[pullquote]From August 2014 to date, Jamaat ul Ahrar has been found involved in 116 terrorist attacks in Pakistan
Since its establishment in 2014, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has proved to be a lethal terrorist group, by perpetrating some of the most brutal attacks in Pakistan. While the leadership is currently based out of Afghanistan, Ahrar has networks in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas, as well as support structures in others parts of the country.
The militant outfit is the brainchild of Omar Khalid Khorasani — an ambitious Taliban commander and a former member of the Pakistani Taliban’s Shura – who parted ways with the Taliban after they pursued peace talks with the government.
From August 2014 to date, the group has been found involved in 116 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, against diverse targets ranging from security forces, tribal elders, and minorities to sectarian communities.
Last year, Ahrar launched an operation titled “al-Raad” (Thunder). Shortly after, it orchestrated attacks on the Charsadda University, the Christian community on Easter Day in Lahore, Quetta’s Civil Hospital, Session Courts in Mardan and on an FC camp in Mohmand Agency.
Earlier this month, it launched “Operation Ghazi”, and has since planned and executed eight gun and bomb attacks.
The group’s strategy, it seems, is to employ back-to-back attacks, to create more impact and panic, rather than long intervolved attacks.
In the last few years, the Pakistani Taliban’s seemingly weakening capabilities has strengthened Ahrar, although the group has a tendency to accommodate new ideological, political, and operational trends.
Khorasani is among the ideologues of the tribal Taliban movement; he also worked as an editor of the Taliban’s quarterly magazine Ihya-e-Khilafat. Previously, he was associated with several Pakistan-based militant organisations, including the banned Harkatul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Muhammad.
For the young leader, the siege of the Red Mosque was a turning point. (He even renamed a mosque in his native village Ghaziabad in Mohmand Agency after it in 2007).
For Khorasani, the siege of the Red Mosque was a turning point.
Soon, Khorasani took up arms against the state and killed pro-Afghan Taliban commander Shah Khalid in 2008.
Both Daesh and Ahrar are products of the same narrative. Khorasani and his close aide, Omer Asim, who later went on to become the head of the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), reportedly disagreed with the strategies of the global and regional militant leaderships. The men were instead heavily influenced by extremist strategist, Abu Bakr Naji and Abu Musab al-Suri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Naji’s published work includes, “The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass,” compiles lessons learned from previous extremist initiatives, as well as proposes a future direction for the movement. While, Suri’s 1,600-page book, “The Call to a Global Islamic Resistance,” which both men have read, advocates ‘leaderless jihad’ and strategies such employ lone-wolf attacks.
In 2014, when Daesh announced the establishment of a so-called Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Ahrar was expected to be one of the first groups to declare allegiance. Yet, surprisingly it wasn’t. Instead, Taliban commanders from the Orakzai Agency of FATA swore fealty to Daesh. Although, these commanders were allies of Ahrar they were known to be more sectarian in nature. It was easy for them to join the ultra-sectarian international movement, especially at a time when their parent group, the Pakistani Taliban, was facing an internal crisis.
In 2014, Daesh announced establishment of a so-called Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But Jamaat-ul-Ahrar did not immediately pledge allegiance.
Later it emerged that the Jamaat ul Ahrar leadership was wavering between the Afghan Taliban-Al Qaeda alliance and Daesh. It was difficult for Ahrar to maintain ties with two rivals, Al-Qaeda and Daesh, at the same time, while remaining loyal to the Afghan Taliban.
In the meantime, the Orakzai-based Taliban commanders, by declaring allegiance to Daesh, were also able to capture the title of Khorasan. Previously, Ahrar had reserved the title for itself, claiming to be the first troops of the ‘Islamic State of Khorasan’. They believe that the time has come for the establishment of an ‘Islamic state’ in this region, comprising of parts of Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Khorasani aspires to make his group part of a broader Khorasan movement, which is why it is interesting to note that Ahrar has been cautious not to associate itself with one terror group. While it welcomed the establishment of Daesh, it also accepted Ayman al-Zawahiri’s extension of al-Qaeda in South Asia. Ahrar’s acceptance of al-Qaeda in its region could also be due to Asim’s appointment as the head of the new group.
Khorasani’s decision to not join either the AQIS or Daesh has raised its credibility in militant circles as an independent entity. Although, he is still the man most sought out by militant groups to unify them at times of disagreement.
—Muhammad Amir Rana is a security and political analyst and the director of the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies
Published in geo.tv