Articles by Amir Mir

Al-Qaeda, Daesh tug of war feared in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: With the formal nomination of a former TTP commander from Orakzai Agency, Hafiz Saeed Khan, as the ameer of the Khorasan chapter of the Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, the ongoing battle for influence between Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi-led IS and Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri-led al-Qaeda is set to be intensified in Pakistan.

The tug of war between Baghdadi and Zawahiri had actually begun when Baghdadi appointed himself as the caliph of the IS in June 2014, a few months after he was expelled by Zawahiri as the chief of the Iraqi chapter of al-Qaeda for disobeying him and not stopping the slaughter of the innocent civilians in his ongoing ‘crusade’. Baghdadi had further insisted that pledging allegiance to his caliphate was a religious obligation on all the Muslims across the globe. His announcement had created ripples in the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban circles which viewed it as an attempt to clinch the position of the Ameerul Momineen from Mulla Mohammad Omar, the fugitive ameer of the Afghan Taliban. Zawahiri subsequently threw his weight behind Mulla Omar. In a bid to counter Baghdadi’s move to declare himself the caliph, al-Qaeda leadership deemed it fit to renew its oath of allegiance to Mulla Omar and recognise him as their ameer, while reminding that the late Osama bin Laden too had pledged allegiance to Mulla Omar.

In a related move on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Zawahiri announced to set up the South Asia chapter of al-Qaeda led by a Pakistani commander, Asim Umar. While making the announcement on September 4, 2014 in a 55-minute video, Zawahiri said the formation of the South Asia branch of al-Qaeda would spread Islamic rule and raise the flag of jehad across the subcontinent. Umar, who was shown in a Zawahiri’s video, was tasked with rousing fighters in South Asia. The selection of Asim Umar as head of the South Asia branch of al-Qaeda, which was an attempt to counter the rise of Daesh in this region, also indicated the increasing ‘Pakistanisation of al-Qaeda’, given the fact that Umar had been a part of the Punjabi Taliban (led by Asmatullah Muavia) for several years before linking up with al-Qaeda. Asim’s selection demonstrated the regional flavour and the influence that Pakistani jehadis wield in the new al-Qaeda branch. Soon afterwards, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) had claimed responsibility for a botched attempt to hijack a Navy ship at Karachi Dockyard on September 6, 2014.

The establishment of al-Qaeda’s Indian Subcontinent branch under the command of a Pakistani jehadi highlighted the close ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The al-Qaeda move came shortly after distribution of Daesh propaganda booklets in parts of the Pak-Afghan tribal belt and in some Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar. Therefore, the launching of the Sub-Continent chapter of al-Qaeda abundantly made it clear that al-Qaeda and Daesh were competing with each other to clinch the support of Islamic militants in South Asia. In a latest tit-for-tat move, Daesh has formally announced its Khorasan chapter led by a former TTP commander from the Orakzai Agency of FATA, Hafiz Saeed Khan. Khorasan is in fact a historic name used by jehadis for an area covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India, Iran and Central Asian territories.

In a video posted online, the Daesh spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani has confirmed the appointment of Hafiz Saeed Khan as the ameer of the Khorasan, thus extending the group’s influence into South Asia and directly challenging al-Qaeda leadership which is believed to be hiding in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt. Before discarding the TTP umbrella in mid-October 2014, Saeed was the ameer of Orakzai Agency chapter of the TTP.

Saeed Khan’s departure from TTP along with the then central spokesman Shahidullah Shahid and several other regional commanders from Fata was the biggest loss to the jehadi conglomerate mainly because of his mass following and influence in the Taliban circles.

After the November 1, 2013 killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone attack, Saeed, who is basically a cleric just like Mullah Fazlullah, was one of the three main contenders for the top slot of the TTP ameer, along with Khan Said Sajna and Sheharyar Mehsud.

Saeed was considered close to Baitullah Mehsud and had been affiliated with the TTP ever since its inception in December 2007. Saeed Khan is known in the militant circles of the tribal belt as one of the most hardline and dangerous commanders. He had organised dozens of deadly terrorist attacks on key installations across Pakistan, including the March 2013 attack on US Consulate in Peshawar which killed 12 people, the December 2012 fidayeen attack at Peshawar airport which killed nine people, military checkpoints, mourning processions of the Shia community and worship places of the Christians and Ahmadis.

Therefore, the selection of a high-profile Pakistani Taliban commander as the ameer of Daesh in this region has set alarm bells ringing for al-Qaeda leadership which is battling for the leadership of global jehadi movement.

The growing appeal of Daesh for the Pakistani jehadi elements, a majority of whom are the former followers of Mullah Fazlullah, Mulla Omar and Dr Zawahiri, is a worrying sign for al-Qaeda. Given the commonality of purpose between the two terrorist outfits to establish an Islamic emirate, Daesh and al-Qaeda have surprised many by emerging as rivals for influence amongst jehadi ranks. But the most worrying aspect for Pakistan is a video speech by Daesh spokesman, Abu Muhammad Adnani (released on January 27, 2015) which has caused fears of a fresh tug of war between al-Qaeda and Daesh in Pakistan.

Daesh spokesman Adnani said in his speech while announcing the setting up of the Khorasan chapter: “We bring the militants the good news of Islamic State’s expansion to Khorasan. Indeed, the militants (Saeed Khan and others) have fulfilled the conditions and met the requirements for the declaration of Khorasan.

They announced their oath of allegiance to Khalifa Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi. The IS supporters in the region should prepare for the coming fight between factions in the two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan).

We call upon all the soldiers of the Islamic State who are in Khorasan to prepare for the great tribulations they will face. The factions will assemble against you and the rifles and bayonets will multiply against you. But you are up to it, with Allah’s permission.”

Therefore, there seems to be beginning of a new era in Pakistan where terrorists will step up their struggle against each other to clinch their share in the global market of terrorism.



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