Emir tells of Taliban’s rise to power in remote Pakistani tribal agency


Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Taliban’s emir in Arakzai. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

The leader for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in Arakzai said the Taliban were instrumental in imposing sharia, or Islamic law, in the tribal agency, and vowed to “continue to fight the army.”

Umar Studio, a propaganda outlet for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, released a videotape interview with Hafiz Saeed Khan, who was described as the leader of the group in Arakzai. The interview was released on jihadist web forums in mid-April, but was dated September 2011, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which translated the video.

In the interview, Khan said that until the arrival of a significant number of mujahideen, the Taliban had a strong core of supporters in the Mamuzai area in Arakzai that was prepared to impose sharia in the tribal agency, but “the only problem was the absence of a unifying and implementing force.” The establishment of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in late 2007 and its growth in Arakzai, which at the time was led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, now the terror group’s top emir, allowed for the imposition of sharia throughout the tribal agency in December 2008 [see LWJ report, Taliban consolidate control in Arakzai tribal agency].

Khan said that the tribal elders posed the “biggest hurdle” to the rise of the Taliban and the imposition of sharia. The Taliban’s solution was to liquidate the tribal leaders who opposed them.

“In the struggle for sharia, the tribal elders of this area were the biggest hurdle for us,” Khan said. “Some of the tribal elders fled the area and some of them were killed.”

The Arakzai Taliban followed the same strategy that the Taliban perfected in North and South Waziristan [see LWJ report, Anti-Taliban tribal leaders assassinated in Pakistan’s northwest]. This strategy was exported to other tribal agencies and even in settled districts in the Northwest, such as Swat and Dir, and is still in use. Tribal leaders who oppose the Taliban are brutally liquidated. The Taliban execute the leaders and dump their bodies on the roadside with notes pinned to their chests branding them as “US spies” and traitors. The bodies are often mutilated and beheaded.

The Taliban have made very public examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. In December 2008, the Swat Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town square. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate [see LWJ report, Video: Taliban execute Swat tribal leader].

With the tribal opposition out of the way in Arakzai, the Taliban’s main enemy became the Pakistani military and government, according to Khan.

“As soon as the internal problems faded away, we faced external problems from the government and the Pakistani army,” Khan said. “The army wants us to follow the un-Islamic laws of Pakistan, but we will not give in. We continue to fight the army.”

The Pakistani military has battled the Movement of the Taliban Pakistan in Arakzai since 2009. The military has conducted numerous airstrikes and operations in Mamuzai and other regions in Arakzai, but has been unable to eject the Taliban from power.

The Taliban in Arakzai was previously led by Akhunzada Aslam Farooqui, who took control of the Taliban after Hakeemullah was promoted to lead the entire Taliban movement in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the northwest in the summer of 2009. Farooqui was described as the “patron-in-chief” of the Taliban in Arakzai and a “close friend of Mullah Mohammad Omar” back in 2001. At the opening of Operation Enduring Freedom, Farooqui promised to have 12,000 tribesmen to battle US forces in Afghanistan and offered support such as sanctuary and weapons and ammunition. He has claimed to personally lead 7,000 Taliban fighters.

Another senior Taliban commander in Arakzai is Mufti Ilyas, who leads Taliban forces in Darra Adam Khel and is a deputy to Hakeemullah Mehsud. He commands a group that is assigned to assassinate Shia leaders.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

Tags: ,


  • Ghost Soldier says:

    Counterinsurgency works in mysterious ways. It’s all fun and games until those elders come back with lashkars and kill them some Taliban.

  • Ghost Soldier says:

    Additionally, if anyone doubts the power the Pakistani Taliban can wield from the FATA when they have havens, supply routes, and stepping-off points established, they need look no further than Omar Khalid (AKA Abdul Wali). He’s a ‘budding superstar’ in the TTP. The man is going to be worldwide in the coming years, unfortunately. That is, unless he catches a hellfire between the eyes.

  • villiger says:

    Bill, the title Emir here should be in quotes or, even better, dropped.

  • mike merlo says:

    Good info. The strategy of eliminating tribal leadership as articulated Hafiz Saeed Khan is nothing new. That variable has been part of Pakistan’s MO since the Partition of 1947.

  • Mr. Nobody says:

    “In the struggle for sharia, the tribal elders of this area were the biggest hurdle for us,” Khan said. “Some of the tribal elders fled the area and some of them were killed.”
    This should be mandatory viewing for all VSO/ALP tribal leadership. We need to harness this and use it to our advantage. I’ve always believed that we should tell the Afghans the truth. We are just a temporary pain in the backside for them to deal with. We are not there to change their tribal way of life. We are going away eventually. The Taliban are there to stay and once they kill off the elder leadership they will impose their alien extremist ideas on the local people. This is the real threat to the elders and tribes. Once they understand this they become a powerful force in the fight against the Taliban.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Ghost Soldier, I have been saying the exact same thing about Omar Khalid for some time. See here for the latest on Khalid:
    Currently we aren’t doing drone strike in Mohmand (at least as far as I can tell. We’ve fallen into the Waziristan Trap – we pretend this is the only place in the FATA that AQ operates from.

  • Ghost Soldier says:

    The article you posted is 100% spot-on. Khalid has expanded his influence widely into Kunar and now up into Nuristan. He has been acquiring support and territory throughout southern Kunar, specifically, where infiltration routes from Suran Valley, Mohmand Agency dominate the insurgency support network.
    His personal relationships are among his strongest weapons. Earlier this year, incidents between fighters loyal to Khalid and those in the Pech/Korengal areas led to open violent clashes in the area. It has spread to other areas. My money is on Khalid. His expansion portends a safe haven in Kunar for his stepping-off back into Mohmand (likely eventually Bajaur as well) in the coming years in attacks targeting Pakistani government and military structures. He’s methodical and careful. He’ll be global soon without successful targeting in the next few years.

  • This makes interesting reading and a fit case for Drones to attack these Taliban.

  • Neonmeat says:

    Wow, once again the ‘morally superior’ Taliban show their true colours. Who in the hell would ever want to live under the Society these guys would create?! It would be a living hell.
    A world where beheading community leaders because they disagree with you is common practice. Where the leader of your movement is not ashamed to go on television and admit to the murder and terrorisation of old men; who have more right to be in that territory than him!
    @ Mr Nobody
    I think those that fight back get no support or help from their Government and soon run out of the resources and the will to fight as the bomb attacks and the assassinations take their toll.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram