Those who kill: Profiles of Pakistan's terror outfits

It is imperative that Pakistanis understand local militant groups and their interrelations.
Published November 4, 2014

Journalist Hasan Abdullah's Consortium of Terror published earlier this year, and updated below, serves as a primer to the complex world of militancy in Pakistan.

Despite hundreds of attacks and the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, there is still a great deal of confusion about the number, nature and end goals of the militant organisations operating in Pakistan. For some, they remain figments of a fevered imagination. To others they are proxies of foreign powers.

This belief has not come out of the blue. It is part of an obscurantist narrative the state itself created and propagated.

The problem with this narrative is that while it may have delegitimised some jihadi groups within public ranks, it is counter productive in the long run for a number of reasons.

As Pakistan debates engaging the militants in the tribal areas and beyond, it is imperative that the policy-makers as well as the public understand the militant groups and their interrelations.


The big four

It is difficult to draw hard lines around these groups, as there is a great deal of cooperation and inter-linkage. Sometimes, for operational and propaganda reasons, a Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on Shias will be claimed by the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and so on.

This also helps maintain the fiction that these groups are somehow entirely distinct entities.


Al Qaeda (AQ)

AQ is not just a conventional group but the fountainhead of a violent ideology.

The organisation was founded at the end of the 1980s by Osama bin Laden while he was in Afghanistan/Pakistan waging war against the Soviets. According to Al Qaeda literature, the organisation’s ultimate goal is to establish a hardline global caliphate. It seeks to fight America and her “apostate” allies in the Muslim world.

While the organisation maintains a relatively low profile in Pakistan, it is behind much of the coordination between different jihadi groups in a bid to “channelise” and “streamline” the effort.

In contrast with many other jihadi groups, the overwhelming majority of their cadres in Pakistan are university graduates hailing from well-off urban families.

Al Qaeda regards Pakistan as a “Daar-ul-Kufr wal harb” (abode of disbelief and war). It classifies the rulers as “apostates” against whom it is obligatory to rebel and fight.

Al Qaeda considers Shias as disbelievers “in the garb of Islam”. As such, the militant organisation considers it permissible to shed the blood of Shia Muslims and confiscate their wealth. However on strategic grounds, the Al Qaeda chief has advised the operatives not to engage minority groups anywhere in a confrontation unless “absolutely required” such as in Syria and Iraq.

The organisation rejects the concept of nation-states. It seeks to expand the theatre of war, topple governments in Muslim countries and form a global caliphate.

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan

Formally launched in 2007, the TTP is effectively Al Qaeda’s local franchise in Pakistan. Among anti-state jihadi groups here, TTP maintains the strongest footprint with operatives all over the country.

Its stated objective is to turn Pakistan into an “Islamic state”.

Up till its recent splintering, The group regarded the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Umar, as its supreme leader.

As with Al Qaeda, the TTP regards Pakistan as a “Daar-ul-Kufr wal harb” (abode of disbelief and war) and considers its rulers apostates.

While the TTP also considers Shia Muslims to be apostates, there is currently a debate within the organisation on whether a front should be opened against them.

The TTP is also increasingly looking at global operations, most recently with top TTP leaders forming splinter group TTP Jamaatul Ahrar; the group has openly pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)

The IMU was founded by Tahir Yuldashev and Jumma Kasimov (both Uzbeks) in 1991. The two had earlier fought in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of the country.

The initial objective of the organisation was to topple Islam Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan and to establish an “Islamic state” in the country. They also fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance.

Kasimov died in the fighting while Yuldashev, along with his fighters, managed to escape into Pakistan’s tribal areas during the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. IMU maintains strong contacts with Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban as well as the TTP.

For now, its focus remains on strengthening the group as it prepares for the war in Central Asia.


An offshoot of the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the virulently sectarian LJ was formed in 1996. Its founders Riaz Basra, Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaq had differences with the SSP and believed that the parent organisation had drifted from its original ideals.

LJ’s primary targets are Shia Muslims and it has indiscriminately targeted them through both assassination and mass casualty attacks.

The LJ has killed thousands of people, including many women and children. Its largest attacks to date have been against the Shia Hazaras of Quetta.

LJ leaders say their aim is to turn Pakistan into a Sunni Islamic state and consider it a “priority” to target Shia Muslims. The group also seeks to establish stronger ties with anti-Iran groups operating in the region.


Splinters, subdivisions and shadow groups

The lines blur when it comes to differentiating between militant groups in Pakistan. They share space, tactics and resources and sometimes, subdivisions are created for specific purposes and for creating confusion in the public’s minds.

TTP Jamaat ul Ahrar

On August 26, 2014, key commanders belonging to the TTP announced the formation of a new group by the name of TTP Jamatul Ahrar, with Maulana Qasim Khorasani as the new Ameer and also comprising other commanders.

The new group comprises of members from four of the seven tribal districts bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, namely Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber and Orakzai.

Former TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, who has been nominated as the spokesman for the splinter group says the new group only wants the Shariah system to prevail in the country.

At least 60 people were killed on Sunday November 2, 2014 in a blast near the Wagah border, the responsibility of which was claimed separately by the outlawed Jundullah and TTP-affiliated Jamaat-ul-Ahrar outfits.

Ahrar ul Hind

The group's name literally means freedom fighters of India (referring to the Indian subcontinent as a whole).

According to a commander of a Taliban group, the group derived its name of “Ahrar” from Majlis-i-Ahrar-ul-Islam, because the Ahraris were against the formation of Pakistan, and they believed that the entire subcontinent was their homeland.

The commander said that the group planned to expand their operations to the remaining part of the subcontinent.

Ansar al-Aseer

A North Waziristan based group primarily concerned with the “welfare” of locked-up jihadis. Its tasks include intelligence gathering about Pakistani jails and planning jailbreaks to release militants. It is closely allied to TTP and draws many of its fighters from TTP and IMU.

Its basic agenda is to free all militants locked up in jails across the country.


Al Qaeda allied group with a single point agenda to track down and eliminate “spies” in North Waziristan.

Ansar al-Mujahideen

A small organisation affiliated with the TTP. Its primary focus is targeting armed forces personnel and politicians.

As with AQ and TTP, Ansar al-Mujahideen aims to turn Pakistan into an “Islamic State” and use the state to launch “jihad” against other belligerent states.


Al Qaeda affiliated group that started off from South Waziristan. It gained most notoriety for its assassination attempt on the then Corps Commander Karachi Lt Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat. The outfit has also targeted Shia Muslims and foreign tourists.

Not to be confused with Iran-based Jundullah.

Ghazi Force

A group formed after the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad. It is named after Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, the former Lal Masjid cleric who was also killed in the operation. Most of its members are relatives and friends of the people killed in the 2007 operation.

This group has practically merged with the TTP. Some of its members and sympathisers in and around Islamabad are known to provide intelligence and a footprint in the capital.

Members of the group consider it a priority to target former president Pervez Musharraf.

The ‘Other’ Militants

Then there are those jihadi groups who, for one reason or another, have historically been classified as ‘good’ militants by the state.

Part of the reason for this is that these groups do not prioritise targeting the Pakistani state and instead turn their energies outwards. However, there is evidence that militants from their ranks can and at times do join other organisations, such as the TTP, AQ and LJ.

They also share ideological commonalities with those groups and in some cases even share resources and physical space.


Formed in the early 90s in Afghanistan, the group has been primarily operating in Indian-held Kashmir. It seeks to “liberate” the people of Kashmir from “Indian oppression” and establish an Islamic state” in the region.

It sees India, the United States and Israel as eternal enemies of Islam and boasts about defeating them through armed struggle. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the head of Jamat-ud-Dawa denies that his charity is simply a cover for the banned militant outfit. However the lower cadre not only acknowledges their connection with LeT but proudly boast about their operations in India.

In line with their particular brand of Salafism, the organisation is strongly opposed to rebellion against the Pakistani state.

Members of the group say they are bracing themselves for the Ghazwa-i-Hind — a grand war in which Muslims will regain control of India, they claim.

Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM)

Jaish-e-Muhammad was formed in 2000 by Maulana Masood Azhar. Shortly after its inception, it effectively swallowed a previously existing but now largely defunct Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM).

Its primary goal is to “liberate” Kashmir from Indian rule and it has carried out various attacks on Indian interests including the 2001 attack on Indian parliament.

The group was banned by then President Pervez Musharraf and rebranded itself as Khuddam-ul-Islam. It continues to engage in open fundraising outside many Pakistani mosques on Fridays.

Tehreek Ghalba-i-Islam

The group emerged as an offshoot of Jaish-e-Muhammad after serious differences emerged between various commanders. TGI is led by Commander Abdul Jabbar and operates primarily in Afghanistan.

Publicly, the organisation opposes rebellion against the Pakistani state. It stresses on its cadre to focus on Afghanistan.

Jaish al-Adal

The group has recently emerged in parts of Balochistan bordering Iran. It has targeted Shia Muslims and claims to be countering Iranian interference in Pakistan. The group also seeks to extend the theatre of war into Iran.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur group

He is one of the most influential figures in North Waziristan but at the same time, maintains a very low profile. Bahadur is politically affiliated with Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur have been very secretive about their plans. In public, they have always maintained focus on “liberating” Afghanistan and re-establishing Taliban rule. He is considered a pragmatic figure who knows how to consolidate his position. He has successfully managed his relations with both the military and the TTP.

He has never made his position on the Pakistani state public. However one of his most prominent commanders, who has since been killed in a US drone strike, gave an hour-long interview to Al Qaeda’s media wing As Sahab in 2009.

In the interview he made it clear that he did not have any differences with Al Qaeda or the TTP and that they were his “brothers”. He had also said that his men would fight against the Pakistan army if it sided with the Americans.

Haqqani Network

This setup operates primarily in the Eastern Afghan provinces of Khost and Paktika even though it has carried out “daring” attacks in Kabul. The network has also attempted to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The group is currently headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of the sons of veteran Afghan jihadi commander Jalaluddin Haqqani. He is one of the most powerful commanders in the region and maintains good relations with Al Qaeda and the TTP.

The group has been silent on their view of the Pakistani state, however when questioned about the TTP, Sirajuddin Haqqani is on record as saying that he does not have differences with his “brothers”.

Their future plans focus on the reinstatement of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Sipah-i-Muhammad Pakistan

The group was formed in the 90s in response to the anti-Shia violence perpetuated by Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). It maintains a very low profile and seeks to primarily target leaders of anti-Shia militant organisations such as SSP and LJ.

Its leader Syed Ghulam Raza Naqvi has been in prison since the mid-90s. Pakistani intelligence agencies claim the group is backed by Iran in a bid to extend its influence in the region.