Eight South Waziristan Taliban commanders, pictured in a ‘wanted’ poster that was released by the Pakistani government in 2009. Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud is #6: 1. Hakeemullah Mehsud, 2. Waliur Rehman Mehsud, 3. Qari Hussain Mehsud, 4. Azam Tariq, 5. Maulvi Azmatullah, 6. Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, 7. Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, 8. Mohammad Anwar Gandapur.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) confirmed that the US killed Mullah Fazlullah and appointed Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud (Wali) as its new emir. The TTP appears to be returning to its roots by selecting a prominent commander from the Mehsud tribe to lead the organization.
The TTP issued a statement today that announced Fazlullah’s death, and the appointment of Wali as his successor and Mufti Hazrat as his deputy emir. All TTP factions and leaders swore allegiance to Wali, according to the statement.
The US killed Fazlullah, who was the third emir of the TTP, in an airstrike in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Kunar on June 13.
The appointment of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud indicates that the TTP is returning to the Mehsud tribe to serve as the base of its leadership. The Mehsuds, based in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of South and North Waziristan, have served as the backbone of the TTP since its founding. The first two emirs of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, its founder, and Hakeemullah Mehsud came from South Waziristan and built up the group to the point that it took over most of Pakistan’s tribal agencies as well as several districts in what is now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in northwestern Pakistan.
Both Baitullah and Hakeemullah were killed in US drone strikes inside Pakistan, in 2009 and 2013 respectively. After Hakeemullah was killed, the TTP’s leadership council – after contentious meetings – appointed Fazlullah, who served as the group’s leader in Swat, to lead it. The promotion of Fazlullah ultimately led to a schism within the TTP as several factions, including Jamaat ul Ahrar and the Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan, broke away from the TTP. While they eventually rejoined the TTP, it was not as cohesive as it was under the leadership of Baitullah and Hakeemullah. [See LWJ reports, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition and Mehsud faction rejoins the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.]
Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud (Wali), who is also known as Abu Mansoor Asim, is a veteran jihadist of three decades. He fought alongside the Afghan Taliban against the North Alliance prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan, and against US forces after 9/11.
Wali has served as a military commander and has led the TTP in the Pakistani city of Karachi. More importantly, he is a religious scholar who rose to the rank of judge within the TTP.
The TTP suffered major setbacks after the Pakistani military began actively targeting the group in 2009. However, the Pakistani military did not target other Taliban factions that it views as friendly or little threat to the state, and the continual existence of these groups as well as the TTP’s close alliance with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban has allowed it to survive inside Pakistan. Under the leadership of Fazlullah, the group became fractured and largely ineffective. It remains to be seen if its new emir can reignite a cohesive TTP jihad inside Pakistan.