Major Takeaways from the TTP Rebranding

In Islamic practice, the white flag (al-Liwaa) was used by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to signify both the head of the Muslim military and the first Muslim state. In Jihadist propaganda, an identical white flag is often used along with the black flag. The white flag represents defensive and the black an offensive militant connotation. The white flag is broadly used to validate the notion of an Islamic state. The Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) raised the white flag as the official flag for their briefly proclaimed state in 2007.

The white flag has the words “La ilaha illallah” – “There is no God but Allah” – inscribed across the top in black in an Arabic script that appears to be handwritten. This verse, known as the shahada, is a declaration of faith in Islam. In addition, there is an unevenly contoured circle in the middle of the flag. Inside the circle, there are three words: “God, Messenger, Muhammed”. This circle denotes the second part of shahada: “Mohammed is God’s messenger.”

The circle is a replica of what’s known as the Seal of the Prophet, which the prophet used on the letters he sent to foreign heads of states, inviting them to join him. The use of the seal by the TTP is intended to add an impression of the same historical legitimacy to its mission.

TTP, however, adopted this flag in September 2018. Previously they had a flag, which had shahada and a sword on it. The change of flag is believed to have been rooted in the changed ideology of TTP under the leadership of Noor Wali Mehsud. Especially after they attacked Peshawar school and Bacha Khan University, they received serious backlash, resulting in the renewal of policies. This made them regroup themselves with cautionary, selected objectives.

Over the last three years, Noor Wali Mehsud has actively worked on reuniting the TTP by bringing together dismantled TTP groups and other ethnic and Islamist militants under one umbrella. His strategy has appealed to several commanders of the Sheheryar Mehsud group and a part of the Punjabi Taliban. Furthermore, the group has stated its support for Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a right-wing political and religious party known for its violent demonstrations.

The change of flag is believed to have been rooted in the changed ideology of TTP under the leadership of Noor Wali Mehsud. Especially after they attacked Peshawar school and Bacha Khan University, they received serious backlash, resulting in the renewal of policies. This made them regroup themselves with cautionary, selected objectives.

TTP’s manifesto, published on the organisation’s official website in September 2018, is primarily intended for its members. The paper is divided into 67 points, outlining TTP’s general strategy, organisation building, suicide attacks, raiding stratagems, target selection and how it deals with prisoners and traitors. The document clearly distinguishes between hard and soft targets, reassuring avoidance of attacks in public places like markets, hospitals, schools and religious seminars.

Prior to 2018, TTP had launched attacks on religious minority sects, which were declared kafir (non-believers). The current guidelines, however, come with leeway for such religious communities, asserting that no harm would be done merely based on someone’s association with a kafir entity until and unless they collaborate with the Pakistani state.

Another key change pertains to the ideological outlook of the group. In the past, the TTP has strived for establishing sharia law across Pakistan. However, the strategic shift in their ideology shows that the group redefined its tactics and restricted the locale of their ambition to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Besides, the document also specifies that military forces, government workers, judiciary, and foreign NGO’s, who are promoting obscenity, are under their radar. Prior to 2018, the TTP brutally targeted civilians across Pakistan. However, under the current leadership, the organisation’s focus has shifted to security forces which could help it attract other militant groups and splinter factions of the TTP itself. This factor has further strengthened the group.

Conclusion

Conducting numerous attacks on Pakistan’s security forces, with the maximum coming in September this year, the TTP has sent a message that the organisation has resurrected with an updated policy. The demand for a separate state in tribal areas of Pakistan by the TTP also attracted the Baloch insurgent groups operating in Balochistan against Pakistan’s security forces. The TTP’s support for the TLP’s anti-France violent rallies and opposition to the Aurat March indicates the group’s intentions of attracting religiopolitical entities in Pakistan beyond the lines of sectarian differences, such as Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamat-e-Islami (JI).

However, TTP’s new strategy will most likely fail in attracting the support of the local population and Islamist religious parties. People have seen the brutal rule of the TTP, and no such religiopolitical party can enrage the public, particularly the deep state.

Nonetheless, with Noor Wali Mehsud as its emir, the TTP has resurrected as a unified and coordinated menace for Pakistan’s internal security. In order to cope with the stated threats, Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policymakers must reevaluate and alter their policies and targets. The state must respond to the recast version of the terrorist group with a recast strategy. The inclusion of various factions of society in this strategy is of cardinal importance. Religious scholars must also play a frontline role in countering terrorism.

Bilal Zameer

Bilal Zameer has completed his bachelors in International Relations from SZABIST, Islamabad. Currently he serves as a Research Intern at the Centre of Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR).

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