TTP’s Strategic Gear-Shifting

On June 23, 2018, the banned terrorist outfit of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ushered in a new era after appointing Mufti Noor Wali alias Noor Wali Mehsud as its undisputed leader after the death of its former leader Mullah Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike a week earlier.
After the appointment of Noor Wali Mehsud as TTP’s chief commander, the leadership of the terrorist outfit returned to the Mehsud tribe. Unlike his predecessors, Noor Wali Mehsud is an individual of a different breed. Known as Ghar Starga meaning Hill’s Eye, Noor Wali Mehsud is a well-respected military commander with strong religious and Jihadist credentials. He is also famous for being a prolific writer and being a pragmatic ideologue of the TTP.
Noor Wali Mehsud received his religious education from well-known and reputed religious seminaries across Pakistan before joining religious militancy. He is an alumnus of Jamia Imdadia Faisalabad, Jamia Nusratul Uloom Gujranwala, and Jamia Ahsan-ul-Uloom Karachi to name a few. He joined the ranks of TTP in its initial years and served on various important positions before being appointed as the group’s Emir (chief in Arabic). He served as the deputy of TTP’s first chief Baitullah Mehsud. Later he served as Qazi (judge) of a TTP court, manager of TTP’s media operations, and also as the chief of TTP’s Karachi chapter. He became the chief of the Mehsud faction after the death of Khalid Mehsud alias Sajna in February 2018 and later that year, the then TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah appointed Noor Wali Mehsud as his deputy.
Author of multiple books and numerous articles and monographs, Noor Wali Mehsud is an active militant and a hawk ideologue. From his writings, he seems like a seasoned war historian who knows how to play with words. In his 690-pages book titled, “Inquilab-e-Mehsud” (Revolution of the Mehsud) authored in 2017, Noor Wali gives full account of his battles against local and foreign forces, details of incurred losses to the ‘enemy’, outline of Jihadi strategy along with future course of action and most importantly, claiming the responsibility and providing extensive details for the assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Noor Wali seems to be the only militant commander in the Af-Pak region’s militant landscape to do that.
Furthermore, what sets Noor Wali Mehsud apart from other TTP commanders is that besides having a forte in militancy and tactics, he has kept himself engaged in research and writing as well. Given his extensive experience in religious militancy (rising from being a Madarassahs student to Emir of TTP), theological knowledge and appointments on key positions in the TTP, Noor Wali Mehsud has become an inspiring figure for surge of religious militancy due to his prowess in both militancy and dissemination of militant thought and ideology which naturally makes him a legitimate threat.
In line with this thinking, the US added Noor Wali Mehsud to its ‘Global Terrorist List’ on September 10, 2019. Owing to the kinetic, military operations by the Pakistani military and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA’s), Noor Wali Mehsud and the rest of the TTP leadership were forced to flee into Afghanistan. The terrorist outfit has entered the elimination phase of its lifecycle without any chances of recovery and it has been overshadowed by its splinter groups such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and ISKP.
However, the current deteriorating condition of TTP does not mean that the group is ignored all together or that it is no longer a threat to peace and stability. Under the shrewd leadership of Noor Wali Mehsud that enjoys respect, loyalty and legitimacy among the ranks of militants, TTP is still a potent threat. And this time, the threat is ideological rather than physical. Now the war is being fought along ideological lines. It is the war of narratives.
In a desperate attempt to stay relevant, Noor Wali Mehsud issued a statement via TTP’s media cell on Eid-ul-Azha this year. The message by Noor Wali was political in nature and reflective of his cunning and duplicitous character. Misuse of religious texts and concepts have remained a hallmark of TTP but now its emir is engaged in spreading propaganda and lies on behalf of other religious scholars and experts without their knowledge or consent. It is a clear attempt to create confusion and lead the masses astray.
In his message, Noor Wali Mehsud claimed that Madaris and Ulemas are under threat in Pakistan. In a devious attempt to appeal to the public’s pathos, the TTP emir tried to utilize the issue of the failed assassination attempt on Mufti Taqi Usmani (on March 22, 2019) who is a revered religious scholar, enjoys respect throughout the country and has a massive following.
As evident from Noor Wali Mehsud’s message, the TTP emir is attempting to gain the attention of the masses once again, trying to spread and capitalise on public fear. But this time, the public knows better and it is necessary to counter this propaganda with facts. More than thirty-five thousand madaris (of all Islamic schools of thought) are operating freely across Pakistan. The administrations of these madaris have refuted TTP’s destructive and un-Islamic ideology on numerous occasions. In fact, TTP’s terrorism and criminal activities brought bad name to these religious institutions. TTP’s leadership have been involved in extortion from these madaris which rendered them cash strapped.
TTP was involved in killings of religious Ulemas besides destroying madaris and forcing their young students to abandon studies and become terrorists. The state on the other hand has been trying to protect madaris, Ulemas and students from the nefarious designs of TTP and other terrorist groups.
In his latest message, Noor Wali Mehsud attempted to sow a seed of mistrust and discontent between the state and the public. It was an effort to create insecurity among the masses regarding state’s inability to protect them which is a far cry from the truth. Mufti Taqi Usmani reaffirmed his faith in state institutions and Pakistani LEAs after the attack and stated that anti-Pakistan elements will never succeed in their designs.
A similar propaganda attempt was made by TTP after the assassination of Maulana Sami ul Haq of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (Sami) in November 02, 2018. The memory of the late, revered Maulana Sami was disrespected by TTP by attributing his murder to state institutions. This propaganda was blasted by Maulana Hamid ul Haq, son of late Maulana Sami ul Haq. Maulana Hamid blamed foreign hostile powers to be responsible for his father’s tragic demise and reiterated his confidence in the state of Pakistan.
If one goes by facts & statistics, the Ulemas, clerics and scholars that Noor Wali Mehsud was trying to warn in his message, were one of the biggest victims of TTP’s suicide attacks’ campaign across Pakistan.
Attacks on scholars, clerics and Ulemas saw a sharp rise after the unanimously accepted Paigham-e-Pakistan (Message of Pakistan) fatwa (religious decree) by religious scholars that outlawed terrorist groups like the TTP. In addition, thousands of Muftis and Ulemas have declared Pakistan’s governance system to be in accordance with the teachings of Quran and Sunnah. The mainstreaming of Pakistan’s tribal areas with the Pakistan and the overwhelming participation of the people of tribal areas in politics is yet another element that pained the TTP leadership who were hell-bent on creating division and chaos in the region.
The public out-casting of the TTP by religious scholars in Pakistan and the rejection of its ideology and narrative by the public of Pakistan in general and FATA in particular have eliminated TTPs propaganda against Pakistan, its constitution, and its institutions. TTP leadership has realized that its propaganda holds no ground anymore and that the people of Pakistan stand united against it. But still, the government and people of Pakistan need to remain watchful of the propaganda and evil designs of TTP as its leadership although dying out, is still active in the neighbouring country and enjoying the patronage of anti-Pakistan forces.