A Profile of Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin in Pakistan

Posted: June 11, 2014 in CTC Sentinel, Published in

ctc sentinel

 

By Zia Ur Rehman

May 29, 2014

https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/a-profile-of-ahrar-ul-hind-and-ansar-ul-mujahidin-in-pakistan

On  March 1, 2014, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Pakistani government agreed to a month-long temporary cease-fire to negotiate a peace deal. A few days after the announcement, two little-known militant groups—Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin—carried out two terrorist attacks in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing dozens of people.[1] Although the cease-fire ended in April due to disagreements between the Pakistani government and the TTP, the attacks by Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin appeared to reveal that there are factions within the TTP that strictly oppose any negotiation with the government.[2]

This article provides a brief background on the attacks during the recent peace talks, profiles Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin, and assesses the overall implications of potential splintering within the TTP.

Violation of the Peace Talks
Although some analysts expected a Pakistani military operation against TTP strongholds following a bloody start to 2014, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif instead announced on January 29 that his government would pursue peace talks with the TTP.[3] Sharif named a four-member committee to facilitate the talks. In turn, the TTP also nominated a committee for dialogue with the government.[4]

After several meetings between the committees from both sides, the TTP announced a month-long cease-fire on March 1 and directed all groups working under the umbrella of the TTP to honor the truce with the government and to refrain from all “jihadist” activities during this period.[5] In response, the Pakistani government also announced a cease-fire.[6]

On March 3, however, an attack at the Islamabad district court killed 11 people, including a session judge.[7] Ahrar-ul-Hind, a little-known militant group, claimed responsibility.[8] The group’s spokesman, Asad Mansoor, told reporters that they are not bound to follow a cease-fire of any kind with the Pakistani government. “We were a part of TTP earlier but now we operate independently,” the spokesman said.[9]

Then, on March 5, a roadside bomb struck a paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) personnel convey in Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing six FC personnel.[10] Another militant group, Ansar-ul-Mujahidin, claimed responsibility.[11] Abu Bassir, the organization’s spokesperson, said that the attack was in reaction to the killing of Taliban fighters in drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.[12] He also added that his group is not part of the TTP and therefore is not bound by the cease-fire.[13]

Following the attacks, media and civil society groups made growing demands for a full-scale military operation against the TTP. The TTP leadership, however, publicly expressed frustration that some militant groups had not abided by the cease-fire.[14] In a March 3 statement, TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid denied any involvement in the Islamabad court attack, saying that the TTP was struggling to enforce Shari`a in Pakistan and that they considered a violation of the cease-fire “un-Islamic.”[15] He said that anyone belonging to the Taliban would be questioned if found guilty of any violent incident during the cease-fire.[16]

Sources said that the TTP leadership formed a special cell to identify the militants associated with Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin.[17] Professor Ibrahim, a member of the Taliban’s negotiation committee, confirmed that the TTP leadership was chasing down the little-known groups—especially Ahrar-ul-Hind.[18] Maulana Yousaf Shah, another member of the Taliban’s negotiation committee, said that the TTP leaders would first try to persuade the splinter groups to abide by the cease-fire. If the groups refused, said Shah, then the TTP would take strict action against them.[19]

It is not clear what became of these threats, although by April the cease-fire was no longer in effect after the TTP accused the Pakistani government of killing 50 TTP activists.[20] Nevertheless, the formation of Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin has important implications for future peace deals between the TTP and the Pakistani government.

A Profile of Ahrar-ul-Hind
Ahrar-ul-Hind first entered the spotlight on February 9, 2014, when Asad Mansoor, the group’s spokesman, issued a statement to media outlets declaring that the group would not accept any peace agreement short of the complete enforcement of Shari`a in Pakistan.[21] On February 14, the group released another statement rebuking those who support peace talks before the implementation of Shari`a.[22]

Mansoor claimed that Ahrar-ul-Hind is headed by Maulana Umar Qasmi.[23] A Newsweek Pakistan report suggested that Qasmi, from Jhang district of Punjab Province, was associated with Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a banned sectarian militant group.[24] Qasmi was also reportedly enrolled at Usman-o-Ali seminary, run by Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of the banned Jaysh-i-Muhammad group, in Bahawalpur.[25] Apart from the TTP and Jaysh-i-Muhammad, Ahrar-ul-Hind reportedly has ties with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Harkat-ul-Mujahidin and Jundullah.[26]

Although few details have emerged about Ahrar-ul-Hind, one militant source said that many of its members are from Punjab Province.[27] Several eyewitnesses to the Islamabad court attack in Islamabad reported hearing the militants speaking Punjabi to one another.[28] This suggests that the group may have splintered from TTP Punjab,[29] which is headed by Asmatullah Muawiya.[30] Muawiya has been openly engaged in the recent peace talks with the government.[31]

Some reports suggest that Qasmi is now based in Mohmand Agency, a tribal region situated on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.[32] A Taliban commander in the tribal areas said that Ahrar-ul-Hind had also contacted militants loyal to a faction formerly headed by Badar Mansoor, al-Qa`ida’s chief in Pakistan who was killed in a drone strike in February 2012, to join their group.[33]

According to a commander of a Taliban group, the group derived its name of “Ahrar” because the Ahraris were against the formation of Pakistan, and they believed that the entire subcontinent was their homeland.[34] Explaining Ahrar-ul-Hind’s objectives, the commander said that the group plans to expand the fight to “the remaining part of the subcontinent, India and Occupied Kashmir.”[35]

Ansar-ul-Mujahidin
The North Waziristan-based Ansar-ul-Mujahidin has existed since at least March 2013. Reports citing government officials and intelligence information suggest that Mufti Shafique, a leader of the TTP Gandapur group,[36] has ties to Ansar-ul-Mujahidin,[37] and that Uzbek fighters are also part of the group.[38]

The group claimed credit for a double suicide bombing on a Shi`a mosque in Parachinar town of Kurram Agency on July 26, 2013, which killed at least 57 people.[39] Ansar-ul-Mujahidin also claimed responsibility for three suicide attacks on different military checkpoints in North Waziristan Agency in 2013.[40]

Ansar-ul-Mujahidin claimed the October 16, 2013, killing of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa law minister Israr Gandapur, along with nine other people, in Dera Ismail Khan, in retaliation for the death of two of their men during an attack on Dera Ismail Khan jail on July 29, 2013.[41] Taliban militants freed 248 militants from the jail, including 48 high profile militants from the TTP and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.[42] The TTP previously claimed responsibility for that same jailbreak. Security officials initially said that they were trying to determine whether Ansar-ul-Mujahidin is part of the TTP, or if the claim was a TTP tactic to avoid responsibility.[43]

Ansar-ul-Mujahidin had also claimed responsibility for the October 11, 2013, suicide attack on a security convoy in the Wana area of South Waziristan that killed two security officials, saying that the attack was a response to the September 6 drone attack in North Waziristan Agency that killed the Haqqani network’s key leader, Mullah Sangin Zadran.[44]

In December 2013, Ansar-ul-Mujahidin also warned Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party chief Imran Khan and Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam (Sami faction) chief Maulana Sami-ul-Haq against championing the polio vaccination campaign. “Khan and Haq should refrain themselves from the anti-polio campaign,” said Abu Bassir at that time, threatening that “at the moment, their focus is toward Nawaz Sharif’s government, but they will turn their guns on Khan and Haq if they do not relent.”[45] On November 9, 2013, the group also directed a message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother and Chief Minister of Punjab Province Shahbaz Sharif, threatening to kill them with suicide bombers as revenge for the November 1 death of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike.[46]

Implications
Attacks carried out by Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin have two possible implications.

First, some analysts believe that the Pakistani government’s effort to achieve a peace deal with the TTP has exposed a split in the group, suggesting that it has lost influence over its various factions. The TTP, for example, is not a monolith; it is composed of many different groups. According to one general estimate, 54 militant groups operate in the tribal areas and settled districts, with 43 of them operating in North Waziristan alone.[47] When the government entered into peace negotiations with the TTP, according to this theory, some militant groups began carrying out attacks on their own for reasons varying from tribal affiliation, sectarian views, or ties with foreign militants such as al-Qa`ida.[48] Therefore, the splintering of the TTP means that even a successful peace deal with the group will not end militancy in the tribal regions.

Second, other analysts and police officials allege that the TTP leadership purposely allowed various “so-called” splinter groups to continue with their subversive activities to place pressure on Pakistan while the main TTP factions publicly engaged in the cease-fire. According to this theory, the TTP used the peace talks and the cease-fire to regroup for future attacks against the Pakistani government.[49] Moreover, on May 28, 2014, the TTP Waliur Rehman faction, led by Khan Said (also known as Sajna), announced its separation from the TTP, alleging that the current Maulana Fazlullah-led TTP is bombing public places using fake names to avoid responsibility.[50]

Conclusion

Even if Ahrar-ul-Hind and Ansar-ul-Mujahidin operate outside the influence of the TTP leadership, they could have support from al-Qa`ida and other anti-state elements, especially foreign militant outfits.[51] Returning normalcy to the Pakistani tribal areas is not in the interests of foreign militant groups due to their ongoing operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Experts believe that foreign militant groups, especially al-Qa`ida and Uzbek militants, are worried that a peace deal might close their safe heavens in North Waziristan.[52]

While such splits among militant groups may be a reason for the Pakistani government to rejoice when combating them militarily, the large number of distinct and competing armed actors suggests that putting an end to violent insurgency through dialogue will remain a distant possibility even if the government and the TTP agree on a future peace deal.[53]

Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and researcher who covers militancy and security issues in Pakistan. He has written for the Friday Times, New York Times, Dawn, The Jamestown Foundation and The News. He is also author of the book Karachi in Turmoil.

[1] Malik Asad and Muawar Azeem, “Judge, 10 Others Slain in Islamabad Court Attack,” Dawn, March 4, 2014; Ahmed Naveed Zafar, “Four FC Personnel Martyred in Hangu Bomb Attack,” Pakistan Tribune, March 5, 2014.

[2] Zahir Shah Sherazi, “TTP Decided Not to Extend Ceasefire,” Dawn, April 16, 2014.

[3] “PM Sharif Announces Another Push for Taliban Peace Talks,” Dawn, January 29, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Pakistani Taliban Announce Month-Long Ceasefire,” Dawn, March 2, 2014.

[6] Muhammad Anees, “Government Announces Ceasefire Following TTP,” The News Tribe, March 2, 2014.

[7] “Judge, 10 Others Killed in Islamabad Blasts, Firing,” Dawn, March 3, 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Azad Syed, “Hello, We Are Ahrarul Hind, We Attacked Islamabad,” The News International, March 4, 2014.

[10] “Bomb Kills Six Near Hangu,” Newsweek Pakistan, March 5, 2014.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hasan Abdullah, “TTP Frustrated at ‘Defiance’ Over Ceasefire,” Dawn, March 6, 2014.

[15] Tahir Khan, “Clear Their Name: TTP Denies Hand in Capital Assault,” Express Tribune, March 4, 2014.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “TTP Investigating About Ahrarul Hind: Ibrahim,” Pakistan Today, March 16, 2014.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Taliban nay Ahrarul Hind Jaisi Tanzeemo ka koj lagaliya,” Daily Nai Baat, March 10, 2014.

[20] Sherazi, “TTP Decided Not to Extend Ceasefire.”

[21] Ismail Khan, “Spoilers in the Game,” Dawn, March 4, 2014.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Khaled Ahmed, “The Coming Apocalypse,” Newsweek Pakistan, April 1, 2014.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Asim Qadeem Rana, “TTP, Ahrar-ul-Hind Ate and Slept Together,” The Nation, March 6, 2014.

[27] Sajid Tarakzai, “Shadowy Militant Splinter Group Threaten Pakistan Peace Talks,” Agence France-Presse, March 9, 2014.

[28] Ibid.

[29] TTP Punjab, also called the Punjabi Taliban, is a loose conglomeration of members of different banned militant groups of Punjabi origin who have developed connections to the TTP and al-Qa`ida.

[30] Fasihur Rehman Khan, “Qaeda Now Relying on Punjabi Taliban Instead of Pashtuns,” The Nation, February 24, 2014.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ahmed.

[33] Tarakzai.

[34] Rana.

[35] Ibid.

[36] The TTP Gandapur group is associated with the central TTP and they operate in Kolachi and other neighboring areas of Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

[37] Muhammad Irfan Mughal, “Shadowy Groups Claim Killing KP Minister,” Dawn, October 20, 2013.

[38] Amir Mir, “Ansarul Mujahideen is Part and Parcel of TTP,” The News International, March 6, 2014.

[39] Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Anti-Drone Militant Group Claims Parachinar Twin Blasts,” Dawn, July 27, 2013.

[40] Ibid.

[41] “Pakistan Jailbreak: Taliban Free 248 in Dera Ismail Khan,” BBC, July 30, 2013.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Mughal.

[44] Zulfiqar Ali, “Act of Revenge: Ansarul Mujahideen Claims Responsibility of Wana Blast,” Express Tribune, October 13, 2013.

[45] Nazar ul Islam, “Militants Warn Khan, Haq Against Police Campaign,” Newsweek Pakistan, December 19, 2013.

[46] Mir.

[47] Khan, “Spoilers in the Game.”

[48] Daud Khattak, ‘Taliban Turf Wars Block Peace,” Foreign Policy, March 5, 2014; Mehreen Zahra-Malik, “Violent Splinter Groups Mars Peace Deal with Pakistan Taliban,” Reuters, March 7, 2014.

[49] Tarakzai.

[50] These details are based on an official press release sent to this author from Azam Tariq, the spokesman of the TTP Waliur Rehman faction, on May 28, 2014.

[51] Zahra-Malik.

[52] Personal interview, Raees Ahmed, Karachi-based security analyst, May 23, 2014.

[53] Khattak.

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