One of al Qaeda’s top leaders has reached out to the most powerful Taliban commanders along the Afghan-Pakistani border to create a new alliance to battle the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The new alliance, which is called the Shura-e-Murakeba, consists of four major Taliban groups that operate in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The four groups that make up the alliance are the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud; Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; Mullah Nazir’s group; and the Haqqani Network. Each leader has appointed a deputy to represent them on the council.
The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
The deal was brokered by senior al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al Libi as well as by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational leader of the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Mansour, a senior Taliban leader who operates in eastern Afghanistan. An al Qaeda leader known as Abdur Rehman Al Saudi was also involved in the negotiations. Mullah Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is said to have dispatched Siraj and Mansour to help negotiate the agreement.
The meetings took place over the course of the past two months, according to reports from the region. One of the first meetings was said to have been held in Azam Warzak in South Waziristan, an area under the control of Mullah Nazir, on Nov. 27. Another meeting was reported to have taken place in Datta Khel in North Waziristan on Dec. 11. Over the past weekend, pamphlets were distributed in North Waziristan announcing the creation of the Shura-e-Murakeba.
“All Mujahideen, local and foreigners, are informed that they should desist from killing and kidnapping for ransom innocent people and cooperate with this committee in curbing crimes. If any Mujahid is found involved in unjustified killings, crimes and other illegal activities he will be answerable to Shura-i-Murakbah and will be punished in accordance with the Shariah law,” the statement said, according to Dawn.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, the spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, confirmed that the group was officially formed on Dec. 31, 2011 with Mullah Omar’s approval. Ihsan denied reports that the alliance had agreed to cease attacks on Pakistani security forces.
The high-level meetings between al Libi and the leaders of the various Taliban factions took place as the US halted all drone strikes in Pakistan after a clash with Pakistani forces in the Mohmand tribal agency that resulted in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers. The US has not carried out a strike in the country since Nov. 16, 2011.
A US intelligence official who tracks the terror groups along the Afghan-Pakistani border told The Long War Journal that the pause in strikes gave the Taliban and al Qaeda the ability to travel and meet without fear of being hit.
“After Atiyah [al Libi] was killed by Predators in the tribal areas a few months back, senior al Qaeda leaders aren’t going to travel in Waziristan unless they are confident they can survive,” the official said. “Abu Yahya knew he had freedom of movement there once the US put the program on hold.”
This new alliance has emerged while the Pakistani government is negotiating peace agreements with elements of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Waliur Rehman Mehsud and Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajuar, are in talks with the government and are said to be close to agreeing to end hostilities. The Pakistani government does not seek to prohibit the Taliban from conducting attacks in Afghanistan, however.
The formation of the Shura-e-Murakeba also takes place as the US and NATO have begun to execute a significant withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and are themselves seeking peace with the Taliban.
Agreement part of long-term al Qaeda strategy to unite jihadist factions
For years, al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network have been working to unite the disparate and sometimes fractious groups into alliances with a unified goal of waging jihad against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and sometimes against the Pakistani state.
In late 2007, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was formed at the behest of Osama bin Laden and Siraj Haqqani to pool their resources to take revenge on the Pakistani state for attacking the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, earlier that year. Abu Yahya al Libi was the first al Qaeda leader to call for Pakistanis to rise up against the military in 2007; his call was later repeated by bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was formed by uniting more than 40 local jihadist groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the settled districts of northwestern Pakistan. The group was led by Baitullah Mehsud until his death, and is now led by Hakeemullah Mehsud.
In February 2009, Baitullah formed an alliance with Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Both Nazir and Bahadar opted out of joining the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan due to tribal rivalries with Baitullah’s tribe as well as their opposition to attacking the Pakistani state. The alliance, which was called the United Mujahideen Council, was formed at the behest of Osama bin Laden, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and Jalaluddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the Haqqani Network and Siraj’s father. The leaders of the United Mujahideen Council vowed to pool forces to fight the Pakistani state if the military moved into the tribal areas. The council also agreed to continue the jihad in Afghanistan and to strike at the US and India. It dissolved after Baitullah was killed in a US Predator strike in August 2009.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban attempted to keep the United Mujahideen Council intact during the summer of 2009 as the Pakistani military threatened to attack the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in its stronghold of South Waziristan.
The Taliban dispatched Siraj Haqqani along with Abdul Hakeem Sharaee and Mir Ahmad Jan Hashemi, two senior deputies of Mullah Abdullah Zakir, the Taliban’s senior-most military commander in southern Afghanistan who had been released from detention at Guantanamo, to meet with Baitullah in an attempt to get him to back off his attacks against the Pakistani state and refocus efforts in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda sent Abu Yahya Al Libi and Abdul Haq Turkistani, the former leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda-linked group that is made up of Uighurs who fight the Chinese government. Abdul Haq served on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, before he was killed in Pakistan in early 2011.
The joint Taliban and al Qaeda delegation failed to get Baitullah to back off from attacking the Pakistani state, and the alliance fell apart after Baitullah was killed and the Pakistani military moved into the Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan. But Nazir and Bahadar did not end their support for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Many of the group’s leaders and fighters sheltered in Nazir’s and Bahadar’s tribal areas during and after the Pakistani offensive.
Despite the dissolution of the United Mujahideen Council, al Qaeda continued to attempt to keep the peace among Taliban groups and coordinate military operations. In December 2010, five al Qaeda leaders from the Shura al Mujahideen worked to help the Taliban resolve local differences and direct operations against security forces in the tribal areas and in the Swat Valley.
Al Qaeda tries to unite Pakistani militants, Monsters and Critics
North and South Waziristan Taliban groups form alliance, The Long War Journal
Senior Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders meet with Baitullah, The Long War Journal
Taliban waging ‘jihad to purge Pakistan’ – Zawahiri, The Long War Journal
Waziristan Taliban alliance declares support for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, The Long War Journal
Pakistan places bounties on Baitullah and other senior Taliban leaders, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.