Answer this: When was the last time you heard of Mullah Fazlullah? The fact that he hasn’t even re-died over the past couple of years, shows just how dead – or irrelevant – he might be, as things stand.
And yet the two Pakistani diplomatic abducted near Jalalabad, in June were kidnapped by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Mullah Fazlullah’s orders – or so the group claims.
Regardless of the authenticity of the claims, the TTP that once upon a time formed the entirety of the Pakistani Taliban, remains a faction led by Fazlullah – who, again, may or may not be alive.
Furthermore, the Fazlullah group mightn’t be the only Taliban faction that is posthumously – or supernaturally, depending on how the foot soldiers interpret the existence – being led.
The Taliban recently confirmed that Umar Mansoor, the TTP ‘caliph’ in Darra Adam Khel and Peshawar has actually been dead since July 2016, and that ‘Khalifa’ Usman Mansoor will now take charge, after over 15 leaderless months.
The most intriguing case is that of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA), that actually told the media on October 19 that its leader Umar Khalid Khorasani is no more. A day later, a telegram was issued by Khorasani – as the JA chief – and a letter specially sent to the security forces that he in fact is and continues to be.
Even so, the claim was never accompanied by any images or videos, of which Khorasani has particular liking. The narcissism of Fazlullah, however, is limited to his voice that dominated radio waves in the Swat Valley a decade ago.
But if Fazullah is dead, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s existence comes into question in that the very reason the group was founded was over disagreements with Fazullah succeeding Hamidullah Mehsud as the Taliban Amir.
Perhaps the differences owed themselves to the fact that Fazlullah was appointed through a lucky draw, which doesn’t quite coincide with any brand of Sharia as an Islamic election process. However, this isn’t where the bizarre pattern ends.
Months after coming into being at the tail end of 2014, JA pledged allegiance to ISIS. This didn’t add up, not because ISIS core probably hadn’t heard – or cared – much of JA, and had zero operational alliance with them, but because Khorasani was a loud and proud disciple of Ayman al-Zawahiri and had received his initial training in Al-Qaeda camps leading up to 9/11.
However, a Fazlullah-less TTP still makes more sense than a Khorasani-less JA. For the former would still be the same entity even under a new leader – should the TTP decide that human life at the reins might carry some operational importance – but JA was founded in the image of Umar Khalid Khorasani.
The confusion doesn’t end here of course. Less than six months after emerging as a separate entity, in March 2015 the JA had congratulated the TTP – and the ‘Ummat-e-Muslima’ “for the coalition of strong Jihadi groups, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat ul Ahrar, Tehreek-e-Lashkar-e-Islam and Tehreek-e-Taliban on one name Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan” against the Pakistan Army.
This coalition, whatever you might want to call it, then joined forces with the Afghan Taliban in October 2015 “to coordinate attacks”, three months after it was announced that Mullah Omar had been dead for over two years.
Maybe, these Taliban factions – that not only almost immediately distanced themselves from the Afghan Taliban, but also from each other – were inspired by the late Mullah Omar led Afghan Taliban model and decided to replicate the same.
That the Taliban might be on autopilot mode, as things stand, can be touted as a win for the Pakistan Army – and even US-Pak cooperation, since both Khorasani and Mansoor were killed by American drones on Afghan territory – but the fact that the terror attacks haven’t stopped over the past two years, shows that the threat is still very much there.
But considering that the JA has been, by far, the more menacing of any Taliban faction – orchestrating the Youhanabad, Charsadda court, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Amabar mosque, Charing Cross and Parachinar imambargah attacks in the past two and a half years – means that taking down Khorasani, if that is indeed the case, is a massive triumph.
Even so, that wouldn’t quite signal the elimination of the Pakistani Taliban – far from it. The in-flight Taliban have found a runway in Khorasan for their crash-landing.