Jamaat ul-Ahrar: The New Face of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan

Farhan Zahid

The number of terrorist acts in settled districts of Pakistan has taken a nose dive in the last few months. It appears that an ongoing military operation (Operation Zarb-e-Azb) has taken its toll on terrorists based primarily in North Waziristan and more generally in the whole of the tribal areas of Pakistan. The operation may have an impact on the diminishing number of terrorist acts, but the real reason seems to be the split of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) into two major factions.

The emergence of Jamaat ul-Ahrar is the latest development in the factional infighting inside the TTP. Key TTP commanders who have joined hands with Jamaat ul-Ahrar and become part of its shura (consultative council) are Qari Shakil Haqqani from Charsadda, Maulana Yasin from Swat, Mufti Mishbah from Peshawar districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, Qari Ismail from Khyber district, Maulana Abdullah from Bajaur district, and Maulana Haider and Mansoor Nazim from the Orakzai district of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (Dawn [Karachi], August 26, 2014).



A Battle for Leadership

The split was overdue as key commanders had developed major differences over getting control of the tribal districts. Fierce clashes erupted between militants loyal to Khalid Mehsud (a.k.a. Sajna) and Sheryar Mehsud over control of South Waziristan. TTP Amir Maulana Fazlullah was impatient to prove his iron grip over the TTP and immediately sacked Khalid Mehsud before appointing Khalid Haqqani as the new commander of South Waziristan district. The TTP shura refused to endorse Fazlullah’s decision, leading to fragmentation (The News [Islamabad], May 29, 2014).

In fact, the TTP started to fragment right after the death of its former Emir, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a drone attack in South Waziristan last December. The TTP’s supreme shura council met several times to decide on a new Emir. Shura members reluctantly agreed on the name of Fazlullah, the notorious head of the TTP-affiliated Tehrik-e-Nizam Shariat-e-Mohammadi. Supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar is believed to have put his weight behind Fazlullah, leading to his selection as the new Emir of the TTP. Unlike previous TTP Emirs (namely Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud), Fazlullah belongs to the Mingora district of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province.

Since the TTP is an agglomerate of 27 to 40 Taliban groups based in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the Emir is traditionally from the tribal areas, the selection of Fazlullah became a bone of contention from the very beginning among other group leaders vying for the slot. The TTP was founded by Mehsudi tribesmen in August 2007 with Baitullah Mehsud as its first Emir. As the TTP is still Mehsud and Wazir dominated, it was difficult for both Mehsud and Wazir tribesmen to appoint a non-Mehsud and non-Wazir Emir who is not even from the tribal areas. It was more or less like a non-Arab commanding al-Qaeda Central.

In this image taken from a video recording, Pakistan Taliban commander, gives an interview in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal regionOmar Khalid Khorasani

Another important issue surfaced with the formation of Jamaat ul-Ahrar by the TTP commander of Mohmand district, Omar Khalid Khorasani (a.k.a. Abdul Wali). Khorasani belongs to the Safi tribe of Mohmand district. During his long tenure as TTP commander of the district and in the absence of a strong TTP Emir in Waziristan, Khorasani announced his own faction, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, in September 2014. Khorasani accused Fazlullah and his allied commanders of deviating from the TTP ideology. Fazlullah, who was in Afghanistan and missed the shura council’s meetings, slammed Khorasani’s decision and called him a traitor and deviator. He said Khorasani was “conspiring against the Emirates of Afghanistan Emir Mullah Muhammad Omar, and [had] links to shadowy militant organizations.” All Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan regard Mullah Omar as the ceremonial head of the Taliban and pledge allegiance to his authority, though virtually all act independently (Dawn [Karachi], September 7, 2014). Khorasani managed to lure both the newly emerged Punjabi Taliban branch Ahara ul-Hind, involved in the Islamabad Court Complex attack in June 2014 and led by Qasim Khorasani, and Junad-e-Hafza, another shadowy organization based in Punjab. Ahrar ul-Hind has now merged with Jamaat ul-Ahrar (Newsweek Pakistan, September 2014).

The split has had a major impact on the conduct of terrorist operations in settled districts of Pakistan. TTP commanders in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, Punjab province and the southern port city of Karachi have had to decide whether to side with the TTP Fazlullah faction or with the Khorasani-led Jamaat ul-Ahrar.

Khorasani has strong links with al-Qaeda and is believed to have sheltered hundreds of Arab, Uzbeks and Chinese Uyghurs in areas under his control. There is a strong possibility that al-Qaeda may favor Khorasani with his local franchise rather than Fazalullah, who may already be weighing his option to pledge allegiance to Caliph of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Jamaatul Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has already welcomed the creation of al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent by Ayman al-Zawahiri (Dawn, September 5, 2014). On the other hand, TTP-Fazalullah spokesman Shahidullah Shahid appeared to have leaning towards the Islamic State:

From the very beginning, when the Islamic State did not exist, we are helping and supporting the Mujahideen of Iraq and Syria. Our group [TTP] had sent between 1,000 and 1,500 fighters to the (Middle Eastern) region so far. We are with you in these hard times and will help you as much as possible. We advise you to be patient and determined at such a hard time and stay united, as your enemies stand united against you (The News, October 6, 2014).

Apart from this development, the TTP has distributed pamphlets and did wall chalking in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, leaving messages encouraging Muslims to join hands with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State. The wall chalking and pamphlets are clear efforts to gear up support for the Islamic State in Pakistan, where an on-going Islamist insurgency could provide thousands of potential recruits for Islamic State’s endeavors in Syria and Iraq. According to Pakistani terrorism analyst Amir Mir: “The rise and success of the Islamic State could play an inspirational role in Pakistan where 100-plus al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Jihadi groups are currently operating” (The News, October 6, 2014).

Ideology and Links

The Khorasani faction of the TTP is known to have hard-core Islamist beliefs. Khorasani has always opposed peace talks with government. The group staunchly believes in creating an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan governed in a Wahhabi/Salafist style. Khorasani has shown his hatred for the present constitution and has at times vowed to replace it with Shari’a (The News, September 27, 2013). Jamaat ul-Ahrar’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan condemned the Nobel Award committee for choosing Malala Yousafzai for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, calling her “an agent of non-believers” (Indian Express, October 11, 2014). The Khorasani group also condemned democracy and all parties inclined towards establishing strong democratic institutions in Pakistan (Dawn [Karachi], August 26, 2014)
The Mohmand TTP, which has traditionally been headed by Omar Khalid Khorasani, is one of the strongest of the TTP-affiliated groups based in tribal areas. During his rise to power in Mohmand district, Khorasani had to face the Shah Khalid group, a formidable enemy whom he successfully defeated after fierce battles in 2008. Afterwards Khorasani became the undisputed warlord of Mohmand district.

Khorasani managed to hold back successive military operations against his group in 2010. Operation Brekhna (Thunder) was launched by the Pakistani Army and Frontier Corp to flush out Khorasni’s group in Mohmand. Khorasani, aided by his right hand Qari Shakeel, successfully held back the military onslaught and at a later stage took refuge in Afghanistan, salvaging his forces. The Khorsani forces regained all control after the withdrawal of the military from tactical strongholds. In one brutal assault, the Khorasani-led militants kidnapped and beheaded 23 personnel of the Frontier Corps in 2010. Khorasani was also the first of Pakistan’s jihadists to denounce the Lal Masjid operation (Red Mosque military operation in 2007, a.k.a. Operation Silence) and vowed to take revenge.

The Khorasani faction has spread tentacles in settled districts as far as Karachi. The most recent terrorist attack launched in January by Khorasani-affiliated militants in Karachi was the assassination of Superintendent of Police Mohammad Aslam Khan in a suicide bombing. Several earlier attempts on the life of Khan by other Taliban factions were unsuccessful, including one that completely destroyed his house and resulted in the death of six police officers. Khan was known for his anti-TTP stance and conducted scores of operations against TTP strongholds in peripheral areas of Karachi in the last five years. At least 40 TTP leaders and rank and file were killed in Khan-led operations in Karachi.
Now heading his own faction, Khorasani will attempt to appeal to more TTP factions based in Karachi’s Pashtun-dominated suburbs, as the cosmopolitan city offers more opportunities for extortion from traders and businessmen than the tribal areas and other parts of Pakistan. Khorasani also has a base in Islamabad’s slums, where many of the militants relocated during military operations in 2010. The Khan-koh suburb of Islamabad is now home to hundreds of TTP militants involved in extortion and kidnappings in Islamabad and the neighboring Rawalpindi district.


With the announcement of the Islamic State in areas the militant Islamist group has carved out of the war-torn Iraq and Syrian states, the jihadi global perspective is about to shift to a new paradigm. The surfacing of Jamaat ul-Ahrar from the TTP’s wings showcases the change of course by Pakistani Islamist militants. Al-Qaeda, which used to define the course of action for Pakistani militant groups, now appears to be losing ground to the Islamic State. Al-Qaeda ideologues now have to compete with their own splinter group (IS, formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq) in obtaining the confidence of Islamist groups in Pakistan. It seems that al-Qaeda is already on course to accept the Islamic State’s challenge. The establishment of a new al-Qaeda branch, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is one step in reasserting the group’s desire to dominate the Pakistani jihad scene. Jamaat ul-Ahrar, composed of seasoned jihadis like Omar Khalid Khorasani, would definitely weigh their options before joining hands with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. At the moment, the possibility of joining the Islamic State appears to be less significant as al-Qaeda already has a developed network in Pakistan. Joining the Islamic State would provide more coverage in terms of media attention; on the other hand al-Qaeda will have to reinvigorate itself for staying on course.

The Author

Farhan Zahid earned his Ph.D. in Counter Terrorism Studies from the University of Brussels, Belgium. Dr. Zahid has authored more than 20 research papers and articles. He writes on counter-terrorism, al-Qaeda, Pakistani al- Qaeda-linked groups, Islamist violent non-state actors in Pakistan, jihadi Ideologies and the Afghan Taliban.

The preceding is a guest contribution to Aberfoyle International Security (AIS) and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of AIS.

Afghanistan’s Taliban Declare Victory as Peace Initiatives Get Under Way

Andrew McGregor

January 26, 2012

The opening of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan office in Qatar as the first step in a Qatar-backed Afghan reconciliation process has been interpreted by the Taliban as a sign of the movement’s “victory” in Afghanistan. A January 15 statement entitled: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: Formal Proclamation of Islamic Emirate’s Victory” said the development had “proved to the world that the Islamic Emirate is deeply rooted internally in the Afghan nation and externally in the whole Islamic Ummah. Militarily successful resistance against a gigantic international alliance, full presence on the whole soil and overall perseverance are the signs and secrets of the Islamic Emirate.”  (Ansar1.info, January 15).

Islamic Emirate of AfghanistanAccording to the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate has overcome “the claims of Karzai and America” and demonstrated it is “a well-organized political power besides being a political power… The Afghans and Taliban are not a trivial phenomenon but an ideological and national movement which should be acknowledged as a political fact.”

The Taliban used the statement to express their pleasure with the choice of Qatar for the opening of a formal office, noting that Qatar has balanced relations “with all sides and a prestigious status in the Islamic world.” The movement outlined why several alternatives would be less desirable; Pakistan (referred to here only as a “neighboring country”) would have allowed the Karzai regime to continue its propaganda efforts to describe the Taliban as being under the control of Pakistan’s security services; Saudi Arabia was out of the question due to its close bilateral relationship with Pakistan, and Turkey was also unsuitable due to its membership in NATO. Some reports state the United States is considering a proposal to allow five Taliban leaders to leave confinement at Guantanamo Bay for Qatar as a confidence-building measure (The Nation [Lahore], January 24; January 25).

Another Taliban statement responded to images circulated in the Western media of U.S. troops urinating on the bodies of recently killed Taliban fighters by calling for the UN and other human rights organizations to bring an end to “such inhumane acts” (Shahamat.com, January 13). The statement charged American soldiers with committing torture, abusing the Quran, killing women and children and desecrating the dead, alleging that these were “only a small fraction of the crimes which are perpetrated by the American soldiers.” The statement concluded by warning U.S. troops would have to face “the consequences of such actions and will have to confront the extra wrath and hatred of the Afghan masses.”

While the Taliban proclaims victory in its struggle against U.S. and NATO forces, there are signs that U.S. authorities have begun a wider effort to initiate peace talks with all the major insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan. Dr. Ghairat Baheer, a representative of Afghan warlord and former U.S. ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has reported having talks on behalf of Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami movement with CIA director General David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. Marines General John Allen (AP, January 25; The Nation, January 24). Hekmatyar has been a U.S. “specially designated global terrorist” since 2003.

There are also reports that the United States is exploring the possibility of including the notorious Haqqani Network in the peace talks. Working in close alliance with the Taliban, the cross-border Haqqani Network has been identified as a major threat to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan (Express Tribune [Karachi], January 9; AP, January 25). Earlier this month, the UN added the names of two Haqqani Network members to its list of proscribed Taliban associates; Fazi Rabi, a Haqqani Network financier involved organizing suicide attacks, and Ahmed Jan Wazir, described as a key commander in the network and a deputy to Sirajuddin Haqqani (United Nations, January 6, 2012: www.politsei.ee/dotAsset/215627.pdf).

This article first appeared in the January 26, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Taliban Condemns President Karzai on U.S.-Run Prison and Continued Night Raids

Andrew McGregor

January 12, 2012

Bagram Air BaseBagram Air Base

A recent statement issued by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) has criticized Afghan president Hamid Karzai for his dependence on a small number of warlords to maintain power and his subsequent inability to combat corruption or assert Afghanistan’s sovereignty. [1]

[Karzai] speaks of national sovereignty and of the welfare of people but practically, we see that there are thousands of Afghan detainees who have been suffering in the Bagram Air Base and other American bases now for years, and without a trial. But this does not prick his conscience to feel the need of a national sovereignty!

On the same day as the Taliban statement was released, President Karzai announced the creation of an investigative commission to look in to the Bagram issue while issuing a demand that control of the U.S.-run prison be turned over to the Afghan government within 30 days (al-Jazeera, January 5). However, one Afghan daily suggested that national authorities are incapable at this time of taking control of Bagram Prison or similar facilities based on their record in recent years:

Mass escape of prisoners- most of them Taliban prisoners – from Kandahar prison, escape of a number of dangerous prisoners from Pol-e Charkhi prison, strikes and riots in different prisons of the country including in Pol-e Charkhi prison, increase of prisoner numbers in the country, lack of sufficient environment for keeping inmates, [lack of] legal professional capabilities of prison guards in Afghanistan, the overwhelming problems in regards to handling of prisoners cases, all these reveal the capabilities of the Afghan government in maintaining and controlling prisoners (Daily Afghanistan [Kabul], January 7).

Bagram is the largest U.S. run detention center in Afghanistan, with over 1,000 prisoners, though only a minority of these have been charged. Though both Karzai and the Taliban have identified U.S. control of the facility as a national sovereignty issue, there are fears that mass breakouts of Taliban prisoners might follow an exchange of control (Tolo TV [Kabul], January 9).

Karzai was also condemned in the Taliban statement for failing to prevent the night raids “conducted by the invaders, noting that even members of the administration and family members had been killed or harmed during night raids. Karzai actually began to demand an end to night-raids by NATO forces in December, 2011, but received a negative response from U.S. and NATO officials, who described the night-raids as an efficient, low casualty method of rounding up suspected militants (Khaama Press [Kabul], January 8; AP, December 19, 2011).

The Taliban used the statement to describe the Kabul government as one where corruption “is at its climax. It is apt to say that bribery and drug trafficking have become part and parcel of the daily life of the venal officials of the government. Obviously, this is the result of the Karzai mismanagement of governance…”

According to the Taliban, Karzai’s willingness to do the bidding of warlords and other corrupt individuals is preventing his administration from playing an independent or constructive role in providing a solution to the occupation of Afghanistan: “Though he has tried to deceive the people by pleasant and emotional assertions… the people have now come to know his anti-Islamic and anti-national intentions…” With increasing indications that the United States is now prepared to negotiate directly with the Taliban, it seems likely that Karzai’s demands are part of an effort to reassert his influence and prevent his exclusion from peace talks.


  1. “Karzai’s Anti-National and Pro-Warlord Demeanor,” Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, January 5, 2012.

This article first appeared in the January 12, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.


Taliban Spokesman Says Loya Jirga Reveals the Invaders “Sinister Objective” to Occupy Afghanistan

Andrew McGregor

December 15, 2011

In a recent interview with a Taliban-run news agency, Afghan Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi provided an official response to the recent Kabul Loya Jirga (Grand Council) that approved a continued American military presence in Afghanistan as well as an assessment of the Taliban’s struggle against NATO forces in various regions of the country. [1]

The four-day Loya Jirga produced a nearly unanimous vote in favor of a strategic agreement with the United States that would permit the continued presence of American military bases in Afghanistan after the scheduled pull-out of U.S. forces in 2014. There were, however, conditions attached, including an end to night raids on residential housing, the closure of all prisons operated by foreign forces and accountability to the Afghan justice system for Americans who commit crimes in Afghanistan (Khaama Press [Kabul], November 19).

The Taliban spokesman suggested that the Loya Jirga decision would actually play into the Taliban’s hands: “The people have realized that the invaders are here for sinister objectives. They want to endanger our religion, prestige and other sanctities at the hands of a few traitors and corrupt agents. They want to keep us as an occupied nation and impose their own systems upon us.”

Given the Loya Jirga’s decision, the Taliban spokesman was asked how long the Taliban will continue to fight against a foreign military presence: “Jihad is a religious obligation upon us. We have no specified time framework for it. When the need for Jihad is ceased, the war will naturally come to an end. It totally depends on the invaders.”

ISAF Regional Command – North

The Taliban spokesman also offered an assessment of the military situation in the southern and northern operational theaters:

  • In the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, the site of some of the war’s fiercest clashes, the spokesman admits the Taliban have been driven out of some areas, but attributes this to the occupiers’ complete destruction of orchards and houses in these districts. Otherwise he denies NATO claims that the Taliban are restricted to limited areas in the south of these provinces, insisting that foreign forces are confined to their bases in urban centers while the Taliban conduct attacks throughout the rest of the region at will. Qari Yusuf suggests the inaccurate perception of the situation in the southern provinces is partly due to “the absence of free international media” to observe and report Taliban activities accurately. While attributing this absence to threats against journalists by internal and external secret services, this complaint from an official spokesman demonstrates the Taliban’s growing appreciation for the value of the media in the struggle for Afghanistan. The movement once known for smashing televisions now manages a website in five languages, Twitter and Facebook accounts, radio stations, magazines and a video production company that posts its work on YouTube (Express Tribune [Karachi], December 1).
  • In the northern provinces, particularly Kunduz, a decrease in Taliban activity is blamed on the reluctance of the “mostly non-American” NATO garrisons there “who are fed up with this war” to venture far from their bases, thus reducing the opportunities for Taliban operations. Nonetheless, Qari Yusuf says the Taliban is continuing to increase its presence in the north. The Kunduz Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) is one of five PRTs that come under ISAF’s Regional Command-North. With Germany as the lead nation, PRT-Kunduz includes German, Belgian, Armenian and American troops.

Qari Yusuf summed up the rationale behind the Taliban’s continued commitment to a military resolution in Afghanistan rather than entering into political negotiations:

We can never tolerate foreign invasion in our country. We want the strict implementation of Islamic rules and regulations. We want Islamic brotherhood and unity among the countrymen. We want cordial relation with the world on the basis of Islamic principles where no one is harmed. But the enemy is extending the occupation and is dreaming for a prolonged subjugation of our country. In these circumstances we are compelled to insist on a military solution rather than political one because the enemy is not ready to leave our country… and to solve the disputed issues by political negotiations.

Qari Yusuf also stressed that the Taliban’s operational flexibility is a factor in its favor: “When we notice that the public and the mujahideen are both under pressure, simultaneously we open new fronts in other villages and districts. In the same way if one zone is under pressure, we have increased our activities in other zones… We have entered a new phase in the war where we have been able to inflict heavy losses on the enemy and have significantly reduced our own.”


  1. Afghan Islamic News Agency, “Interview of the Spokesman of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Ansar1.info, December 4, 2011.

This article first appeared in the December 15, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.


Taliban Reject American Perceptions of the Haqqani-ISI Relationship

Andrew McGregor

October 14, 2011

Following a series of high-level meetings between American and Pakistani security and military figures related to the operations of the notorious Haqqani Network in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the leadership of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has released a statement denouncing what it perceives as an American attempt to detach the Haqqani Network from the Taliban command in the interests of creating divisions within the movement.  The statement is also critical of American suggestions that the Haqqani Network has close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the latter agency long suspected of having close ties to the Taliban and various other Islamist militant groups active in Kashmir and in the tribal agencies of Pakistan’s northwest frontier. The Taliban consider this an attempt to “attribute the decisive and staggering attacks by Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate to the neighboring country of Pakistan” (ansar1.info, September 27).

Jalaluddin Haqqani

The Taliban assert that the success of their summer “Badr” offensive was so successful that it forced many Coalition partners to reassess their participation in the Afghanistan conflict. Afghanistan’s government claimed from the beginning that “Badr” was coordinated with the ISI (Tolo News [Kabul], May 28). According to the Taliban statement, the success of this campaign revealed the true nature of the “lies and false information” spread by CIA chief General David Petraeus and others in the American command. Unwilling to attribute these victories to the Afghan Taliban, these same U.S. officials have concocted an intervention from Pakistan to explain their defeats at the hands of an enemy they claim to have weakened long ago. These unfounded allegations are meant to “deceive the members in its coalition for a bit longer.”

The Taliban are especially disturbed by American suggestions that veteran Pashtun jihadi commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is not part of the Afghan Taliban command but is rather somehow a separate force “tied to others.” The statement asserts that such efforts are designed to “give a bad name to our prominent figures by tying them to foreign intelligence… the Islamic Emirate is at its strongest and [is] unified more than it has been at any other stage… Neither are our bases in Pakistan, nor do we need residence outside of our country… The respected Jalaluddin Haqqani is [one of] the Islamic Emirate’s honorable and dignified personalities and receives all guidance for operations from the leader of the Islamic Emirate.”

The U.S. military has long been frustrated by deadly operations carried out against its troops in Afghanistan by Haqqani Network forces, which typically retire into Pakistan after finishing their operations, placing them beyond most forms of retribution by American forces.  A series of meetings in the last few weeks has been designed to goad Pakistan’s military into carrying out a major offensive against the Haqqani Network and compel the ISI to stop its support for the group (Pakistan Observer, October 10).

According to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “We cannot have the Haqqanis coming across the border attacking our forces and [Afghans] and disappearing back into a safe haven… We keep telling [the Pakistanis] you can’t choose among terrorists. If you are against terrorism, you have to be against all forms of terrorism” (Dawn [Karachi], September 22).

This article was originally published in the October 14, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Taliban Claim to Reject Use of Children as Suicide Bombers Because of Physical, Mental and Religious Deficiencies

Andrew McGregor

September 9, 2011

Afghanistan’s Taliban movement is seeking to deflect a wave of criticism surrounding its alleged use of children as suicide bombers following a public appearance by President Hamid Karzai with eight children the president said were recruited by the Taliban for “martyrdom operations.” The eight children were being sent back to their families after being rescued by national security services, while another 12 juveniles were being sent for education and reintegration programs before they are similarly returned home (Reuters, August 30).

Suicide Bomber AfghanistanAttack by Suicide Bomber, Jalalabad, Afghanistan (Reuters)

In the latest incident, a 16-year-old was detained on August 27 in the Baharak district of Badakhshan while wearing a suicide vest. The teenager was stopped while on his way to bomb a local mosque (Frontier Post [Peshawar], August 28).

A report released only days later by Human Rights Watch described “an alarming increase in recent months of suicide bombings and attempted suicide bombings by children.” According to the group’s Asia director, ““The Taliban’s use of children as suicide-bombers is not only sickening, but it makes a mockery of Mullah Omar’s claim to protect children and civilians.” [1]

In response the Taliban issued a statement describing the charges as a “ploy against the mujahideen” by an enemy that is reeling from suicide bombings that the Taliban refer to as “effective tactical enterprises.” [2] To malign this tactic, the “invaders and their internal puppets” have presented the children of employees of their spy agencies as would-be martyrdom-seekers. The movement reminds observers that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has already issued a ban on the recruitment of children in the ranks of the mujahideen. The ban is contained in Article 69 of the Taliban Code of Conduct (or Layha), an effort to impose a unified disciplinary code on Taliban fighters. [3]

The movement insists it has not faced any shortage of manpower, suggesting that there are so many volunteers for martyrdom operations that would-be suicide bombers must wait months for an opportunity to carry out “their jihadic task.”

According to the Taliban statement, there are three Shari’a-based preconditions for recruits willing to carry out martyrdom operations:

  • The volunteer’s intention “should be for the sake of Allah”
  • The volunteer should have the capability of inflicting heavy losses on the enemy
  • The volunteer should be armed with full military training and capacity.

The Taliban use the statement to reject the concept of using children as mujahideen or as martyrdom-seekers, pointing out that such use would only inhibit the success of martyrdom operations as an effective military tactic as they lack the “physical and mental capacities” and “deep Islamic knowledge and motive” necessary to bring the task to completion. 


  1. Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan: “Taliban Should Stop Using Children as Suicide Bombers,” August 31, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/08/31/afghanistan-taliban-should-stop-using-children-suicide-bombers.
  2. “Statement of the Islamic Emirate in Response to the Propaganda about Recruitment of Children in Martyrdom-seeking Attacks,” September 5, 2011.
  3. Muhammad Munir, “The Layha for the Mujahideen: an analysis of the code of conduct for the Taliban fighters under Islamic law,” International Review of the Red Cross, No. 881, March 31, 2011, http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/review-2011/irrc-881-munir.htm .

This article first appeared in the September 9, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Afghan Taliban Statement Seeks Legitimacy for Islamic Emirate

Andrew McGregor

August 4, 2011

Statements from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement have begun taking on a more diplomatic tone as the movement grows ever more confident of an eventual victory over foreign forces that are beginning to question the value of extending their deployments. A July 28 statement entitled “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: Rethinking Afghanistan” took the opportunity to jab at American fiscal sensitivities by reminding the United States that the cost of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had precipitated a “head-long descent into financial meltdown” (alemarah.net, July 28).

America’s reputation as a world leader in human rights has similarly suffered through the “gross human rights violations by American interrogators in the Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bagram jails,” as well as drone attacks and night raids “in which thousands of innocent men and women have lost their lives.”

Despite the great financial cost and the blows to America’s international reputation, the Taliban insists the American intervention in Afghanistan has succeeded only in destabilizing the region and imposing a corrupt government of former warlords who ship foreign aid funds through Kabul airport to “clandestine bank accounts.”

To bring an end to the conflict (and to further the unspoken aim of legitimizing the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic Emirate), the Taliban statement suggests the following:

  • The war in Afghanistan must be separated from the “war on terrorism,” with the Afghan mujahideen no longer being referred to as “terrorists.”
  • Afghans must be given their independence according to the UN Charter.
  • Based on its performance over the last decade, the Islamic Emirate should recognized as a political and military power.
  • Afghans should be given the right of self-determination to form an Islamic government.
  • U.S. and other foreign troops should coordinate a “face-saving” withdrawal with Taliban forces.
  • Afghanistan’s neighbors must build “an environment of cooperation and trust” with the Islamic Emirate.

In return for these steps, the Islamic Emirate pledges “as a proven military and political force” to commit to the stability of the region following the withdrawal of foreign forces.

This article was originally published in the August 4, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Afghan Taliban Condemn CIA for “Diabolic” Hacking of Their Official Website

Andrew McGregor

July 28, 2011

Various reports claiming the death of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar have emerged in the last year, all of them apparently false. The latest report of his death was the most unusual, as it appeared to originate with authentic Taliban spokesmen, the apparent victims of a concerted attempt to hack into their electronic communications devices in order to deliberately spread disinformation at a critical point in the struggle for Afghanistan. The Commission of Cultural Affairs of the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan, i.e. the Taliban] responded by issuing a “Statement of the Cultural Affairs Commission of the Islamic Emirate Regarding the Recent Shameful Attempt by the Enemy” a day after the July 20 hacking effort (alemara1.com; July 21; ansar1.info, July 21).

Zabihullah Mujahid

In the early hours of July 20, text messages began to circulate from the mobile phones of veteran Taliban spokesmen Zabihullah Mujahid and Qari Yusuf Ahmadi saying: “Leadership council of IEA [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] announces that Amir al-Mumineen [Commander of the Faithful, i.e. Mullah Omar] has passed away. May mighty God bless him.” More detailed e-mails were also sent from the movement’s official website that claimed the Taliban leader had died of a heart attack. The notice was accompanied by a long obituary and the announcement that the Mullah had been succeeded by Gul Agha, a close aide (AFP, July 20).

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS) said his agency had received no reports of the death of the Taliban leader, who has remained in hiding since being forced from the Taliban capital of Kandahar in 2001. The NDS may have been hesitant to support the latest claims, having been embarrassed in May when it spread reports that Mullah Omar had gone missing from his Quetta hideout.  A more elaborate version of this story suggested that Mullah Omar had been killed by his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) escort on May 21 while being transported from Quetta to a new hideout in North Waziristan in an operation directed by former ISI director General Hamid Gul (Tolo News [Kabul], May 23; Reuters, May 23). Both the Taliban and General Gul dismissed the report, the latter describing it as “rubbish.”

The Taliban statement on Mullah Omar’s latest “virtual death” blamed the hacking effort on the CIA, claiming the agency had hacked the Islamic Emirate’s official website alemara1.com by posting a fake announcement of Mullah Omar’s death in Pashto, English and Arabic. The announcement was also sent using the email addresses of spokesmen Zabibullah and Qari Yusuf. Text messages were sent from the spokesmen’s mobile phones through the Roshan and Afghan Wireless mobile communications companies. The work was done at night while the mobile phones of Taliban officials are usually powered off.