On August 8, 2022, four soldiers were killed in a suicide blast targeting a military convoy in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Two days later, on August 10, Ittehad Musallah Islami Mujahideen (IMAM)’s spokesperson Abu Basheer Waziristani claimed responsibility for the attack.
On August 3, 2022, two policemen were killed and another two were injured when a hand grenade exploded at the Karachi Police Headquarters in Karachi, Sindh. Though IMAM has not directly claimed the attack, social media accounts sympathetic to IMAM have claimed that it was carried out by the outfit.
On July 22, 2022, suspected IMAM militants opened fire on a police patrol van, leaving two persons injured, including a policeman, at Khwar Bazaar in the Akora Khattak area of Nowshera District in KP.
On July 16, 2022, IMAM militants killed District Police Officer (DPO) Gul Rehman near his residence in the Lakki Machan Khel area of Lakki Marwat District in Sindh.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the start of ceasefire between the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on May 1, 2022, IMAM has claimed four attacks across Pakistan, which resulted in seven fatalities, all Security Force (SF) personnel (data till August 14, 2022).
It is believed that IMAM is a reincarnation of Ansar-ul-Mujahideen, led by Mufti Shafiq, a leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan – Gandapur group (TTP-Gandapur group), which came into existence in March 2013.
The militant formation had two stated organizational goals: to avenge the death of each and every drone strike victim; and to target the Shia community. However, on March 1, 2014, when TTP declared a one-month long ceasefire with the government, the Ansar-ul Mujahideen opposed it and continued its violent activities.
Some of the prominent attacks owned by Ansar-ul-Mujahideen over the years include:
September 14, 2014: Suspected Ansar-ul-Mujahideen militants killed three Frontier Corps troopers in the Spinwam area of the then North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
June 24, 2014: Two soldiers and a civilian died in a suicide bombing, claimed by the Ansar-ul-Mujahideen, in NWA.
March 5, 2014: Ansar-ul-Mujahideen militants killed six Frontier Corps troopers in a remote-controlled explosion near the Warmagal area of Hangu District, KP.
December 12, 2013: Ansar-ul Mujahideen militants killed four Pakistani soldiers in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack in NWA. The attack was purportedly to avenge the death of Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top Haqqani Network leader, who was killed in a US drone strike on November 21, 2013.
October 16, 2013: Eight persons, including the then KP law minister, Sardar Israr Ullah Gandapur, were killed in a suicide attack by the Ansar-ul-Mujahideen at his home in Kulachi village, Dera Ismail Khan, District, KP.
July 26, 2013: At least 43 persons, mostly Shias, were killed and over 200 injured, in twin suicide attacks claimed by the Ansar-ul-Mujahideen at the bazaar in Parachinar, the main town of the Kurram Agency.
June 4, 2013: Two SF personnel were injured in a suicide attack by Ansar-ul-Mujahideen at a security checkpoint in the Damdhel area on the Miranshah-Razmak Road in the Dosaali tehsil of NWA.
March 23, 2013: 20 SF personnel were killed in a suicide attack by Ansar-ul-Mujahideen on the Esha check post, around 15 kilometers east of Miranshah, NWA. The check post was jointly manned by the Army, paramilitary soldiers and the Khasadar (a locally recruited tribal force), personnel.
These incidents demonstrated the strength and brutality of the group over these years.
However, the outfit lost its relevance gradually, as it suffered major losses during Operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of the Prophet), which was launched by the Army on June 15, 2014, targeting TTP, forcing the group to relocate to Afghanistan.
At a time when TTP is engaged in talks with the government, the Ansar-ul-Mujahideen has now found opportunities to reassert itself in Pakistan.
Significantly, another outfit, the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group (HBG) has also escalated violence since the talks began. According to the SATP database, since the beginning of the ceasefire (May 1,2022), at least 32 HGB-linked fatalities (six SF personnel and 26 militants) have been recorded in Pakistan (data till August 14, 2022). 33 targeted civilian killings that took place in North Waziristan District between January 2022 and July 2022 were also attributed by the local administration to the Ariana and Ghazi Force. The Ghazi Force was formed after the Lal Masjid Operation in 2007 and it later joined TTP. Most of its members are now reportedly part of HBG.
While many believe that these two groups are reasserting themselves to put pressure on Islamabad for greater concessions, Farhan Jeffery, a longtime observer of Jihadi groups active in the Afghan-Pakistan region, claims that IMAM has been reactivated by TTP to maintain ‘deniability’ on its role in the ongoing violence. Jeffery claims that HGB, like Ansar-ul-Mujahideen, is TTP’s ‘B team.’
Whether they are working on their own or as TTP’s ‘B team’, violence in the region will put added pressure on Islamabad to make some concessions. A ‘breakthrough’ has already been achieved, and an indefinite ceasefire was announced following these concessions by the Pakistan Government, which was struggling to contain political and economic instability.
The Pakistani state may, understandably, also have started to assert itself to secure some leverage vis-à-vis TTP. The suspicious assassinations of four top TTP ‘commanders’ in Afghanistan could be a case in point. While no group has claimed responsibility for the incidents, the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI’s) role is suspected, as those who were eliminated were reportedly hardcore TTP elements not ready to reconcile with the government. The four TTP leaders killed included:
August 8, 2022: TTP 'intelligence chief' and member of 'military commission' Abdul Rashid alias Uqabi Bajauri, was killed in a landmine explosion in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Uqabi belonged to the Bajaur District of KP.
August 7, 2022: Three TTP 'commanders' and a driver were killed in a roadside mine explosion in Barmal District in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. The killed 'commanders' included Omar Khalid Khorasani, Hafiz Daulat Khan and Mullah Hassan, while the driver was reportedly the son-in-law of Omar Khalid Khorasani.
In a statement released in Urdu on August 9, 2022, the TTP eulogized the deceased 'commanders' and warned,
…farzi lakir ke is taraf islam ne dusman ko shikast di, usi tarah farzi lakir ke dusri tarf bhi ghaddar, ghulam aur dollarkhor fauj ko shikast dekar rahenge aur pyare watan ke pyare zamin par Islami nizam kayam karenge [We have successfully established Islamic rule in one side of the fake (Durand) line and similarly on the other side too we will also defeat the traitor, slave and Dollar-hungry (Pakistan) Army to establish Islamic rule in our beloved land].
Indeed, TTP and its affiliates have also carried out some attacks since then, including:
August 10: Five FC personnel were injured in a grenade attack and firing incident by TTP in the Jamrud town of Khyber District, KP.
August 10: TTP terrorists carried out a remote-controlled explosion targeting policemen in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan District, KP. One policeman was injured in the blast. Subsequently, SFs killed two TTP militants, Abdul Rehman and Mir Zaman, in the area where the incident had occurred.
August 8: TTP militants shot at and injured Deputy Superintendent of Police Pir Syed, and held him hostage for 'violating the ceasefire' in the Matta sub-district of Swat District, KP. Along with six others, he was released after 12 hours, when tribal elders mediated on behalf of the abducted persons.
Meanwhile, on August 8,2022, the 11th Corps commander of Peshawar, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, who was leading the talks with TTP, was replaced by Lieutenant General Hassan Azhar Hayat. Lieutenant General Hameed was transferred to the Bahawalpur-based 31st Corps.
Notably, Lieutenant General Hayat was reportedly part of the Doha talks and had served as General Officer Commanding in Miran Shah, besides also being the Brigade commander in the same area. This was described by some as a surprise move, essentially implying that the Army's role might be more focused on operations, rather than on talks.
The TTP-Government negotiations will now be determined by the outcomes of the shadow games playing out in the tribal areas across the Durand line. Whether or not the negotiations progress, an imminent escalation of violence appears likely. In the worst case, this could spread from the frontier into the urban areas, particularly given the fragile political and economic situation in the country.