recently, the TTP issued a statement in late March about an operation against NATO and Afghan government forces in Paktia, claiming that over 200 of its fighters had participated.  Photographs purportedly showing captured weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment were released with the statement.  And according to a 2010 IMU statement, Bekkay Harrach, a senior al Qaeda media operative, was killed during a coordinated attack by the TTP, Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda Central (AQC), and IMU on the U.S. military base at Bagram Airfield.  However, the extent and frequency of this type of military cooperation remains debated. 

AQC, which has been primarily based in Pakistan since 2001, has tried to integrate itself more deeply into the Pakistani militant milieu, in part to counter the significant losses it has suffered over the past three years.  Between 2010 and 2012, the organization lost some of its key leaders and nearly all of its major ideological voices, including alleged AQC "chief financial officer" and Afghanistan commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (2010), founder Usama bin Laden and senior ideological and juridical voice Atiyyatullah al-Libi (2011), and unofficial AQC "mufti" Abu Yahya al-Libi and missionary preacher Khalid bin Abd al-Rahman Husaynan (2012).  Before their deaths, both Abu Yahya and Husaynan delivered religious lectures to members of other militant groups active in the region, such as the Islamic Jihad Union a
nd the East Turkestan Islamic Party. 

These losses mean that the organization is increasingly reliant on its chief Pakistani ideologue, Ahmad Faruq, to attract new recruits from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Faruq, a shadowy but prolific figure has written numerous tracts and recorded many audiovisual lectures supporting the organization, militancy in Pakistan, and global jihad.  AQC’s leaders, including the late Abu Yahya al-Libi and the group’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have contributed to the Sunni jihadi discourse legitimizing the Pakistani state as a target of violence due to its ongoing alliance with the United States and other foreign powers seen as actively oppressing Muslims throughout the world.    

As for Azan, questions remain about whether it is actually a publication of the TTP, Afghan Taliban, or one of their affiliates or allies.  It does not feature the logo of known militant media departments and contact information given for the Azan "team" is a Yahoo e-mail address, not one known to be connected to any group.  As yet, no group has claimed responsibility for the magazine, and the TTP issued a statement in January saying any official media releases would be released by its Umar Media department. 

Azan‘s layout, graphic design, and writing style are very similar to two previous English-language Internet magazines, Jihad Recollections and Inspire, brainstormed and stewarded by the late Samir Khan, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.  Jihad Recollections was an independent magazine produced by Khan for four issues in 2009, before he left the United States for Yemen.  Inspire emerged the next year as a production of AQAP’s Al-Malahem Media Foundation. 

Like Jihad Recollections and Inspire, Azan includes original content and previously released material, as well as some translations and common features like a dedication to Muslim prisoners.  While some of these things are common in Sunni jihadi media, there are a few possible hints as to the background of the magazine’s producers, including the bad phonetic spelling of "Khost" as "Koast," which is similar to how the Afghan province’s name is often pronounced in English, as well as the preponderance of Pakistan-related content, particularly among the original articles.  There is also a lengthy "exclusive" interview with Rashid, who is now a member of the TTP, and a translation of an article by Pakistani jihadi religious scholar Maulana Asim Umar. 

Though the significance of Azan to the interactions between jihadi militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains unclear, it is likely that the main militant groups operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to coordinate at least some of their military and media operations.  They share a common opposition to those they see as U.S. lackeys in the region, as well as to the continued NATO military presence inside Afghanistan.  But it also remains unclear whether these groups’ long-term political goals are in sync, particularly with regard to the Afghan Taliban and more globally or "glocally" focused militant groups such as the TTP and IMU.

Christopher Anzalone is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi’ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures.  He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.  He is also an adjunct research fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University and the managing editor for the center’s forthcoming web portal Islamium.org.

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