Two top al Qaeda leaders provided detailed feedback on the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s charter, according to one of the 113 documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence last week. The document, and others previously released, highlights al Qaeda’s influence over the Pakistani jihadist group.
Al Qaeda leaders Abu Yahya al Libi (Shaykh Abu Yahya) and Atiyah Abd al Rahman (Shaykh Mahmud al Hasan) inserted instructions, comments, advice, and requests for more information in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s charter, which clearly was submitted to al Qaeda for approval and feedback. While the date of the document was not disclosed, it was likely written sometime in 2007. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, or TTP, was formed in December 2007.
At that time, Atiyah and Abu Yahya likely served under Mustafa Abu Yazid’s staff. Yazid, who is also known as Sheikh Saeed al Masri, was al Qaeda’s chief of staff during that timeframe. Both Atiyah and Abu Yahya eventually served as al Qaeda’s chief of staff.
Atiyah and Abu Yahya’s response to the TTP’s charter is detailed. The two al Qaeda leaders seemed concerned about the lack of clarity in the TTP’s suggested methods of appointing its leader, deputy leader, shura council members, and the leaders of the local TTP branches, as well as how disputes are resolved. Atiyah and Abu Yahya pointed out the flaws in the TTP charter, and made suggestions based on their interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law.
For instance, while the TTP outlines the duties of its leader, or emir, Atiyah and Abu Yahya note that the TPP did not detail how he was chosen and how he can be dismissed, or how a deputy emir and the members of the shura council are appointed. The two al Qaeda leaders make suggestions on all of these areas.
“After we covered the Amir, his deputy, their attributes, and responsibilities, we should cover the Shura Council, their membership count, the attributes of their members, the duties of the Shura Council, how they reach crucial decisions to include their meetings timetable, and whether it should be on a monthly, bimonthly, or a six-month basis,” they wrote.
Atiyah and Abu Yahya’s advice on the TTP’s selection process for a new emir proved to be prescient. After the US killed Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone strike in late 2013, the TTP fractured over the selection of a new leader. Several important TTP subgroups split from the center after Fazlullah was appointed to replace Hakeemullah. [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]
The TTP also outlines the roles and responsibilities of its committees, which includes:
“Enjoin what is Just and Forbid Evil” (Virtue and Vice)
Preaching and Guidance
Martyrs, Prisoners, Handicapped, Orphans, and the Poor
Negotiation with the Enemy
Atiyah and Abu Yahya provide comments at several points within the committee description. One interesting exchange occurred at the end of the document, when the TTP discussed the Negotiation with the Enemy Committee:
“The Immigrants are not to interfere in any local issues,” point number 11 stated.
The two al Qaeda leaders marked this as an issue of concern, and stated “This subject is to be looked into. I will separately send you my comments on this important subject.”
In the next point, the TTP noted “Every member of the Movement is to take care of the Immigrants (Muhajirin) and consider them as a part of him.”
Additionally, the link between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban has often been dismissed as merely lip service, but the TTP felt it was important enough to place the relationship in its charter.
In the first point, the Negotiation with the Enemy Committee noted “All of the Mujahidin of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TPP) are to trust the rule of the Amir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, and to consider him as their emir.”
The fact that two influential al Qaeda leaders edited the TTP’s charter should come as no surprise. The close links between the two groups have been detailed multiple times. In one instance, Muhammad Khurasani, the TTP’s “central spokesman,” noted that Ustad Ahmad Farooq, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s (AQIS) deputy emir who was killed in a drone strike in 2015, oversaw Umar Media’s activities and provided guidance. Umar Media is the official propaganda arm of the TTP. Khurasani noted he frequently worked with Farooq, who prior to serving as the deputy emir of AQIS led al Qaeda in Pakistan’s media efforts.
Additionally, in another letter seized from Abbottabad that was written in December 2010 by Atiyah to Hakemullah Mehsud, who at the time was the emir of the TTP, the al Qaeda leader asserted the group’s authority over the TTP. The letter referred to other exchanges between the TTP and al Qaeda, and while it was contentious, it highlights al Qaeda’s primacy over the TTP.