Fixing the Cracks in the Pakistani Taliban's Foundation: TTP's Leadership Returns to the Mehsud Tribe.

Author:Jadoon, Amira
 
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The death of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's (a) (TTP) notorious leader, Mullah Fazlullah, in June 2018 in Kunar province, Afghanistan, (1) has generated cautious optimism about the imminent demise of TTP. The death of Fazlullah, whose leadership oversaw the group's brutal attacks against the Army Public School (2014) (2) and Bacha Khan University (2016) (3) in Pakistan is certainly a mark of progress in counterterrorism efforts against the group. But to what extent is Fazlullah's death a devastating blow to TTP? Amongst other factors, TTP's future trajectory depends partially on the leadership of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, the new leader appointed by TTP's Shura council after Fazlullah's death.

The return of the TTP leadership mantle to the Mehsud tribe after almost half a decade warrants examination to assess the future direction of the group. This article briefly highlights some of TTP's current challenges and then delves into a 13-page, Urdu-language document released by TTP in September 2018, titled "The Code of Conduct: For the Mujahideen of Tehrik-i-Taliban." The "Code of Conduct," released on TTP's website, provides valuable insight into the group's intended plans under its new leadership as it discusses organizational strategy and structure, martyrdom operations, targets, and policies governing loot, prisoners of war, and defectors. (4) The document was released four months after the change of leadership, and indicates its authors' acute awareness of TTP's inherent weaknesses and the necessary corrective measures to prevent internal collapse. Drawing on the Urdu-language document, this article elucidates TTP's designs to remedy the cracks in its foundation.

TTP's Ongoing Woes

TTP officially emerged on the Pakistani landscape in late 2007 when a shura (leadership council) of about 40 senior Taliban leaders, belonging primarily to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (b) (FATA) of Pakistan, formed an umbrella organization under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud from South Waziristan. (5) TTP's stated objectives were to enforce sharia, fight NATO forces in Afghanistan, and, perhaps most importantly, unite against the Pakistani Army's post-9/11 military operations.

TTP gained regional and global notoriety through a series of prominent events. In 2007, it occupied parts of Pakistan's Swat Valley. May 2010 saw U.S. officials link TTP to the failed Times Square bomb plot in New York. (6) In October 2012, TTP was linked to the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. (7) But it was TTP's brutal attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 that stunned Pakistan. The attack resulted in the deaths of at least 141 individuals, including 132 children. (8) Indiscriminate violence against civilians, and especially children, played a significant role in rendering unprecedented countrywide support for the Pakistani army's operations against TTP. (9)

Despite being one of the gravest internal threats faced by the Pakistani state to date, TTP has long suffered from organizational dysfunction and operational degradation due to both internal and environmental factors. Externally, the group has faced a massive onslaught by the Pakistani Army in both urban and rural areas, (10) which has significantly undermined TTP enclaves, infrastructure, and recruitment ability. The Pakistani Army claimed to have killed approximately 3,500 militants in its Operation Zarb-e-Azab, launched in mid-2014, which targeted TTP operatives amongst others. (11) In Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan, U.S. drones regularly target TTP leaders. (12) Collectively, these efforts have resulted in a significant decline in terrorist attacks across Pakistan since 2013, (c) as well as in TTP-claimed attacks. Per the Global Terrorism Database, compared to the year 2014 in which TTP claimed 163 attacks, the group's total attacks in 2015 fell by 33% and were almost 42% lower than the 2014 figure in 2016 and in 2017. (13)

Internally, the appointment of a leader from outside the Mehsud tribe (i.e., Fazlullah in November 2013) created numerous fissures in the organization, and resulted in the emergence of splinter groups such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. (14) More recently, TTP suffered a substantial setback when several of its commanders defected to the Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) in late 2014 and Hafiz Saeed (TTP's Orakzai faction commander) was appointed as ISK's first emir. (15) The combination of battlefield losses due to counterterrorism efforts, warring factions, and competition from ISK poses an existential threat to TTP. Against this backdrop, the TTP shura's decision to appoint a member of the Mehsud tribe (16) as its new leader clearly reflects a strategy that seeks internal unity.

TTP's New Leader

Who exactly is Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud? Mufti Noor is a religious scholar and writer with significant experience in the jihadi sphere under his belt. (17) Hailing from South Waziristan, Noor Wali was reportedly heading TTP operations in Karachi as well as TTP's publication department, prior to being named the group's new leader. (18) He is known for his staunch opposition to polio vaccination campaigns and for endorsing violence against health workers in Pakistan. (19) Noor Wali also authored a 588-page book released in November 2017, entitled "The Mehsud Revolution in South Waziristan: From British Raj to Oppressive America," in which he claims that TTP was responsible for the Benazir Bhutto assassination in 2007. Noor Wali's book also discusses the controversial topic of TTP's internal power struggles in Karachi. (20)

Noor Mufti seems eager to make TTP's presence felt. Under his leadership, the group has already launched numerous provocative attacks. Shortly after the deaths of Mullah Fazlullah and his son in separate drone strikes in Afghanistan in March...

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