By Zia Ur Rehman

May 11, 2012

ISLAMABAD – Recently released documents obtained from al-Qaeda (AQ) chief Osama bin Laden’s compound reveal that the AQ leadership was sharply critical of the ideology and tactics of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and had lost control over its Pakistani affiliate groups.

The letters indicate that bin Laden considered some AQ affiliates, especially the TTP, to be incompetent in that their attacks on Muslims helped erode public support for the militancy.

Letter written to Hakimullah Mehsud :

Seventeen of the thousands of documents seized from the compound of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 were released May 3, one day after the first anniversary of the al-Qaeda leader’s death.

Members of the anti-terrorism squad May 4, 2011, surround the Abbottabad compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lived and was killed. Some of the bin Laden documents released early this month indicate the Al-Qaeda leadership was un-happy with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan ideology and killing of innocent Muslims. [REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood]
The documents – released by the Combating Terrorism Centre – describe some of the inner workings of AQ, including internal disputes and the concerns of key leaders about affiliate groups whose objectives weren’t in line with AQ’s.

In one letter, dated December 3, 2010, Mahmud al-Hasan (Atiyya) and Abu Yahya al-Libi wrote to the central head of TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud, criticizing his leadership style and killing of innocent people.

Al-Hasan at the time was bin Laden’s chief of staff, and thought likely to succeed him; al-Libi, a religious scholar, is now Ayman al-Zawahiri’s deputy, said Raees Ahmed, a security analyst who monitors AQ’s activities.

Mehusd orders to swear allegiance :

In the letter, both leaders said that Mehsud’s demand that other militants swear loyalty to him might have contributed to militant infighting.

The letter confirms that a rift exists among Pakistani militant groups and that the majority of leaders don’t recognise Mehsud as TTP leader, said Ahmed.

A photographer walks through rubble of a Peshawar mosque that was destroyed by a suicide bombing in October 2009. [REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz]
“Hakimullah Mehsud forcibly issues orders to the leaders and members of other militant groups to recognise him as emir and swear allegiance to him,” Qari Akbar Noor, a militant associated with Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led militant group in North Waziristan, told Central Asia Online.

That prompted sometimes severe fighting between the TTP and other groups, especially between Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, head of the TTP South Waziristan chapter, Noor said by phone from an undisclosed location.

Indeed, internal rivalries and the leadership crisis that arose after militant leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in August 2009 have diminished the influence of the TTP and caused the group to splinter into more than 100 major and minor groups, Central Asia Online has reported.

After the death of bin Laden, Mehsud has seen more problems in which other militants have disregarded his orders, said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.

Important militant commanders, including Bahadur, Maulvi Nazir Wazir from South Waziristan, and Mangal Bagh from Khyber Agency, have split from the TTP because of differences with Mehsud. Most recently, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad from Bajaur and Maulana Fazal Saeed Haqqani from Kurram Agency have abandoned the TTP.

Unnecessary killings :

In the 2010 letter, Al-Hasan and al-Libi expressed concern over “unnecessary” Muslim casualties from TTP attacks, and urged the Pakistani Taliban to avoid targeting marketplaces, mosques and assembly places where civilians would likely be killed.

The TTP continue attacking public places and killing innocent civilians, despite that chastisement. In 2011, 1,966 terrorist attacks killed 2,391 people and injured 4,389 in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2011, prepared by PIPS. TTP militants committed most of the violence.

Taliban militants have attacked 54 Pakistani places of worship, killing 1,165 worshippers and injuring about 2,900 over a 10-year period, Muhammad Nafees, a Karachi-based political analyst, revealed in a January 2011 report.

Some security analysts interpret the content of the documents differently.

“It is a desperate attempt of al-Qaeda to re-brand its image aimed at capturing the hearts and minds of Muslims, especially in Pakistan,” said Ahmed.

The main rationale behind these appeals was AQ’s anxiety at the how rapidly its support base in Pakistan and other Islamic countries was shrinking, he said, adding that the letter also indicates that the TTP wasn’t listening to AQ’s leaders.

A study released April 30 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found large majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and other Islamic countries have very unfavourable views of both bin Laden and al-Qaeda and that support for the militants eroded over time.

The study, conducted March 19-April 13, found the range of negative/positive views of al-Qaeda ranging from 98% negative/2% positive in Lebanon to 55% negative/13% positive in Pakistan.

Similarly, confidence in bin Laden among Pakistani Muslims dropped from 43% in 2003 to 18% in 2000-2010.

Badr Mansoor and TTP :

In the 2010 letter, the two al-Qaeda leaders also instructed Mehsud not to divert fighters from Badr Mansoor, or give him orders.

Mansoor, al-Qaeda’s top commander in Pakistan, was killed February 9 in Miranshah, North Waziristan. Mansoor operated a group of militants, mainly non-Pashtuns from various banned home-grown sectarian outfits, independently in tribal areas.

At one time, he was under the direct command of AQ leaders, but Mehsud tried to bring him under TTP command, said Qari Abid, a member of Mansoor’s TTP group operating in Karachi.

That struggle for control has led to many violent clashes between both groups, especially among Pashtun and non-Pashtun militants in South Waziristan, Abid told Central Asia Online.