Conflicting narratives emerged in the past month, referring to Tehreek-e-Taliban militants’ departure to Syria. Initially espoused to BBC Urdu service by a relatively unknown militant, Mohammad Amin, this news was affirmed and negated subsequently by other senior militants. It was also floated on the media that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the commander of Al Qaeda, specifically requested Pakistani Taliban “to be part of global jihad”; interestingly, Omar Baghdadi has already been killed in a joint operation by American and Iraqi forces in 2010.
Should these claims of TTP be taken seriously?
Mapping the Past
Al-Qaeda connections with Pakistani Taliban go way back, before the rough coalition of militant factions united to form Tehreek-e-Taliban in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In operation Enduring Freedom led by the United States in Afghanistan in 2001, a small clique of Al-Qaeda associates along with affiliate groups evaded allied forces, relocated to Tora Bora Mountains in Nangarhar province and eventually infiltrated in Kurram agency, Pakistan. Due to the hospitable Pashtun culture, they easily integrated in the society and forged bonds with locals to strengthen their position.
It is an open secret that Tahir Yaldashev, the founder of an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a motley crew including Uzbeks, Tajiks and even some Uighurs from China’s restive Xinjiang province, ideologically mentored Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. In an interview to Al-Jazeera, Mehsud himself admitted of Al-Qaeda links, albeit indirectly, stating that the formation of TTP was delayed because of challenges in uniting the local militias as well as achieving the assistance needed from Arab and Uzbek fighters.
The Pakistani security establishment aggressively stepped up attacks on militant bastions in the FATA region, in the wake of the US led invasion, which aimed to maim Tehreek-e-Taliban along with other groups related with Al-Qaeda. In a span of a decade, the security forces killed more than 866 terrorists related to Al-Qaeda syndicate and arrested 922 others. Abu Faraj al-Libbi, one of Osama Bin Laden’s most trusted lieutenants, was also nabbed by the Pakistani intelligence in 2005, purportedly whose disseminated information resulted in the Abbottabad raid by the American Navy Seals.
These severe military crackdowns have resulted in the dispersal of Al-Qaeda and TTP militants across the porous border into the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. From here, these militants regroup, plot and execute attacks against the Pakistani state. In a recent testimony before the US congressional subcommittee, Thomas Joscelyn, an expert on terrorism affirmed it.
Occasionally, Tehreek-e-Taliban has issued threats of taking down the infidels by launching attacks overseas. In April 2009, the infamous Baitullah Mehsud made a bizarrely unconventional claim of his group’s involvement in the shooting rampage outside the American Civic Association building in Binghamton, New York. Later, this claim was debunked, as the attacker was discovered to be a Vietnamese immigrant with no links to militant outfits. Yet again in 2010, the TTP made it to newspaper headlines in the New York bombing plot when Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen of Pakistani origin was nabbed by American security officials on charges of placing a car bomb at Time Square. Intelligence analysts believed that the attempted car bombing in Times Square was so poorly executed that it would be surprising if the TTP were involved.