New splinter group

Sep 03 2014


The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

A SPLINTER group, named Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), has recently been formed by the former commanders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Most of them belong to Mohmand and Bajaur, although some commanders from Orakzai, Swat, Charsadda, and Peshawar have also joined the new group.

The news was announced on Twitter by Omar Khalid Khorasani as well as through media channels by the JuA spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan.

The phenomenon of breakaway splinter groups in militant organisations is an interesting one. Looking at the militant landscape closely, one can discern some recurrent patterns in the splintering of such syndicates.

The first pattern observed around the globe and in the region is that the splintering is precipitated by a strategic and tactical retreat by the parent militant network. When state security forces build pressure on the network, it splinters into several groups and melts away, resurrecting itself as soon as the pressure dissipates.

Turf and kitty can be a bone of contention among militants.

We have observed this in several countries in the region, including Pakistan. Al Qaeda has been splintering into active groups and passive sleeper cells over the past several years. This strategy enhances the life cycle of the militant syndicate and also gives space to splinter groups to build alliances with like-minded local militant and sectarian groups to advance common goals.

The formation of the JuA might be a strategic move by the TTP high command to offset the pressure reportedly built by the military during the operation in North Waziristan. This assumption gains credence when one keeps in mind that so far no powerful commander has been either eliminated or arrested during the current operation.

The second pattern is that of division along ideological lines. The interpretation of ‘jihad’ in specific circumstances for specific purposes can become a trigger for splintering. Interestingly, most splinter groups justify their breaking away on the basis of ideological differences.

In the case of the JuA, the group has accused the TTP of diverging from the main objective of bringing about the imposition of their version of Sharia in the country, and has vowed to continue its struggle to convert Pakistan into an imarat-i-Islami on the pattern of Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan.

The JuA has declared Mullah Omar its patron-in-chief, much as the TTP had done earlier. The question thus arises: if the JuA and TTP both swear allegiance to Mullah Omar, where can one draw the ideological dividing line? Particularly so given that Mullah Omar has not so far refused to accept either the TTP’s or JuA’s declaration of faith in his leadership?

Having said that, one must keep in mind that most of the commanders in the JuA, including its emir, Maulana Qasim, and Omar Khalid from Mohmand, write ‘Khorasani’ with their names. The term has semantic implications. Ideologues of the militant network in Pakistan and elsewhere refer to ‘Khorasan’ in the context of the resurrection of the ‘mahdi’ who would, in their view, be instrumental in establishing the Sharia globally.

Some groups interpret the mahdi as coming from Khorasan, the historical name for the area comprising present-day Iran, Afghanistan and parts of the Middle East.

The third pattern that manifests itself in the splintering of the militant syndicate is when turf and kitty become the bone of contention. In the case of Pakistan, the spoils of a war economy featuring kidnapping for ransom, extortion, gun-running, drug trafficking, car lifting and human trafficking that keeps the militant machinery well oiled, is also a major cause of splintering. This is seen in how the militant network in Pakistan has either allied itself with criminal syndicates or co-opted criminal gangs, a fact clearly observed from Waziristan to Malakand.

Insiders in the TTP report that after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike, several commanders had an eye on the booty collected through the war economy and that was one of the major reasons for the difference of opinion in the TTP Shura over the election of the TTP’s new emir.

It is possible that the resources amassed through the war economy machine were not handed over to the new TTP leadership following Hakeemullah’s death. This might have incentivised powerful commanders to carry out militant activities on their own, as in the case of Omar Khalid Khorasani. Then, the likeminded commanders might have thought it convenient to form the new group.

Moreover, it is important to note that the splinter group commanders have by now acquired some insight into the situation after the Nato drawdown from Afghanistan. Perhaps according to their reading, Mullah Omar might be able to make substantial gains following the drawdown. It is also in the light of this that they may have declared Mullah Omar as the leader of their ‘Islamic emarat’ in Pakistan.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

Twitter: khadimhussain4

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014