Ideological purification: Understanding the TTP split

Published September 2, 2014
Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan appears to be one of the major reasons behind new developments happening within TTP. -File Photo
Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan appears to be one of the major reasons behind new developments happening within TTP. -File Photo
Omar Khalid Khorasani is seen in the centre during an interview in Mohmand tribal region on June 2, 2011. —Reuters photo
Omar Khalid Khorasani is seen in the centre during an interview in Mohmand tribal region on June 2, 2011. —Reuters photo

There is nothing new or surprising in the news of a split among ranks of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as it had been in the process since November last year, when TTP’s head Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack.

While many see this split as a major blow to the terrorists’ umbrella organisation, it is worrisome that some relatively more brutal factions of the group are reorganising themselves.

The chance that this split will affect the existing militant landscape in the region is small.

The news indicates, in fact, that certain terrorist groups are in a process of transformation and are absorbing influences of newly emerging terrorist organisations like the Islamic State (previously ISIS, now IS).

The new influences and inspirations are causing ideological purification within terrorist organisations.

Explore: What ISIS and the 'caliphate' mean for Pakistan

The newly established group Jamatul Ahrar, and its goals and objectives suggest that it is inspired by the achievements of the IS.

According to media reports, the group is the brainchild of Omar Khalid Khorasani — an ambitious Taliban commander and a member of TTP Shura who was not happy with peace talks between Taliban and the government.

Transformations and ideological purifications among terrorist groups usually entail a process of abrasion, which sometime goes deep, but should not be regarded as destruction.

Transformations do not make terrorist groups weaker.

Rather, they provide new ideological strengths, which help terrorists restructure their groups and revamp their operational strategies. When Ahrar claimed that the TTP now belonged to them, they meant to say that they had substituted the older organisational and operational formations with new ones.

Terrorist movements have passed through many transformations during the last one decade.

Much has been written about how Kashmir-based militant groups and sectarian groups in Pakistan came under al Qaeda’s ideological influence, which transformed major segments of these groups.

There were almost similar reasons behind the confrontation between the Taliban commanders Abdullah Mehsud and Baitullah Mehsud in 2004.

Abdullah wanted to speed up terrorist operations in Afghanistan, but Baitullah had come up with new ideological motives. While he did not object to Pakistani Taliban extending over help to their Afghan counterparts in Afghanistan, he stressed upon establishing the rule of Shariah in whatever tribal areas inside Pakistan were under Taliban control.

Under the influence of the Arabs and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Baitullah also developed differences with Waziri militant commanders.

In the subsequent years, differences between Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud were primary of operational nature, but Waliur Rehman was not happy with the increasing sectarian tendencies in TTP.

When ideological transformations occurred across Pakistani militant groups within the broader concept of an Islamic state, it gradually ‘purified’ their objectives and evolved different trends among them.

Also read: US building coalition to fight IS

Now, Pakistan has militant groups with interests ranging widely from tribal and nationalist ambitions to sectarian, regional and even global ones. There is a lot of diversity in these groups.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan appears to be one of the major reasons behind new developments within the TTP.

As the military operation uprooted militants from their safe heavens and dispersed them, many militant commanders and groups looked confused as to how to respond to this situation, particularly in absence of an agreed-upon leadership.

TTP already had cracks, and it appeared that two Mehsud factions were fighting with each other over the issue of leadership and resource distributions.

One of these groups was the Khorasani group.

Omar Khorasani was not happy with the infighting among militants. He contested Fazlullah’s leadership, had reservations on his ideological vision and believed that the latter was focused too narrowly on his native region (Swat), which damaged the operational effectiveness of the TTP across the country.

Khorasani aspires to make his group part of a broader Khorasan movement, which he believes will bring global change and help establish the Caliphate system in the world.

The emergence of the IS also influenced some TTP and other militant commanders to revamp their movement and to revisit their strategies, capacities and operational targets.

Take a look: Philippine Muslim rebels oppose Islamic State 'virus'

The Khorasani group has been under the influence of al Qaeda, which unlike IS, does not hold any territory. Al Qaeda is an underground organisation that operates through its affiliates, which can intensify conflicts in certain regions; but it is not capable of leading the movements on the ground. Even on an operational front, al Qaeda depends on terrorist attacks and cannot develop and lead a force like IS.

The IS is inspiring more groups other than just Pakistani militants. Boko Haram and other terrorists groups that emerged after 9/11 have also pledged allegiance to this new movement.

Though the chances that groups like Jamatul Ahrar will announce allegiance to IS are few, it is safe to say that they are getting inspired by this new entity.

With al Qaeda getting weaker in the region, these groups may imitate the operational tactics of IS in the near future.

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