Announcing formation of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar
Since the launch of military operation Zarb-e-Asb in North Waziristan, Pakistan (June 2014) against local and foreign insurgent groups dominant in the region, the media have been able to access regular official updates from ISPR (Inter Service Public Relations) however less was heard from the Taliban. Insurgents with advance intelligence of forthcoming “ops” relocated to safer areas, some into Afghanistan with communications temporarily down to avoid detection, inaccessibility or a period of quiet readjustment. Around 1 million civilians were displaced fleeing to Bannu (Pakistan) and Khost (Afghanistan) becoming Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as their homes and businesses came under fierce aerial bombardment and shelling. Now however a number of commanders from the Tehreek -e- Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) have re-emerged with a very public announcement, a series of allegations and video in Urdu (1hr 25mins long) detailing a new splinter group, Jammat -ul-Ahrar.
For some time there has been rumblings of internal disputes, distancing from Maulana Fazlullah’s leadership (appointed after targeted killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike) lack of trust and ideological struggles. Periodically statements were released by Taliban suggesting these difficulties had been largely resolved but this is not the case according to breakaway militants. The first I became aware of a new group was yesterday (August, 25th) through a series of posts from Pakistani journalist Hasan Abdullah which appeared in my Facebook feed as follows:
Pakistani Taliban to announce biggest split since formation. Major factions unite to emerge as new group.
The new rebel group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar includes TTP Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai, Khyber, Ahrar-ul-Hind & urban freelancers.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) says TTP has been “hijacked” by some individuals who are after “personal interests” & deviated.
JA says TTP central has restricted itself to limited local agenda, they would follow internationalist Khilafah agenda
Membership and continued pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar
Maulana Qasim Khorasani (Malakand area) has been named as the new Amir for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar with former TTP central spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan appointed as spokesperson for JA. The group are working towards the goal of an Islamic state following the law of Sharia.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesperson for JA…..a familiar face
Ehsanullah Ehsan was keen to point out the following in a statement released earlier,
“After the formation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamat-ul-Ahrar, many people on social media and some news anchors are giving this impression and spreading news that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was inspired by ISIS or is going to pledge allegiance to it. We announce that we have no connection to any such news. We consider ISIS and every other Mujahid group as our brothers, but we also consider it important to mention that we are in a pledge of allegiance to Ameer ul Mu’mineen Mullah Muhammad Umar Mujahid Hafizahullah”
Omar Khalid Khorasani makes full use of social media
One of the key figures behind the split is Omar Khalid Khorasani, Mohmand Agency who had links to al Qaeda and during “peace talks” with government was viewed as a commander likely to challenge the TTP status quo. During this time I interviewed Mohmand Agency Taliban on “state terrorism” alleged “enforced disappearances” torture in custody and extra judicial killings of those detained by the state. Although deemed hardliners, Mohmand Taliban withheld from retaliation attacks for around 3 weeks giving me time to write a letter to politicians as an independent human rights activists requesting government address these issues. This was ignored and Mohmand TTP later responded by taking the lives of 23 Frontier Corps, FC men for the lives of their men. During an interview on polio they also invited me to Tribal Areas of Pakistan to look at general health situation for those residing there but its extremely difficult for a foreigner to visit due to strict government restrictions.
DAWN media reports that the following persons are also now part of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, “Qari Shakil Haqqani from Charsadda, Maulana Yasin from Swat, Qari Ismail from Khyber Agency, Maulana Adbullah from Bajaur Agency, Mufti Misbah from Peshawar, Maulana Haider and Mansoor Nazim Shura from Orakzai Agency”.
Former Taliban Emir Hakimullah Mehsud (left, deceased) with Saleh Qassam (right, now Chief of Media Commission for JA)
I was able to speak with Saleh Qassam, Chief of Media Commission, Jammat-ul-Ahrar and asked whether the split mean that JA would sever all ties with their former group or would they still keep some communication going? He stated, “no there will be no relation with regard to group issues but they are our brother. We have our own set up and we will drive it.” Qassam then provided me with the following very frank statement on how JA came into existence detailing a series of allegations directed at TTP central :-
The background and story of how Jamaat-ul-Ahrar came into being
In 2007 after Lal Masjid operation some sincere brothers wanted to unite the Pakistani Mujahideen to face with unity and force the security forces of Pakistan. This proposal first came from the respected Ameer Umar Khalid Khorasani and then he sent invitations to the Mujahideen of Bajaur and Swat. They came and in a meeting they agreed they we will go to Waziristan and invite the Mujahideen in Waziristan to organize a movement and they should lead it.
Then Qare Shakeel Ahmad and some other friends went there and talked to Ameer Baitullah Mehsud about that .They accepted their request and TTP came in to being. But after the martyrdom of Baitullah Mehsud the situation started becoming bad day by day We (TTP Mohmand chapter) worked hard to reform the movement, Qare Shakeel Ahmad was appointed the chief of TTP high counsel. He used his full force for TTP but some people were unhappy just because it was against their personal benefits. Then he resigned and left Waziristan and came back to Mohmand agency.
In the last four years there was too many shortcomings in TTP but none were ready to reform the movement. The decisions of counsel were not implemented. There was no set up for any thing. Every chapter of TTP was working for its own goals, 90 % of their efforts were to damage other chapters.
So in these condition none were happy in TTP, our leadership once again tried to reform the movement. For this cause our Ameer UKK took risk and went to Waziristan himself. He suggested to the central leadership some principle and some beneficial suggestions, all members of high counsel liked it even the deputy chief of TTP Sheikh Khalid Haqqani said that these suggestion must be accepted…. if you don’t accept it then I will not be in TTP anymore. But just one man was against it and then they rejected these suggestions.
There were some other factions they had left TTP before that. We contacted them and organized a new moment Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.
I still say that there is no one in TTP who is satisfied in TTP. Everyone has so many objections upon it.
To protect the blood of our brothers to be shed by the hands of other Mujahideen we become isolated from Mullah Fazlullah sab group. In last few months more than 60 member of TTP were killed by each other so how can we remain in TTP!
Saleh Qassam (Chief of Media Commission, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar)
At the time of writing there does not appear to have been any official response to the new group from Maulana Fazlullah or TTP central shura. They are invited to reply to the allegations levelled at them. It remains to be seen how these changes will affect the security of the country at a time of ongoing protests. The government of Nawaz Sharif is coming under threat from Imran Khan’s opposition party Pakistan Tehreek- i-Insaf (PTI) with allegations of rigged elections. There are also pro democracy protests from Pakistan Awami Tehreef (PAT) leader Tahirul Qadri angry at the killing of demonstrators in Model Town earlier this year. Taking eyes off the ball now as Taliban commanders split and regroup could have serious consequences for Pakistan.
Video of Jamaat-ul- Ahrar
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.