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Will snuffing out the TTP militants silence their guns for good?

The killing of one of the most wanted Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) senior commanders, Maulvi Abdul Wali aka Umar Khalid Khurasani, along with three other senior TTP commanders, namely Mufti Hassan, Hafiz Dawlat Khan and Hassan Ali, on Sunday, August 7 in a roadside blast of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the Birmal district of Paktika province in Afghanistan, has inflicted a heavy blow to the banned militant organisation which has been hiding out in Afghanistan for over eight years.

Khurasani was one of the leading figures on Pakistan’s most wanted men’s list, with a 25 million rupee head money bounty. The United States’ Reward for Justice had also announced a bounty of USD 3 million for Khurasani, who was wanted for a number of deadly terrorist attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces.

The 45-year-old Umar Khalid Khurasani hailed from the Safi area of the Mohmand tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He studied in his native village before travelling to Karachi for further religious education.

Khurasani reportedly ventured on the path of militancy at a young age, when he joined the Harkat ul Mujahidin jihadi group, albeit at that time ostensibly in a “non-fighter” role, as he never fought alongside his comrades in Indian-occupied Kashmir where they were conducting military operations. Other accounts establish that the slain militant later joined the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996, and remained a part of the movement until the US invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.

After his return to his native Mohmand tribal district in 2002, Khurasani mostly remained unnoticed and inactive for the next five years. However, he started attracting attention after establishing Shariah courts in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid military operation in 2007 in Islamabad, which would resolve local disputes in Mohmand, at the time one of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These Shariah courts gave Khurasani prominence in the region, and soon his influence started permeating into the nearby settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The same year, when Baitullah Mehsud announced the creation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Umar Khalid Khurasani became known to be one of its founding members, and was soon declared the Amir of the group’s Mohmand chapter. Khurasani went on to expand his terrorist activities against security forces and civilians across Mohmand and its adjacent Charsadda, Peshawar and Mardan districts. He remained an important part of the TTP under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2009, and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud, until his death in a similar fashion in 2013. But things started going south for Khurasani as Mullah Fazalullah of Swat became the head of the terrorist organisation in November 2013.

Soon after, Khurasani was forced out of the TTP on allegations of targeting civilians and demanding extortion from people, which the terrorist group claimed was a violation of their code of conduct.

In August 2014, Khurasani parted ways with the TTP and announced the creation of his own band of militants by the name of Jamaat-al-Ahrar (JA). Three months later, in November 2014, his group claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack at the daily border closing procession at Wagah, killing over 60 civilians. The JA also claimed responsibility for the attack on a mosque in Ambar, Mohmand district and the attack on Christians in Lahore. Interestingly, the same group condemned the attack on the Army Public School (APS) in December 2014.

Following the JA’s activities, in 2014 the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced a reward of PKR 25 million on Omar Khalid Khurasani. And in 2017, the United Nations listed the JA as a terrorist organisation and imposed a ban on it. In 2018, the US’ State Department’s Reward for Justice Programme placed a bounty on Khurasani’s head.

Khurasani’s JA had joined the Islamic State-Khurasan (ISK) for a short time. However, after the killing of Fazalullah in June 2018 in a US drone strike in Kunar, Afghanistan, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud became the leader of the TTP and he immediately started working on reuniting several dozen splinter groups of the Taliban. Noor Wali succeeded in convincing at least 19 different groups to rejoin the TTP. JA under the leadership of Omar Khalid Khurasani also joined the TTP in 2020, following which Khurasani was made a member of the TTP Rahbari Shura.

It is understood that Umar Khalid Khurasani was not in favour of peace talks in the early days of the efforts towards establishing a peace process between the TTP and Pakistan because he believed that the government was not sincere in establishing peace. And even after a number of positive steps during the high-level meetings of which Khurasani was an integral part; he was not optimistic about the success of the peace talks. He was seemingly concerned about the return of TTP members to their native areas where they faced many enemies, mainly people who had suffered losses at the hands of the TTP.

The fatal attack on Khurasni in Paktika was not the first such attempt at taking down TTP members in Afghanistan. Earlier, in December 2021, Khurasani had reportedly escaped unhurt in an attack on his convoy in Khost, while Molvi Faqir Muhammad, former head of the TTP in Bajaur, escaped a drone strike on his house in Kunar the same month. Another important TTP member and former spokesman, Mufti Khalid Balti aka Muhammad Khurasani was killed in Ningrahar in January 2022.

It is too early to speculate who targeted Omar Khalid Khurasani. Ambiguity is visible within the TTP as well, as the group has not yet placed direct blame on anyone. Sources in the TTP claim there were threats to Khurasani from within the TTP in the past, but it is highly unlikely that the attack would have come from inside the group.

Another hypothesis is that despite not being inclined to talk, in a number of negotiation meetings held between the TTP and Pakistan in Khost and Kabul since May 2022, Khurasani’s role was seen as important for any peace agreement with Pakistan. Killing him at a time when he was actively involved in peace talks could be an attempt to sabotage the process.

It merits mentioning that although the TTP has reiterated the right to respond to attacks on its members, they have not ended the ceasefire with the Government of Pakistan. It keeps the ray of hope alive that like Pakistan, the TTP will also continue pushing for the success of the peace process.

Source : Bol News