Q+A: Al Qaeda’s relationship with Pakistan’s Taliban

By Chris Allbritton

ISLAMABAD (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. officials say Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old Pakistani-American accused of attempting to bomb Times Square, has admitted to training in North Waziristan with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Until now, most analysts thought the TTP had mostly confined its attacks to targets in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda, however, has endorsed and heavily influenced the TTP and its two leaders, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, leading analysts and investigators to think Osama bin Laden’s organization is pushing the Pakistani militants to conduct its operations.

WHAT IS THE TTP?

The TTP was formed in December 2007 as an alliance of Pakistani militant groups to attack the Pakistani state. It believes the government is illegitimate because it is helping NATO and the Americans in Afghanistan. The alliance was bolstered by Islamabad’s assault on the Red Mosque earlier that year, in which Pakistani security forces raided the compound in the heart of the capital, enraging Islamists across the country. Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader from South Waziristan, emerged as the alliance’s leader and quickly used the TTP to wrest large swathes of territory in the border area from the Pakistani state, stretching from South Waziristan to Swat northwest of Islamabad.

Hakimullah Mehsud rose to power after Baitullah was killed in a drone attack in August 2009. He launched a wave of suicide attacks across Pakistan that claimed hundreds of lives before the Pakistani army invaded South Waziristan and scattered the TTP’s forces. The TTP fell back to North Waziristan in apparent disarray, and Hakimullah Mehsud was believed killed in a strike by a pilotless U.S. drone in January.

But he survived — as did the TTP — and there are emerging signs the alliance is regrouping in Swat and other tribal areas.

WHAT IS THE STATE OF AL QAEDA?

After al Qaeda and the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan by U.S.-led forces in 2001, al Qaeda regrouped in North Waziristan under the protection of the Haqqani network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an old ally of bin Laden’s. While the command structure of al Qaeda has been smashed by a combination of military actions and drone strikes, its leaders bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large and influential.

Washington think tank the New America Foundation says more than half of all serious jihadist plots against Western targets were directed from Pakistan, with al Qaeda directly involved in about 38 percent of them.

Al Qaeda also provides suicide bombers for the Haqqani network to use in Afghanistan, including the Jordanian double agent who killed seven CIA employees near Khost, Afghanistan, in December. Hakimullah Mehsud appeared alongside the bomber in a video released after that attack, indicating a close link between Haqqani’s group, al Qaeda and the TTP.

WHAT IS THE TTP-AL QAEDA CONNECTION?

After the Red Mosque incident, al-Zawahiri, bin Laden and Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al Qaeda operative, all released statements condemning Pakistan’s government and urging the Pakistani people to rebel. Al Qaeda said the Pakistani army was a foreign, infidel force because of its cooperation with the United States and NATO, and resisting it was necessary for all Muslims as “defensive jihad.”

Since then, Zawahiri has attacked the Pakistani state at its most fundamental level, saying its parliament and constitution are un-Islamic and rejecting the foundation of Pakistan as an Islamic state. This argument is widely accepted by the TTP and other anti-Pakistan militants.

But if the TTP and other groups depend on al Qaeda for ideological guidance, al Qaeda depends on them for sanctuary in the Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border. This proximity has led to al Qaeda becoming a “force multiplier” for the TTP, according to Anne Stenersen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Oslo.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THEIR JOINT CAPABILITY?

It expands the TTP’s capability by plugging them into the global jihadist network al Qaeda helped inspire and expand. In addition to a vision for global jihad, or holy war, al Qaeda provides expertise and propaganda as well as acting as an adviser and negotiator between rival militant groups.

With its ability to “infect” militant groups that had previously kept their grievances local, al Qaeda can increase the TTP’s danger to the West by convincing it to think globally, and then encouraging and training it to act.

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(Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait)

Q+A: Al Qaeda’s relationship with Pakistan’s Taliban