Abdul Sayed, Tore Hamming
Abstract: After the historic events leading to the Taliban’s capture of Afghan territory and return to government in the summer of 2021, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—better known as the Pakistani Taliban—has begun a trajectory to emulate its allies in Afghanistan. Founded in 2007 as an umbrella movement in Pakistan’s tribal territory uniting the area’s militant Islamist outfits, the TTP later suffered from a government crackdown and an internal fragmentation that critically threatened its survival. As a survival mechanism, the group relocated to Afghanistan, embedding itself into the Taliban’s insurgency, but with the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, the TTP has obtained new more sophisticated weapons and relocated fighters from Afghanistan to Pakistan and is now turning its focus back to its war against the Pakistani state. Over the past two years, the group has gone through a series of mergers, strengthened its media and operational activities, moved away from the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in suicide attacks, implemented a range of new internal policies centralizing its organizational structure, and settled on a localized strategy. With a solid organizational foundation and its eyes set on the Pakistani state, the TTP appears ready to follow in the footsteps of the Afghan Taliban and take control of territory in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Taliban victory in Afghanistan has emboldened and strengthened the TTP. With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan and sympathetic to the TTP, the TTP now enjoys a level of ‘strategic depth’ that is arguably unparalleled in its history.
Even before the August 2021 Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)—better known as the Pakistani Taliban—appeared to be on an upward trajectory, as these authors outlined in an article for CTC Sentinel in the spring of 2021. At that time, after years of organizational fragmentation, the group was beginning to show signs of a resurgence. Not only had it managed to survive the existential threat previously posed by the Islamic State, but it had also strengthened its ranks through a series of mergers, broadened its support base, introduced a series of new regulations curtailing the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in suicide bombings, and increased the tempo of its operations. In the ensuing two years, building on the Afghan Taliban’s victory, and drawing strength and inspiration from it, the TTP’s revival has continued to grow in strength, partly due to an ‘incoherent’ response from the Pakistani military. The group is now on the trajectory to emulate the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.1 With a further uptick in and geographical expansion of its operations, additional mergers, its fighters relocating from their ‘victory’ in Afghanistan to Pakistan, and a much more local focus and a centralized organizational structure, the TTP is now attempting to escalate its violence against the state after a series of failed peace negotiations.
This article draws on open-source materials and interviews to assess the TTP’s growing strength over the past two years and analyze its potential future trajectory. The first section analyzes the implications of the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan for the TTP. The second section examines the group’s growing strength, defining four key developments: mergers, organizational centralization, growing operational activity, and a strengthening of media operations. The third section looks into the 2021-2022 negotiations between the TTP and the Pakistani government, and the fourth section outlines the TTP’s recent and more localized focus. The final section investigates the January 2023 Peshawar Mosque attack and offers an assessment of the TTP’s potential short-term future trajectory.
The Implications of the Taliban’s Takeover in Afghanistan for the TTP
The Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban have long had deep-rooted relations. Yet, prior to the Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the government in Pakistan promoted the narrative that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban were not interconnected and blamed the growing threat from the TTP on foreign intelligence agencies’ support through the former Afghan government.2 Pakistani officials claimed the Taliban’s recent accession to power would force the TTP to retreat from Afghan territory and eventually face a certain organizational death.3 As this piece will outline, many Pakistani militants did leave Afghanistan, but when they came home, with the war won in Afghanistan, they focused all their attention on the TTP’s war against the Pakistani state and particularly the tribal belt adjacent to Afghanistan. This specific, and localized, focus became clear during peace negotiations in Kabul last year between the TTP and Pakistani government when the TTP stressed that the reinstatement of the semiautonomous status of the tribal belt and the implementation of sharia were its key demands.4
The TTP was the first militant group to officially celebrate the Taliban takeover within hours of the Taliban entering Kabul. In a statement released on August 17, 2021, the TTP declared the Taliban’s return to power as a great victory for the jihadi project.5 The TTP emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud publicly renewed his group’s pledge of allegiance to the Taliban emir Hibatullah Akhundzada and promised to continue unconditional support to the Afghan Taliban. Drawing attention to the TTP’s two decades of fighting U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, Mehsud announced that his group would now work to ensure the stability and survival of the Taliban regime.6
The Taliban’s takeover also resulted in an instant injection of strength for the TTP with the release of hundreds of TTP members from prisons across Kabul, who had been imprisoned by U.S. forces and the former Afghan government.7 This included senior commanders like the TTP’s founding deputy emir Maulawi Faqir Muhammad Bajauri and former spokesperson Mufti Khalid Bulti, arrested in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Immediately after his release, Bajauri was seen addressing large gatherings of TTP fighters in Kunar province adjacent to his native Bajaur tribal district in Pakistan.8 During his speech, he proclaimed that the anti-state militant struggle in Pakistan continued and urged those gathered to dedicate all efforts to the jihadi front in Pakistan. Praising the locals’ support and shelter of the TTP, he claimed that his group was now aiming for a comparable victory in Pakistan.9
The Afghan Taliban leadership publicly discourages its members from joining the war against the Pakistani state,10 although the group’s rank-and-file consider it a religious and national obligation to support the TTP from an ideological perspective and due to tribal and personal connections cemented in the last two decades of insurgency. Unsurprisingly, reports are emerging of Afghan militants contributing to the TTP’s war against Pakistani security forces, including suicide bombers.11 Some Afghan Taliban foot soldiers have declared the fight against Pakistani forces as the next phase of their jihad.12
The TTP legitimizes its war against the state by applying the same arguments that the Taliban used in Afghanistan. An interesting manifestation of this overlap is the TTP’s response to a statement from a senior Pakistani religious leader Mufti Taqi Usmani in January 2023, who declared any armed uprising against the state illegitimate.13 In response, the TTP’s central Umar Media foundation released an archived statement from the Taliban’s supreme leader supporting the TTP in its jihad against the Pakistani state.14
In sum, the Taliban victory in Afghanistan has emboldened and strengthened the TTP. With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan and sympathetic to the TTP, and the group no longer having to fear operations against it there, the TTP now enjoys a level of ‘strategic depth’ that is arguably unparalleled in its history.a
In the aftermath of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, four key developments have defined the TTP’s ensuing resurgence: a series of mergers, the adoption of a centralized organizational structure emulating the Afghan Taliban insurgency, growing operational activity, and a sharp strengthening in media operations.
The TTP’s absorption of other militant groups was already underway prior to the Taliban takeover, as the authors described in their spring 2021 CTC Sentinel article, but it accelerated thereafter.15 Since the fall of Kabul, 21 smaller militant groups and networks, referred to by the TTP as “Dalgay,”b have joined the TTP with one group joining after the Taliban takeover in 2021, 12 groups joining in 2022, and another eight in the first four months of 2023.c The series of TTP mergers started in July 2020 when it seemed likely the Taliban would eventually return to power in the wake of the Doha peace deal between the United States and the Taliban signed on February 29, 2020. Eight militant groups, including former TTP splinters, were absorbed into the TTP in the first phase of mergers in 2020.16
Two factors explain the acceleration of mergers after the Taliban takeover: the end of the active jihadi insurgency in Afghanistan and the reforms under the current TTP emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud. A number of Pakistani militants that did not fight in Pakistan but were previously part of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan also joined the TTP after the Taliban’s transition from insurgency to governance. The U.S. and allied forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan removed much of the Pakistani militants’ raison d’être to remain in the country as they could not continue their military activities and faced obstacles being integrated into the new Taliban government structure. These hurdles primarily relate to the fact that Afghan politics and culture is strongly opposed to any foreign rule or interference in the country. One recent example serves as a good illustration. Senior Taliban commander Haji Usman Turabi was instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar Province. After defeating Islamic State elements in the province, Turabi was named its governor, but he was quickly removed from the post after news started to circulate on social media that he and his family have Pakistani nationality, as well as Afghan nationality, and that his family had permanently settled in Pakistan.d The Taliban are also sensitive to the fact that any foreign fighter presence, especially of Pakistani nationality, in the Taliban security forces risks strengthening the counter-Taliban narrative framing the Taliban as Pakistani stooges.e
The reforms to the TTP under Mehsud’s leadership have motivated anti-state Pakistani militants to trust and join the group to pursue a Taliban-inspired victory in Pakistan. By the spring of 2021, Mehsud had implemented very significant changes in the TTP’s modus operandi to avoid past violations that were central to its decline. His new approach significantly reduced attacks against civilians and considerably reduced civilian casualties in attacks.17 Mehsud has also succeeded in reabsorbing various splinter factions that had previously been busy opposing one another.
The mergers have had two key benefits for the TTP. First, they brought other battle-hardened militants into the TTP ranks, which has had a concrete impact on the TTP’s insurgency. The three militant groups merging under the leadership of the Maulawi Tipu Gul from the Lakki Marwat district in Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province in January 2022 is a case in point. They soon turned their native district into one of the TTP’s most active districts for attacks against the security forces.f
Second, these mergers helped TTP strengthen its organizational foothold in strategically important areas like southern Balochistan province and the North Waziristan tribal district of Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province. The four Baloch militant groups that have joined TTP since July 2022 have helped the group expand its organizational presence into the ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan’s Balochistan province apparently for the first time.g These four groups, led by Aslam Baloch, Mazar Baloch, Akram Baloch, and Asim Baloch, had initially fought against the U.S.-led NATO alliance in Afghanistan but later joined the TTP.18 Balochistan is a volatile province where an anti-state separatist movement has been active for the past two decades. The significance of TTP’s expansion to Balochistan is discussed later in the article.
The TTP has significantly bolstered its position in North Waziristan in the past three years. Although in the post-9/11 landscape until 2015 North Waziristan was the strongest base for the jihadi movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the TTP continuously struggled to establish the kind of dominance there that it enjoyed in the other six tribal areas that previously composed the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). A local militant group led by Hafiz Gul Bahadar (HGB) remained the unchallenged militant outfit in North Waziristan for years.19 HGB enjoyed the support of al-Qa`ida and the Haqqani Network as North Waziristan served as a sanctuary for local and foreign militants. But in an important development, since November 2020 nine militant groups in North Waziristan have joined the TTP. One of them—the Ustad Aleem Khan group—very significantly strengthened TTP’s position in North Waziristan because its leader was a deputy to HGB and one of the strongest commanders in the district.20
A Centralized Structure
A second key development that has characterized the TTP’s resurgence is that last year the TTP transformed its organizational structure from an umbrella tribal organization with limited control at the top into a centralized structure similar to the Afghan Taliban.21 h In the previous umbrella structure, the local leadership had enormous power with the central command depending upon them to implement orders and finding it more difficult to replace powerful commanders. This was a key reason for the internal anarchy and infightings that splintered the TTP back in 2014.22
The new arrangement is based on the Afghan Taliban insurgency structure that includes shadow provinces and central organizational units responsible for key portfolios.23 The TTP first announced this new structure in 2022,24 but its implementation remains an ongoing process. The number of appointed officials increased from 34 in 2022 to 139 in 2023, and the group added seven ministries, an intelligence directorate, a suicide brigade and training camp, a three-layer court system, an institute of ‘Islamic’ jurisprudence, and a housing department to the shadow structure in 2023.25 The number of shadow provinces saw a modest increase from eight to nine.26
In the new structure, the leadership council is the highest authority that, in consultation with the emir, appoints shadow ministers. Only a leadership council member can become a “minister.” The TTP’s ministries include information and broadcasting, political affairs, defense, accountability, education, finance, and welfare, in addition to a General Directorate of Intelligence.27 Each ministry has a minister and a deputy. The Defense Ministry is the largest organizational unit of the TTP.28 It comprises two military commissions, named North-zone and South-zone. Each military commission has a body of six or seven TTP members that includes a director and his deputy, which oversees the shadow provinces. Ministries appoint representatives at the provincial level at the recommendations of the military commissions.29
The leadership council appoints shadow governors in consultation with the emir and the deputy on recommendations of the defense ministry and reports from the TTP’s accountability commission.30 The nine shadow provinces correspond to the seven divisions of the Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province, as well as one allocated for the Pashtun-dominated Zhob division in Baluchistan and one for the Gilgit-Baltistan province.
In the rest of the country, the TTP’s organizational structure is based on the “Dalgay” system. “Dalgay” is the lowest unit of the TTP military structure derived from the Afghan Taliban insurgency phase. “Dalgay” is a Pashto word meaning group, but the Taliban used it to mean a “military unit.” The TTP minimum requirement for a “Dalgay” is five members in urban areas and 12-25 members in tribal areas or shadow provinces.31 According to the TTP defense minister Mufti Muzahim, the group has more than 400 “Dalgay” across the country.32
Growing Operational Activity
A third feature of the TTP’s resurgence is that the group’s attacks have increased rapidly, have expanded from the tribal belt to the major cities of the country, and have strategically focused on the security forces. The number of TTP-claimed attacks more than tripled between 2020 and 2022, with the monthly attack average increasing from 14.5 in 2020 to 23.5 in 2021 and 45.8 in 2022.33 i
Moreover, the TTP introduced modern weaponry, including the sophisticated M24 sniper rifle, M4 carbines with Trijicon ACOG scopes, and the M16A4 rifle with a thermal scope making it more lethal.j The TTP acquired these weapons after the former Afghan government collapsed and U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan.k The group obtained these weapons after local people looted the abandoned military bases.l These weapons also constituted the TTP’s share in the spoils of war.34 Former Afghan commanders handed significant numbers of these weapons over to their TTP comrades to help them securely leave Afghanistan and because of their shared hatred of Pakistani security forces.35 The acquired sniper rifles, equipped with a thermal scope, have become a favored weapon for the TTP against Pakistani security forces.36
Over the course of the last five years, the TTP has introduced important changesm (described later) to its policy regarding suicide attacks, which has resulted in a decrease in civilian casualties per suicide attack compared to the large casualty counts it inflicted in the past. Furthermore, the overall number of civilian casualties in suicide attacks has gone down despite an uptick in suicide operations.37 The highest number of civilian deaths in a TTP suicide attack was 20 in 2015, 21 in 2016, 26 in 2017, 23 in 2018, five in 2019, zero in 2020, four in 2021, and two in 2022.n February 2023 saw the highest number of claimed suicide attacks in a single month in recent years, with three suicide attacks claimed in the whole of 2020 and in 2021 and five in the whole of 2022.38
The massive civilian losses from suicide attacks over the years turned out to be a decisive reason for the decline in support among the public and even among fellow jihadis.39 Moreover, the previous large number of civilian casualties generated significant support for the security forces’ military operations. This resulted in critical blows against the militants, forced them to flee to neighboring Afghanistan, and left the TTP fighting for survival in the 2014-16 period.40 Realizing that a new approach was needed, the TTP in September 2018 designed a sophisticated strategy to vet suicide attack plans to avoid past mistakes with this strategy apparently being further developed in the ensuing years.41 Suicide attacks are now planned by the central suicide brigade and executed with approval from the emir and his deputy.42 The result so far has been a string of attacks targeting the security forces with minimal civilian casualties reported.o
Besides the growth in frequency of attacks, a resurgent TTP has also succeeded in geographically expanding its area of operational activities beyond the Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province once again. The group’s recent major attacks show that it has re-established itself in the capital, Islamabad, and in Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces. Recent indications of this expansion include suicide attacks carried out in Islamabad and in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province.43 And in January 2023, TTP militants assassinated a senior official of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in a targeted attack in Punjab, which was a major blow to the agency.44 Additionally, the rate of TTP attacks in the southern Balochistan province is increasing, with numerous targeted killings and IED attacks carried out by the group in the provincial capital Quetta.p
Strengthened Media and Propaganda Operations
The fourth dynamic associated with the TTP’s resurgence is an increase in the output and sophistication of the TTP’s main propaganda outlet, Umar Media.45 The past two years have seen an increase in the number and variety of productions and significantly improved quality.q Umar Media now produces audio, video, and text materials in a half dozen languages: Pashto, Urdu, English, Baluchi, Dari/Persian, and Arabic. The propaganda operations opportunistically link the group’s anti-state war narrative with the grievances of different communities to try to earn their support in the war against the security forces.r
The main audience for Umar Media productions remains the Pashtun and Baloch people, Islamists, and political activists from mainstream parties who are disgruntled with the current system and the rulers of the country. This list of the key target audiences is evident from the central themes of the propaganda outputs, irrespective of language, which aim to mobilize the Baloch and Pashtun tribespeople for a war against security forces. Umar Media’s Arabic productions are likely directed at wealthy sympathizers in the Arab world. Umar Media’s Dari production are aimed at winning support from that language community in Afghanistan. Umar Media also publishes a monthly Urdu magazine and daily statements that attempt to exploit contemporary political issues and generate maximum support for the group’s war against the regime.s In 2022, Umar Media produced its first-ever Balochi language video.46 While the TTP disseminates messages to the Baloch people via Urdu outputs, which is a common language across the country, it released, for the first time in history, Balochi audio and video products in 2022.47 In March 2023, the TTP media unit produced an English documentary with a fluent English speaker as the narrator for the first time, suggesting its recruitment aspirations have widened well beyond the tribal belt toward educated youth.48
Negotiations with the Pakistani Government
Shortly after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, Pakistan’s government approached the Afghan Taliban to facilitate peace negotiations with the TTP.49 During the summer of 2022, there was significant progress in the negotiations, but they slowed after a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qa`ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul on July 31.t
The Pakistani government initiated negotiations under the mistaken view that the TTP was in a fragile position due to a lack of support for the anti-state war after the Taliban replaced the former Afghan government.u Senior Pakistani officials who were serving at the time, including then Prime Minister Imran Khan,50 President Arif Alvi,51 and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi52 offered a general amnesty to the militants on the condition they lay down arms and return to normal life in the country.v The TTP rejected this offer, saying the group intended to continue its armed struggle until democracy had been replaced with sharia law governing Pakistan.53
Nonetheless, the Afghan Taliban succeeded in convincing the TTP to enter into negotiations with the Pakistani government in November 2021.54 w In September 2021, the Afghan Taliban leadership conveyed the Pakistani government’s call for negotiations to the TTP in their first meeting after the Taliban takeover.55 The TTP was at first reluctant but agreed because of the mediating role of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP56 and the government57 announced the negotiations with a month-long ceasefire on November 9, 2021. However, the first negotiation attempt failed without any substantial progress.
Pakistani stakeholders were largely divided over negotiations with the TTP,58 and thus, the government was unable to send a team to instigate dialogue with TTP representatives in Afghanistan.59 The TTP blamed the failure on the government’s supposed lack of interest and resumed attacks after the end of the ceasefire on December 10, 2021.60 The group, however, did not entirely reject talks and announced that it was ready for “meaningful negotiations.”61
In late 2021, TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces immediately increased in frequency and intensity after the end of the ceasefire. The TTP claimed 45 attacks in December 2021 alone, which was the highest number of attacks in a month for several years.62 In April 2022, TTP claimed 54 attacks, thus setting a new ‘record.’63 Furthermore, TTP went beyond regular small-scale attacks. On March 30, 2022, a three-member squad of suicide fighters attacked a military fort in the Tank district of Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province, killing and wounding 24 soldiers.64 The trio used sniper rifles equipped with thermal scopes in their attack on the high-security military base.x Their attack mode contrasted with the many suicide-vest bombings and vehicle-borne suicide attacks carried out by the group since 2019.
In retaliation, in the weeks that followed, Pakistani security forces carried out cross-border attacks into Afghanistan against the TTP and operations against them inside Pakistan. In their targeting of the militants, Pakistani fighter jets bombarded tribal refugee camps on the Afghan side of the border in the southeastern Khost and northeastern Kunar provinces.65 Additionally, TTP commanders were targeted in suspected covert operations by Pakistani security agencies. A former TTP spokesperson, Mufti Khalid Balti,66 was among those killed, and a senior military commander, Mufti Burjan,67 was left in critical condition as a result of the unclaimed strikes. TTP supporters blamed Pakistan’s security agencies for these attacks, but no official claim of responsibility has been made public yet.
Despite these tensions, the TTP resumed negotiations with the Pakistani government and announced a unilateral ceasefire in May 2022 as a result of the Afghan Taliban pressing them to do so as a trust-building measure for peace negotiations.68 The TTP announced a 12-day ceasefire on Eid-ul-Fitr (the holiday marking the end of Ramadan),69 which it extended for another five days on May 1070 and to the end of the month on May 18.71 At the same time, the group announced the resumption of negotiations with the government through Afghan Taliban mediation. The TTP expressed trust in the negotiation process and extended the ceasefire for an indefinite period on June 2, 2022.72 The TTP and the government subsequently held several negotiation rounds in the Afghan capital Kabul with the group’s emir, Noor Wali Mehsud, leading the TTP negotiating team, which included all senior commanders of the group.73 The Peshawar Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, represented the government team, which included senior government and military officials.74
At this point, there was significant progress in the negotiations, and the militants appeared optimistic about a peace settlement.75 To facilitate a settlement, the TTP reduced their key demand for the implementation of sharia in Pakistan to just the tribal districts, formerly known as the FATA. The TTP demanded the reinstatement of the semi-autonomous status of the FATA, and that the TTP should be handed limited control over certain parts to govern them with sharia laws.76
However, the negotiations ended as a result of al-Qa`ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri’s death in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul on July 31, 2022. Although the Afghan Taliban did not confirm al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul nor his death in the drone strike, the Taliban’s acting defense minister, Mullah Muhammad Yaqub, among others, blamed Pakistan for facilitating U.S. drone operations in Afghanistan.77 The TTP was even more direct in blaming Pakistan for the killing of al-Zawahiri.78 A month after the drone strike, on September 2, 2022, the TTP resumed attacks after a four-month ceasefire process, blaming the Pakistani security forces’ supposed repeated ceasefire violations. It officially ended the ceasefire on November 28, blaming the government’s supposed lack of interest in negotiations on top of the earlier accusation.y
Another key reason for the failure of the negotiations was political instability inside Pakistan. In April 2022, Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister after a no-confidence vote in parliament. One of Khan’s close allies,79 Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was a strong proponent of a political settlement with the TTP, a process he started as ISI chief and later continued, with army chief Qama Javed Bajwa’s blessing, as Peshawar Corps Commander.80 Some in the TTP and the Taliban hoped for Hameed’s ascension to army chief as that would have energized the dialogue process. However, Hameed failed to make it to the top job, and after General Asim Munir’s appointment as army chief in November 2022, Hameed resigned from the army,81 which turned out to be a blow to the hope of a negotiated settlement.
A Much More Local Focus
The TTP has always been a local group, embedded in Pakistan’s tribal politics, and with a localized strategy and objectives. Yet another defining feature of the TTP’s early history was its simultaneous external focus, mainly manifesting through its participation in the insurgency in Afghanistan and its support for a globally oriented jihadi agenda. The group’s alignment with al-Qa`ida, its collaboration in the suicide attack on the CIA station in Afghanistan’s Khost province in December 2009,z and its role in the May 2010 failed bomb attack in New York City’s Times Square are testament to the group’s global orientation.aa
However, under its current emir, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, the TTP publicly disowned any transnational or regional agenda. This change turned into official policy when the TTP revised its manifesto and its attack guidelines after Mehsud became leader in 2018.82 Since then, the TTP has adopted an exclusively local agenda and assured the regional political stakeholders and the international community that it only fights against the Pakistani state for domestic objectives. This narrative became even more explicit after the Doha deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban in February 2020. The TTP leadership in public, particularly in messages to the United States, the international community, and regional powers, claimed they were only interested in fighting against the Pakistani security forces on their own soil.83
The TTP also pushed back against the notion it had a global agenda in its condemnations of U.N. Security Council reports that alleged it had links with the Islamic State84 and al-Qa`ida85 in July 2020 and February 2021, respectively. Similarly, the group accused Pakistan of passing false information to the United Nations, the United States, and the international community about its global agenda to draw support in fighting the militants.86 Besides this, the group announced that its militants do not pose any threat to diplomats, citizens, or assets of any foreign country in Pakistan and only fight against the security forces.87
There is evidence that TTP’s distancing from the transnational agenda is real and not just a PR exercise. A February 2020-dated letter written by a senior TTP ideologue sent to the Pakistani cadres in al-Qa`ida’s regional branch in South Asia, al-Qa`ida in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS), explicitly stated that AQIS leader Osama Mahmoud should abandon any regional and global aspirations and merge his group with the TTP to support the militants’ victory in Pakistan.88 ab This reorientation is further backed up by its operational activities because under the leadership of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, the TTP has generally not claimed any attack against foreigners, except one against Chinese nationals at the Serena hotel in Quetta in April 2021, which the group stated was intended only to target Pakistani officials. A second attack on a Chinese engineers’ bus in Dasu, Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province, in July 2021 has also been attributed to the TTP, but remains unclaimed.89
Three factors help explain why the TTP has prioritized a localized agenda: al-Qa`ida’s decline in the region, massive losses suffered by the TTP over the years in U.S. drone strikes, and the successful approach of the Afghan Taliban.
Al-Qa`ida played an instrumental role in the TTP’s establishment and initially enjoyed significant influence over its rank-and-file.90 In the years after the TTP’s founding, al-Qa`ida’s senior leadership mentored its commanders and financed it for cross-border operations.91 However, this influence appears to have gradually declined because of the al-Qa`ida leadership decapitations in Waziristan during the intense U.S. air campaign that peaked in 2010.92 The relationship soured after the groups’ joint sanctuaries in Waziristan were destroyed in a major Pakistan army military operation launched in 2014.93 ac
As noted, the TTP itself suffered massive losses due to U.S. drone strikes that eliminated the majority of its senior commanders, including the group’s founder Baitullah Mehsud, his two successors, and their deputies.94 The leadership losses contributed toward internal fragmentation that resulted in splinter groups forming.ad This ultimately impacted the group’s operational activity.95
The Afghan Taliban’s successful political settlement with the United States in Doha also pushed the TTP to shift its messaging to reflect the group’s exclusive commitment to a localized agenda. Following the February 2020 Doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban, in November 2020 TTP emir Mehsud released a statement urging militants to limit the war to security forces on Pakistani soil so that it could replicate the Afghanistan Taliban’s success in Pakistan.96 ae The Taliban’s diplomatic victory in Doha had strengthened the localization imperative for the TTP, on one hand demonstrating the necessity of localizing jihad for it to become successful and on the other hand removing the need for the TTP to fight its battle across the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Furthermore, a leadership council member and “information minister” Mufti Ghufran in January 2023, emphasized three defining characteristics of the Afghan Taliban that the TTP militants should emulate: limit the war to one enemy (i.e., security forces), enforce unity within its ranks, and build ideological coherence and obedience.97 The Taliban victory in Afghanistan in August 2021 gave TTP even more impetus to localize their jihad because of the same two factors mentioned above: The Taliban had proved successful by keeping it local and the TTP no longer had to fight across the border against international forces.
In an attempt to build sustainable support for its war against the Pakistani state, the TTP is now expanding its exploitation of local grievances. The TTP narrative exploits domestic grievances to legitimize fighting against the Pakistani security forces. For example, the group claims it fights to end the perceived deprivations of the Pashtun and Baloch tribes and to protect their rights vis-à-vis the state.af It also claims it is fighting to end socio-economic injustice and liberate the public from the corrupt rulers and the corrupt system in the country.ag
A central theme of the TTP anti-state propaganda narratives revolves around the political and economic crisis in the country. While the TTP has always blamed Pakistan’s political elite for its support of the global war on terror and by extension the civil and military leadership for its corruption and dishonesty, the group is now utilizing these accusations in new ways. Connecting its insurgency to the grievances of disgruntled communities, it blames the political and military elite for the country’s current political and economic turmoil and its toll on these communities.ah Interestingly, despite its sectarianism and abuse of religious and ethnic minorities, the TTP opportunistically features any critical voice against Pakistan’s rulers in its propaganda irrespective of ideological and religious differences.98 It is worth noting that TTP does not have any concrete political or economic agenda to present as an alternative to the public, beyond the example of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. TTP presents Taliban rule in Afghanistan as a panacea to Pakistan’s political and economic crises, claiming that Afghan citizens now enjoy peace and are better governed than in Pakistan.99
The Peshawar Mosque Attack and the TTP’s Future Outlook
How pervasive is the TTP’s internal reformation, and what trajectory can be expected from the group in the coming months?
On January 30, 2023, a devastating suicide attack killed over 100 people, mostly police officials, praying at a mosque at the police headquarters in Peshawar. That same day, two senior TTP commanders, Umar Mukarram Khurasani and Sarbakaf Mohmand, claimed what was the deadliest terrorist attack in Pakistan since the brutal terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar back in December 2014.100 However, the official TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani later disowned the attack, declaring it an impeachable offense, although he stopped short of directly denouncing Mukarram and Mohmand.101 Khurasani stressed that the attack violated the TTP’s new manifesto and guidelines forbidding attacks against mosques, seminaries, funeral places, and so forth.102 In the aftermath of Khurasani’s intervention, Mukarram and Mohmand neither commented on TTP’s official statement nor retracted their earlier claim. The two commanders were senior leaders of the former Jama’at ul-Ahrar faction but now serve in key positions in the TTP after the Jama’at ul-Ahrar-TTP merger in August 2020. Highlighting their high rank, Mukarram is currently on the leadership council while Mohmand is the shadow governor for the Zhob division in the southern Balochistan province.
The attack resulted in the highest number of police force deaths in a single incident in the province.103 Notwithstanding the group’s efforts to distance itself from the claim of responsibility by two of its senior figures, the attack sows doubt about how sincere the TTP is about its new policies and guidelines and the degree of internal support the policies enjoy. In the authors’ view, the official statement from the spokesperson, however, serves as an indication that the top leadership of the TTP is not willing to compromise on its reform initiatives, despite the military significance of the attack.
The Peshawar attack also provided important insights on how the Afghan Taliban positions itself in the war between the Pakistan state and the TTP. In the wake of the attack, the Taliban’s interim foreign minister Emir Khan Muttaqi furiously reacted to Pakistani officials’ claim that the TTP was planning further attacks from Afghan soil.104 Muttaqi asserted that there were no terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan because if that were the case, other neighboring countries would have the same complaint, which he claimed was not the case. Muttaqi went on to declare the TTP as Pakistan’s own internal problem and essentially told Pakistan, do not blame us for your problems but sort them out yourself.105
The TTP’s ascendant trajectory suggests that the current leader, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, appears to have been successful in defining and implementing a new strategy based on the group’s internal reform process, which was integral to its survival. As outlined above, it became clear in the negotiations with the government in 2022 that the group has limited its immediate objective to territorially controlling the tribal belt adjacent to Afghanistan. For now, this indicates that the TTP has placed limits on its insurgency in the realization that an Afghan Taliban-style victory in Pakistan is currently an unrealistic goal. CTC
Abdul Sayed is an independent researcher on jihadism and the politics and security of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Sayed has a master’s degree in political science from Lund University, Sweden. Twitter: @abdsayedd
Tore Hamming holds a PhD in Jihadism from the European University Institute and is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College. Hamming is currently working on several larger projects on the Islamic State in sub-Saharan Africa. He is the founder of Refslund Analytics. Twitter: @ToreRHamming
© 2023 Abdul Sayed, Tore Hamming
[a] ‘Strategic depth’ refers to a situation where the TTP no longer fear the kind of airstrikes, ground attacks, and arrests it faced during the time U.S. troops operated in Afghanistan. Senior leaders, including former emir Maulana Fazlullah Khurasani and military chief Khalifa Umar Mansur among others, were killed in U.S. drone strikes. After the Taliban takeover, there have been no reports of TTP militants or commanders killed in similar attacks in Afghanistan.
[b] TTP uses the word “dalgay” for these groups, which has a minimum requirement of five members in urban areas and 12-25 members in tribal areas or shadow provinces. For details, see “Guidelines for the Mujahideen of Tihreak-e-Taliban Pakistan,” Umar Media, March 2022, pp. 28.
[c] These militant groups include 17 groups from the northwestern Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province and four groups from the southern Balochistan province. Authors’ tracking of TTP mergers.
[d] Haji Muhammad Usman Turabi faced immediate massive criticism after a picture showing him meeting at this office with a Pakistani religious leader, Mufti Nadeem Mahmoodi, surfaced on Afghan social media in mid-September 2021. Many Afghans, including Taliban supporters, vehemently criticized him for meeting with a pro-state Pakistani religious figure. These criticisms further increased when the details of his family being settled in Pakistan and holding dual Pakistani citizenship were added to the social media campaign against him, which ended with his removal from office in October 2021. Kunar governor office’s official Twitter account posted pictures of the ceremony in which a new governor replaced him. See Kunar Governor’s Office tweet on October 1, 2021, at 7:59 AM.
[e] Afghans are very critical of the Pakistan government due to its overt and covert support of insurgencies in Afghanistan since the Islamist youth uprising against President Daud Khan’s government in 1973.
[f] In Lakki Marwat, TTP attacks jumped from five in 2021 to 20 in 2022 and 10 attacks in the first three months of 2023. The attacks targeted police, military, and paramilitary forces. Such was the impact of the attacks that military and police launched large-scale operations against the group in November 2022 and January 2023. See Ayaz Gul, “Militant Ambush, Gunfight Kill 8 Pakistan Security Forces,” VOA, November 16, 2022, and “Operation launched against terrorists in Lakki forest,” Dawn, January 27, 2023.
[g] A TTP leadership council member, Qari Muhammad Shoaib Bajauri, told the author Abdul Sayed in April 2023 that these four groups were the first Baloch-ethnic commanders to join TTP in Balochistan. Thus, these mergers expanded the TTP’s organizational presence in Balochistan’s Baloch and Baruhi-dominated areas, a significant achievement for the TTP.
TTP’s operational network has long existed in Balochistan. For example, the militants targeted the residence of a senior security official in the provincial capital Quetta as revenge for the arrest of senior al-Qa`ida leader Yunus al-Mauritani, who was arrested in a joint U.S. and Pakistani security operation announced by the Pakistanis on September 5, 2011. See Shehzad Baloch, “Terror in Quetta: Taliban ‘avenge’ arrest of senior al Qaeda cadre,” Express Tribune, September 7, 2011. A Baloch separatist leader told author Abdul Sayed in April 2023 that the TTP network in Balochistan was limited to the Pashtun belt of the province from Quetta to Zhob, which shares a close boundary with the group’s birthplace and stronghold, South Waziristan. The TTP used it as a transit route to the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan and to conduct operations in Karachi and different parts of the country from Waziristan via Quetta. For further details, see Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, Inqilab-i-Mehsud [Mehsuds Revolution] (Paktika: Al-Shahab Publishers, 2017).
[h] The TTP’s announcement of a centralized structure with shadow provinces and ministries is the product of continuous efforts within the group. This was a vital demand of major TTP factions Jama’at ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb ul-Ahrar (HuA) that joined TTP in August 2020 under the leadership of Umar Khalid Khurasani. A key reason for Khurasani’s separation from TTP in August 2014 was that he demanded a centralized structure for TTP like the Afghan Taliban. Thus, such a change was his single condition to merge with the TTP. For details, see Abdul Sayed, “An In-Depth Portrait of a Pakistani Taliban Founding Father: Umar Khalid Khurasani,” Militant Leadership Monitor XII:5 (2021). The implementation of a centralized structure began when the two factions joined the TTP in August 2020. For example, TTP emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud announced the first-ever centralized training camp for recruits named “al-Farooq” that he said would serve as the only training facility for all TTP groups from that point onward. See the video, “Those who prepare for battles,” Umar Media, August 5, 2021. The TTP announced shadow governors in the summer of 2021, but the first-ever centralized structure of governance was introduced in February 2022. See “Tihreak-e-Taliban Pakistan statement regarding latest appointments,” Umar Media, February 22, 2022. Furthermore, this structure was further expanded in 2023 with additional ministries and commissions added to the TTP’s shadow government structure. See “Tihreak-e-Taliban appointments for 2023,” Umar Media, December 30, 2022.
[i] TTP did not claim any attack between May and August 2022 due to the ceasefire with Pakistani security forces. However, it claimed 367 attacks in the other eight months of the year with an average of 45.9 per month. The highest number of attacks were 54, 59, and 69, claimed in April, November, and December 2022, respectively. The highest monthly number of attacks in the preceding two years was 45 in December 2021 and 23 in September 2020.
[j] Pakistani defense minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif confirmed in a recent interview that these weapons have added to the lethality of the TTP attacks. See Sarah Zaman, “Pakistan Will Hit Terror Hideouts Inside Afghanistan, Defense Minister Warns Kabul,” Voice of America, April 12, 2023.
[k] The TTP’s possession of these weapons is evident from its propaganda videos that provide what it purports to be visual evidence of attacks carried out against the security forces. See, for example, the fifth and sixth episodes of the Umar Media-produced “Terrifying Attacks” series released in February and May 2022, and the four episodes of a similar attack series, “Battles are accelerated,” launched in October 2022.
[l] Due to the sudden collapse of Kabul, the security forces had to flee rapidly, leaving behind their bases with weapons and equipment. TTP militants captured weapons when the local people looted government offices and military bases in Afghanistan’s border provinces with Pakistan. Many Pakistani militants (hundreds of families) are based on the Afghanistan side of the border, having escaped there due to many years of military operations on the Pakistan side of the border. They have established close ties with the local people due to tribal links and inter-marriages.
[m] The TTP introduced strict instructions for suicide attacks in its 18-page general guidelines for militants published in September 2018, which were emphasized in the 33-page updated general guidelines published in March 2022 and the 70-page ‘defense ministry’ guidelines published in January 2023.
[n] The number of civilian fatalities in TTP suicide attacks from 2015 to 2020 is taken from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). The authors have independently compiled a list of TTP-claimed attacks for the years 2021 and 2022, as the GTD has not published any TTP attack data beyond 2020. In their data collection, the authors have relied on official government sources reported in news reports for the fatalities number.
[o] For example, a three-member TTP suicide squad attacked the police headquarters in Karachi on February 17, 2023, which resulted in one civilian death. See “Pakistani Taliban attack Karachi police station,” BBC, February 17, 2023. This was the first TTP major attack in Karachi in eight years. Another suicide attack targeted a security check post in the Khyber tribal district in January with zero civilian casualties. See “Two cops martyred in TTP-led terrorist attack,” Express Tribune, January 19, 2023. The TTP’s current emir Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud acknowledged and criticized the group’s use of indiscriminate civilian casualties in suicide attacks in his book Inqilab-i-Mehsud, published in November 2017. He introduced strict policies for suicide attacks in the militant guidelines published a few weeks after becoming emir in July 2018, see “Guidelines for the Tihreak-e-Taliban Pakistan Mujahideen,” Umar Media, September 2018. TTP suicide attacks against civilians and the overall number of civilian casualties in suicide attacks sharply dropped with the new guidelines. See Abdul Sayed and Tore Hamming, “The Revival of the Pakistani Taliban,” CTC Sentinel 14:4 (2021). Moreover, the TTP further tightened its policies for suicide attacks in the updated versions of the attack guidelines published in 2022 and 2023. Guidelines for the Mujahideen of Tihreak-e-Taliban Pakistan” Umar Media, March 2022; “Guidelines for the Defense Ministry,” Umar Media, January 2023.
[p] The TTP claimed 11 attacks in Balochistan province during the first three months of 2023 compared to seven in the whole of 2020, 17 in the whole of 2021, and 12 in the whole of 2022. After it officially ended the ceasefire on November 28, 2022, the TTP carried out two of the seven suicide attacks carried out in Balochistan between November 30, 2022, and February 17, 2023. These two attacks targeted police and military, and paramilitary forces on November 30, 2022, and February 5, 2023, in the provincial capital of Quetta.
[q] According to author Abdul Sayed’s collection of Umar Media videos, the media outlet released 26 videos in 2022 and around 20 in the first four months of 2023. There was a noticeable increase in quality in a new series of seven videos launched by Umar Media productions in the six months between September 2022 and March 2023. These new series of videos focused on socio-political problems in Pakistan to try to win the support of disgruntled communities for the TTP’s war against the Pakistani state. For details, see Abdul Sayed, “Analysis: Resurgence of Umar Media boosts Pakistani Taliban messaging,” BBC Monitoring, January 13, 2023. These series included “We Are Ready,” “Battles are Accelerated,” “Under Observation,” “I am a Traveler of Jihad,” “A Call to Jihad,” “The Eagle Man,” and “We are the Taliban” launched in September, October, and November 2022 and February and March 2023.
[r] This strategy is evident from the Umar Media six-video series and a first-ever current affairs podcast series launched in the last six months.
[s] For example, Umar Media launched the special video series “Under Observations” for this purpose last year, as is evident from the six episodes of this series produced since October 2022. Similarly, the TTP Urdu monthly “Taliban Magazine” is also dedicated to this objective. See the 14th issue of “Taliban Magazine,” published in April 2023.
[t] Pakistan had sent a delegation of religious leaders, led by a senior Deobandi leader (Mufti Taqi Usmani), to a meeting with the TTP in Kabul, returning to Pakistan on July 30, 2022. The following day, a drone strike targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, which led the TTP leadership to immediately leave the Afghan capital. In the aftermath, negotiations between the government and the TTP stalled, and TTP resumed attacks on September 2 and formally ended the ceasefire on November 28, blaming the government for violations.
[u] This was obvious from former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s interview with BBC in March 2023, who backed his government negotiations with the TTP, saying the Pakistani militants in Afghanistan had no option except a peace settlement with the government. “Pakistan had no choice but to rehabilitate TTP members after Taliban takeover in Afghanistan: Imran,” The News, March 14, 2023; Fahd Husain, “PM followed force, but the military opposed it,” Dawn, November 10, 2021.
[v] After being forced out as prime minister, Imran Khan backed his amnesty offer to militants in an interview with BBC in March 2023, saying this was the only option for repatriation and rehabilitation of the 30,000-40,000 Pakistani militants and their families left in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. He said, “We could either line up those 40,000 people—including fighters and their families—and shoot them, or we could rehabilitate them.” See “Imran Khan’s interview with BBC Urdu,” BBC Urdu, March 13, 2023.
[w] The Afghan Taliban foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, recently confirmed that the Afghan Taliban brought TTP to negotiations with the government. See Tahir Khan, “Afghan FM Muttaqi urges Pakistan, TTP to hold talks,” Dawn, May 8, 2023. The TTP’s now deceased senior commander Umar Khalid Khurasani confirmed in an interview with author Abdul Sayed in November 2021 that TTP had agreed to negotiations with the government only out of obedience to the Afghan Taliban. For details, see Abdul Sayed, “Pakistan’s Peace Talks with the Pakistani Taliban: Insights from an Interview with Abdul Wali Mohmand (alias Umar Khalid Khurasani),” Terrorism Monitor 19:23 (2021).
[x] A TTP suicide fighting squad carried out a similar attack on June 26, 2019, that targeted the police headquarters in the Loralai district in Balochistan. See Mohammad Zafar, “Three bombers killed as forces stave off terror attack,” Express Tribune, June 26, 2019.
[y] The TTP resumed attacks on September 2, 2022. However, the outfit formally announced an end to the ceasefire on November 28, 2022, via a letter attributed to the shadow defense minister Mufti Muzahim. See Mufti Muzahim, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan defence ministry orders regarding the current operations,” Umar Media, November 28, 2022.
[z] The TTP confirmed its slain leader Hakeem Ullah Mehsud played a key role in al-Qa`ida’s planned suicide attack by the Jordanian Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi on the CIA Forward Operating Base Chapman in southeastern Afghanistan Khost province on December 30, 2009. “Heroes of the Ummah 03: Hakeem Ullah Mehsud,” Umar Media, April 2020.
[aa] According to the U.S. government, the TTP “directed and facilitated Faisal Shahzad’s failed attempt to detonate an explosive device in New York City’s Times Square on May 1, 2010.” Moreover, TTP official Umar Media produced two videos of Faisal Shahzad that featured his last will and testament and him meeting with TTP’s then-emir Hakeem Ullah Mehsud before departing for the attack. See “Country Reports on Terrorism 2019,” U.S. Department of State, 2019; “Faisal Shahzad,” Umar Media, December 2010; and Bill Roggio, “Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad seen on a video with Pakistani Taliban commander Hakeem Ullah Mehsud,” Long War Journal, July 23, 2010.
[ab] The 12-page Urdu letter was authored by the TTP senior ideologue and leadership council member Qari Muhammad Shoaib Bajauri on February 9, 2020. Bajauri stated the Pakistani AQIS militants should learn from the Afghan Taliban and focus on their country first rather than pursue regional or global jihadi ambitions. He reminded them that any regional or global aspirations could have consequences for the Taliban’s forthcoming government in Afghanistan. This letter, along with the AQIS response to TTP, was leaked by al-Qa`ida supporters on social media, probably to prevent Pakistani al-Qa`ida militants from defecting to TTP. See “A letter from the TTP leadership council member Qari Muhammad Shoaib Bajauri to the respected brother Usama Mahmoud,” February 9, 2020.
[ac] Al-Qa`ida and the TTP established shelters on the Afghan side of the border when the militants lost sanctuaries in Waziristan in 2014 due to Pakistan’s military operations. In this period, AQIS replaced al-Qa`ida’s central (AQC) leadership in the militant landscape of Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the AQIS leadership’s criticism of the TTP during this period shows that al-Qa`ida lost influence and that the relationship with the TTP deteriorated. See, for example, the AQIS emir Usama Mahmood’s 85:54-minute address to his commanders in Afghanistan, recorded during 2018-2020, entitled, “Security Course.” Audio file with author Abdul Sayed, downloaded from an AQIS website in 2021. Similarly, the above-mentioned AQIS response to the TTP letter in July 2020 provides a deep insight into the widened distance and complaints of al-Qa`ida from TTP after these groups shifted to Afghanistan in 2014-2015.
[ad] The TTP splintered over the leadership disputes after its then emir Hakeem Ullah Mehsud died in a drone strike in November 2013. Maulana Fazlullah Khurasani succeeded him, but other senior commanders, including Hafiz Saeed Khan Orakzai, Khalid Mehsud Sajna, Shehryar Mehsud, and Umar Khalid Khurasani, all wanted to succeed him as the TTP emir. Failing in their ambitions, these commanders left the TTP, bringing with them hundreds of militants, and established new factions. The TTP’s current emir, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, and the former spokesperson Ehsan Ullah Ehsan have provided details of these differences that resulted in the splintering. See Mehsud, Inqilab-i-Mehsud [Mehsuds Revolution] and Salim Safi’s interview on Geo News Jirga program with the former TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, May 12, 2017.
[ae] On the issue of TTP’s strategic focus, it might be that the group’s strategy consists of several layers or phases. While Pakistan, and specifically the tribal areas, is the immediate priority, it is possible the group will eventually expand its operational focus.
[af] This has become an essential part of the TTP war narrative against security forces, as evident from its public communications, including propaganda videos and leadership statements. See, for example, “The Eid greetings and an important message from the emir of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Mufti Abu Mansur Asim Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, may Allah protect him,” Umar Media, April 29, 2022. Umar Media released an exclusive video on this message to the Baloch people. See “Under Observation,” third episode (video), Umar Media, January 26, 2023.
[ag] TTP recently launched two video series—“Under Observation” in October 2022 and “We are the Taliban?” in April 2023—and a bi-weekly podcast series, “Pasoon or Uprising,” in September 2022 for this purpose. These outputs propagate the narrative that the implementation of sharia in the country will end corruption, and socioeconomic and political instability, which the TTP blames on the civil and military rulers.
[ah] For example, Umar Media launched an “Under Observation” political video series and a bi-weekly podcast in Urdu and Pashto last year in October and September, respectively, that serve this purpose.
 Asfandyar Mir, Tamanna Salikuddin, and Andrew Watkins, “Is Pakistan Poised to Take on the TTP?” United States Institute of Peace, February 14, 2023.
 Naveed Siddiqui, “Irrefutable evidence: Dossier on India’s sponsorship of state terrorism in Pakistan presented,” Dawn, November 14, 2020. See “The Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Pakistan Army spokesperson or Director General Inter Services Public Relations Major General Babar Iftikhar press conference held at the Foreign Office on Saturday, November 14, 2020,” and “RAW paying terrorists Rs10m for each suicide attack in Pakistan: DG ISPR,” Geo Tv, November 14, 2020.
 “Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Exclusive Interview,” Pakistan Lounge with Riffat Ullah Orakzai, August 11, 2021.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan presented stance to the tribal delegation,” Umar Media, June 2, 2022.
 Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud (Abu Mansur Asim), “Congratulations to Islamic Amirate on behalf of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” Umar Media, August 17, 2021.
 “Pakistani Taliban video welcomes prisoners released in Afghanistan,” BBC Monitoring, August 25, 2021.
 “A welcome video of the release of the Tihreak-e-Taliban Mujahideen imprisoned at the Pul-i-Charkhi and Bagram jails in Afghanistan,” Umar Media, August 20, 2021.
 “Zabihullah Mujahid interview with Saleem Safi for Geo News Jitga program,” Geo News, August 28, 2021; Abdul Sayed and Amira Jadoon, “Understanding Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Unrelenting Posture,” Program on Extremism, August 16, 2022.
 Asfandyar Mir, “Is Pakistan Poised to Take on the TTP?” United States Institute of Peace, February 14, 2023.
 Ihsan Tipu Mehsud, “Here few Afghan Taliban fighters vow to expand Jihad to Pakistan as they consider it unIslamic …,” Twitter, October 3, 2021.
 “Those fighting against state are ‘rebels’: Mufti Taqi Usmani,” Radio Pakistan, January 24, 2023.
 “A view of the leader of the believers’ Shaikh Hibatullah Akhundzada (may Allah protect and assist him) on Pakistan’s infidel law,” Umar Media, January 28, 2023.
 Abdul Sayed and Tore Hamming, “The Revival of the Pakistani Taliban,” CTC Sentinel 14:4 (2021).
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Another group joins Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” Umar Media, June 25, 2022; Muhammad Khurasani, “Balochistan: A group of Mujahideen from Makran pledged allegiance to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” Umar Media, December 23, 2022; Muhammad Khurasani, “Two groups from Balochistan joined the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,” Umar Media, April 12, 2023.
 Abdul Sayed, “Waziristan Militant Leader Aleem Khan Ustad Joins Tehreek-e-Taliban,” Militant Leadership Monitor XI:11 (2020).
 “Tihreak-e-Taliban Pakistan statement regarding latest appointments,” Umar Media, February 22, 2022.
 Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, Inqilab-i-Mehsud [Mehsuds Revolution] (Paktika: Al-Shahab Publishers, 2017).
 For details about the evolution of the Afghan Taliban shadow structure, see Abdul Sayed, “Analysis: How Are the Taliban Organized?” Voice of America, September 5, 2021.
 “TTP statement regarding latest appointments,” Umar Media, February 22, 2022.
 “Tihreak-e-Taliban appointments for 2023,” Umar Media, December 30, 2022.
 “Guidelines for the Defense Ministry,” Umar Media, January 2023.
 “Guidelines for the Mujahideen of Tihreak-e-Taliban Pakistan,” Umar Media, March 2022, p. 28.
 TTP deputy emir and defense minister Qari Amjad (aka Mufti Muzahim) interview with Umar Media’s bi-weekly podcast series Pasoon (English: Uprising). See Pasoon, sixth episode, November 17, 2022.
 Authors’ database of TTP claimed attacks in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
 Zia ur Rehman, “U.S. arms left in Afghanistan surface in Pakistan Taliban insurgency,” Nikkei Asia, March 12, 2023.
 Author (Sayed) interactions with Afghan journalists, local people, and former Afghan officials, September-November 2021.
 Tariq Ullah, “Pakistan militants launch attacks with advanced US weapons left behind in Afghanistan,” National News, May 5, 2023; Abubakar Siddique, “Pakistani Armed Groups Obtain U.S. Weapons Left Behind In Afghanistan,” Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, March 29, 2023.
 Abdul Sayed, “How is the TTP, which suffered a split until two years ago, now carrying out major attacks in Pakistan?” VOA Urdu, February 28, 2023.
 The authors’ database of TTP-claimed attacks in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
 Abdul Sayed, “The Evolution and Future of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan,” Carnegie Endowment, December 21, 2021.
 “Guidelines for the Tehrek Taliban Pakistan Mujahideen,” Umar Media, September 2018.
 “Guidelines for the Defense Ministry,” Umar Media, January 2023, pp. 60-64.
 “Taliban Suicide Attack Kills Police Officer In Islamabad,” RFE/RL Radio´s Mashaal, December 23, 2022; “Taliban attacks police compound in Pakistan’s Karachi,” Al Jazeera, February 17, 2023.
 Saud Mehsud and Mubshir Bukhari, “Pakistani militants claim killing of two intelligence officials,” Reuters, January 4, 2023.
 For details, see Abdul Sayed, “Analysis: Resurgence of Umar Media boosts Pakistani Taliban messaging,” BBC Monitoring, January 13, 2023.
 “Pakistani Taliban release first video message in Balochi-language,” BBC Monitoring, April 14, 2022.
 See, for example, Umar Media’s first-ever two Balochi productions: “TTP message to the oppressed Baloch Muslims,” Balochi Video, Umar Media, April 13, 2022; “We will never accept the law of infidelity,” Balochi Video, Umar Media, May 6, 2022.
 “We are the Taliban,” Umar Media, March 31, 2023.
 For details, see Sayed and Jadoon.
 Ayaz Gul, “Pakistan’s PM Says Peace Talks Underway With Pakistani Taliban,” Voice of America, October 1, 2021.
 “Govt could consider amnesty for ‘TTP members who lay down arms’: President Alvi,” Dawn, September 11, 2021.
 “Govt open to pardon for TTP if they give up terror activities, surrenders: FM Qureshi,” Dawn, September 15, 2021.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tihreak-e-Taliban response to the amnesty offer from Shah Mahmood Qureshi,” Umar Media, September 17, 2021.
 Tahir Khan, “Afghan FM Muttaqi urges Pakistan, TTP to hold talks,” Dawn, May 8, 2023. For further details on the Afghan Taliban role in bringing TTP to the negotiating table with the government, see Sayed and Jadoon.
 Insiders told author Abdul Sayed that the Afghan Taliban conveyed this message to a TTP senior delegation that went to Kabul in September 2021 to congratulate the Afghan Taliban on their return to power. For the details, see Sayed and Jadoon.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tihreak-e-Taliban statement regarding negotiations with the government,” Umar Media, November 9, 2021.
 “Complete ceasefire agreed between govt and TTP: Fawad Chaudhry,” Dawn, November 8, 2021.
 Munir Ahmed, “Pakistan announces 1-month cease-fire with Pakistani Taliban,” Associated Press, November 8, 2021.
 Khurasani, “Tihreak-e-Taliban statement regarding negotiations with the government.”
 Muhammad Khurasani, “TTP statement on the current negotiations and last date of the ceasefire,” Umar Media, December 9, 2021.
 “Pakistani Taliban release attacks report for January 2022,” BBC Monitoring, January 4, 2022.
 “Pakistani Taliban release attacks report for April 2022,” BBC Monitoring, May 5, 2022.
 Tahir Khan and Naveed Siddiqui, “6 Soldiers killed in attack on military compound in KP´s Tank: ISPR,” Dawn, March 30, 2022.
 “At least 47 dead in Afghanistan after Pakistan attacks: Officials,” Al Jazeera, April 17, 2022; Kathy Gannon, “Militant attacks hurt Pakistan relations with Afghan Taliban,” Associated Press, May 19, 2022.
 Abdul Sayed, “Who was the TTP senior commander Khalid Bulti reportedly killed in Nangarhar?” BBC Urdu, January 11, 2022.
 Abdul Sayed, “A similar attack targeted a senior TTP military commander this January …,” Twitter, August 7, 2022.
 A TTP leadership council member Qari Muhammad Shoaib Bajauri revealed this in an interview for the first episode of the Umar Media bi-weekly Pasoon podcast series. Pasoon, episode 1, September 11, 2022.
 “The Eid greetings and an important message from the emir of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Mufti Abu Mansur Asim Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, may Allah protect him,” Umar Media, April 29, 2022.
 “North-Zone Military Commission letter to the governors,” Umar Media, May 10, 2022.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan statement on the negotiations,” Umar Media, May 18, 2022.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan statement on the negotiations,” Umar Media, June 2, 2022.
 For details, see Sayed and Jadoon.
 Kamran Yousaf, “Afghan Taliban push for Pakistan-TTP peace deal,” Express Tribune, May 17, 2022.
 Author (Sayed) interviews, TTP members in Kabul who were in the Afghan capital for negotiations with the Pakistani delegation, May-June 2022.
 “Pakistani Taliban demand ‘autonomy’ for tribal areas bordering Afghanistan,” BBC Monitoring, June 9, 2022.
 Imran Danish, “MoD Says US Drones Entering Afghan Airspace From Pakistan,” Tolo News, August 28, 2022.
 For example, see the editorial of the TTP Urdu flagship “Taliban” magazine, 10th issue, October 2022.
 Hamid Mir, “The army is back at the center of Pakistan’s politics,” Washington Post, November 26, 2022.
 Fidel Rahmati, “Former ISI chief wanted to bring TTP members back to Pakistan,” Khama Press, February 21, 2023.
 Kamran Yousuf, “Lt Gen Faiz Hameed decides to seek early retirement: family sources,” Express Tribune, November 26, 2022.
 “Guidelines for the Tehrek Taliban Pakistan Mujahideen.”
 TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani interview with Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper. See Andrey Seremko, “Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan waging jihad without foreign agenda,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 16, 2023.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “The TTP statement against the unjust UN report about the TTP,” Umar Media, July 29, 2020. See “Twenty-sixth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2638 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations Security Council, July 23, 2020.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan statement on the recent reports of the United Nations,” Umar Media, February 8, 2021. See “Twenty-seventh report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations Security Council, February 2, 2021.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “A statement regarding the new report of the United Nations,” Umar Media, February 16, 2023.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s statement about a Pakistan government threat alert to the diplomats to limit movements by frightening them of a terror threat in the capital Islamabad and other cities of the country,” Umar Media, December 28, 2022.
 Different militant sources, including the man who wrote the letter, Qari Mohammad Shoaib Bajauri, confirmed the authenticity of the letter to author Abdul Sayed in September 2022.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “A blessed suicide attack in Quetta,” Umar Media, April 22, 2021; Abid Hussain, “Two get death in Pakistan for attack targeting Chinese engineers,” Al Jazeera, November 15, 2022.
 For details, see Syed Salim Shahzad, Inside al-Qaeda and Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 (London: Pluto Press, 2011).
 These details are provided in the biography of the al-Qa`ida emir for the “Khurasan region,” Mustafa Abu Yazid, written by a post-9/11 key Pakistani al-Qa`ida leader, Ustad Ahmad Farooq. Ustad Ahmad Farooq, “Shaikh Saeed (Mustafa Abu Yazid),” Hitteen 9 (2017): pp. 117-138.
 Jessica Purkiss and Jack Serle, “US Drones Appear to have Returned to Pakistan,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, March 6, 2017.
 Owen Bennett-Jones, “North Waziristan: What happened after militants lost the battle?” BBC, March 8, 2017.
 Sayed and Hamming, “The Revival of the Pakistani Taliban.”
 The statement was recorded in late November and released in a video on December 15, 2020. For details, see “Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud speech to the allegiance ceremony of Mulawi Aleem Khan Ustad and Commander Umar Azzam,” Umar Media, December 15, 2020.
 “Mufti Ghufran message to the Mujahideen” (audio file), February 11, 2023.
 Sayed, “The Evolution and Future of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.”
 For example, see “We are the Taliban” and the latest issue of TTP Urdu flagship “Taliban” magazine dedicated to this message—the 14th issue of “Taliban Magazine”—published in April 2023.
 Umar Mukarram Khurasani and Sarbakaf claimed this attack via their personal Twitter accounts within a couple of hours of the attack.
 Muhammad Khurasani, “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan explanation about the Peshawar Police Lines mosque attack,” Umar Media, January 31, 2023.
 Author (Sayed) interactions (April 2023) with Pakistani journalists Abubakar Siddique, Abdul Hai Kakar, Daud Khattak, and Rifatullah Orakzai, among others who confirmed this attack was the first major incident that inflicted this number of deaths on the police force in Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa province. These journalists have covered militancy and violence in Pakistan for the last two decades.
 Amir Danish, “After Peshawar Blast, Muttaqi Says Pakistan Should Not Blame Others,” Tolo News, February 1, 2023.
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