On May 29, 2013, just before dawn,  villagers in North Waziristan Agency heard the sound of a drone aircraft, quickly followed by a large explosion.[1] Minutes later, they watched as a convoy of armed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants rushed to a training compound recently established by mid-ranking TTP commander Fakhar-ul-Islam in Chashmapul village, less than six miles from Miran Shah.[2] It emerged that a U.S. drone strike killed TTP commander Fakhar-ul-Islam, and two other militants, Naseer-ud-Din and Aadil, both believed to be ethnic Uzbeks.[3]

For the first few days after the bombing, there were questions about the identity of a fourth body found in the compound, which was quickly recovered by the TTP and moved to an undisclosed location. The fourth body was later revealed to be the second-in-command of the TTP and chief of the TTP’s South Waziristan faction, Waliur Rahman Mehsud.

This article examines Waliur Rahman and his TTP faction, profiles Rahman’s successor, and reveals the implications of his death. It finds that Rahman’s death marks a victory for the United States, as his successor may not be as popular or effective among TTP rank-and-file. Nevertheless, Rahman’s successor is perceived as less moderate and is a proven military commander, and he may usher in a new wave of violence against the Pakistani state.

Commander Waliur Rahman’s TTP Faction
Waliur Rahman Mehsud, 42-years-old, was popularly known as “maulvi” or “mufti” because of his formal education at a madrasa (religious seminary). After the death of the TTP’s founder, Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009, it was assumed that Rahman would be his replacement.[4] The TTP’s main shura (council), however, instead approved the younger Hakimullah Mehsud to be the TTP’s top leader, and Rahman was appointed as Hakimullah’s deputy.[5] This leadership dispute marked the beginning of a purported rivalry between the two commanders, who belonged to the same tribe but different sub-tribes.[6]

Rahman belonged to the smaller Malkhel sub-tribe of the Mehsuds in Ladda sub-division of South Waziristan Agency.[7] His formal religious training at Jamia Islamia Imdadia in Faisalabad,[8] role as a military strategist, and leadership charisma earned him respect among TTP fighters, especially among Mehsud tribe militants.[9] Rahman was an inspiration for young TTP recruits, and a number of youth joined the movement specifically because of his leadership.[10]

Rahman cultivated close relations with the Haqqani network, played a role in ending the TTP’s differences with pro-Pakistan militant leaders such as Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the late Maulvi Nazir, and reached out to local tribal elders in attempts to earn their support.[11] According to several sources, he also dialogued with the Pakistani government over peace terms in the region.[12] Some attributed his government outreach to his past role as a junior-level local leader for Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam-Fazlur (JUI-F) political party.[13]

Rahman also diversified the TTP’s funding streams by establishing a fundraising network in Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi.[14] In Karachi, cells that report to Rahman’s faction engage in kidnap-for-ransom and extortion schemes, bank robberies, and collect bhattas (an illegal tax) from wealthy citizens.[15]

The U.S. government had offered a $5 million reward on information leading to the location of Rahman,[16] as they accused him of planning the attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008,[17] as well as helping to plot the attack on the CIA’s Camp Chapman in Khost Province in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA personnel in December 2009.[18]

Once Rahman’s TTP faction acknowledged his death, their shura announced that Khan Said, Rahman’s second-in-command, would be the new chief of their faction and thus the new second-in-command of the TTP—a decision that seemingly occurred without consultation with the TTP’s central shura body.[19]

Rahman’s Successor: Khan Said
Rahman’s successor, Khan Said, is often referred to as Sajna, which is Punjabi for “close friend.” Among younger TTP members, the 36-year-old Khan Said is popularly called “Uncle” in English.[20] Initially, it was suggested that Khan Said may have been injured in the same drone strike that killed Waliur Rahman, but it was later claimed that he was in Afghanistan at the time of the attack.[21]

Khan Said belongs to the Shabikhel clan of the Mehsud tribe and was a resident of Dwa Toi village in South Waziristan.[22] The Shabikhel is a bigger sub-tribe than Rahman’s Malkhel. According to one source, Khan Said had two wives; one is alive while the other is dead, and he has two sons and two daughters.[23] His father’s name was Muhammad Shabikhel.[24]

Khan Said was previously the TTP’s commander in Miran Shah, the headquarters of North Waziristan Agency.[25] He was Rahman’s close friend, and the deputy of his faction. He was the senior-most member of the four-member shura that decides on the affairs of Rahman’s TTP faction. The other three members of the shura include Haq Yar, Mufti Noor Wali and Sher Azam, all residents of South Waziristan.[26]

Besides playing an active role in fighting in Afghanistan, Khan Said is also a leading member of the Baitullah Karwan, a group named after the late TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud and responsible for the recruitment and training of suicide bombers.[27]

Unlike Rahman, Khan Said has no formal schooling or religious education, and he is thought to be illiterate.[28] He is, however, well-versed in matters relating to tribal customs and traditions, and familiar with the tribal jirga system.[29] An experienced fighter, Khan Said is considered extreme when it comes to his ideological and tactical orientations.[30] Unlike Rahman, who tended to pursue a more “middle path,” Khan Said has been called “merciless,” an accusation that grew from a comment he made in which he said he would kill four people for every one Taliban fighter killed.[31]

Khan Said is the mastermind behind the 2012 jailbreak in northern Pakistan where the TTP freed 400 inmates, and he was also involved in planning the 2011 attack on a key naval base in Karachi.[32]

Implications for the Future
If TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud is best known for his ruthless attacks inside Pakistan, Waliur Rahman’s image was of a leader who focused more on Afghanistan and remained flexible about peace talks with Pakistani authorities.[33] Among Pakistani government circles, this earned him the distinction of being relatively “moderate.” As a result, Pakistan’s government might consider Rahman’s death a setback. In the wake of his killing, for example, the TTP withdrew their offer of peace talks and warned that they would avenge Rahman’s death. This increases the risk of an escalation of violent attacks in Pakistan.

Rahman’s death will likely mark a serious blow to the TTP, despite his faction’s occasional differences with Hakimullah Mehsud. Rahman was able to rally the Mehsud Taliban, and his faction developed a fundraising network in Karachi.[34] While Khan Said will likely keep these operations in place, it is unclear whether his lack of formal education and literacy will have a detrimental effect on some of the faction’s more sophisticated operations.[35]

The appointment of Khan Said by the four-member shura of Mehsud Taliban without consultation with the central TTP leadership might also be a sign of internal differences between the two factions. When TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan confirmed Rahman’s death, he said that the TTP’s 40-member shura body—which is distinct from the Rahman faction’s smaller shura—was in the process of appointing a new deputy to Hakimullah Mehsud. This could mark a possible source of tension, as the Mehsud Taliban who operated under Rahman already announced that Khan Said “automatically replaces Waliur Rahman after the latter’s killing on May 29.”[36] Ehsan, however, did not mention the decision of the four-member shura.

Nevertheless, the Pakistani government is unlikely to find an ally in Khan Said. According to one source close to the TTP, Khan Said, unlike Rahman, is believed to be against peace talks with the Pakistani government, which is more in line with Hakimullah’s position.[37]

Waliur Rahman’s death might mark a significant blow to the TTP. He was a veteran strategist, an experienced commander and popular among his colleagues and young Mehsud militants. His knowledge of Islamic teachings and past relationship with TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud earned him the respect of fellow militants. Although his faction has attempted to maintain continuity by quickly appointing a successor, it may be difficult for the illiterate Khan Said to fill Rahman’s shoes.[38]

If the TTP’s central shura supports the appointment of Khan Said, which appears likely, then the Taliban’s continuity will likely be maintained in the near future. Only time, however, will reveal whether Khan Said proves to be just as effective as Waliur Rahman.

Daud Khattak is Senior Editor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Mashaal Radio in Prague. Before joining the Pashto language service of RFE/RL, Mr. Khattak worked for the Sunday Times London, The News International and the Daily Times in Peshawar and Pajhwok Afghan News in Kabul. He wrote a research paper for the New America Foundation on the roots of insurgency in Pakistan’s Swat region. The paper was recently republished by Oxford University Press in Talibanistan.

[1] These details are drawn from an account provided to this author from a resident of Chashmapul village, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.; Shaan Khan and Joe Sterling, “Top Militant Killed in Pakistan Drone Strike,” CNN, May 29, 2013.

[4] Baitullah Mehsud was also killed in a U.S. drone strike.

[5] After Baitullah’s death, a number of TTP leaders wanted Rahman to become his successor. This was mainly due to Rahman’s close ties to Baitullah, his religious knowledge and age. The TTP’s central shura, however, instead decided that the younger Hakimullah Mehsud would be the TTP’s new leader. See Reza Jan, “The King is Dead, Long Live the King: Hakimullah Mehsud Takes Power in the TTP,” American Enterprise Institute, September 8, 2009; Mukhtar A. Khan, “A Profile of the TTP’s New Leader: Hakimullah Mehsud,” CTC Sentinel 2:10 (2009). For more on the rivalry, see “Waliur Rehman: From Madrassa Teacher to Taliban Commander,” Express Tribune, May 30, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Personal interview, Lal Wazir, journalist based in North Waziristan Agency, May 2013.

[8] He also served as a madrasa teacher after finishing his religious education in 1996. See Mansur Khan Mahsud, “The New, New Face of the Pakistani Taliban?” The AfPak Channel, April 30, 2010.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Personal interview, Umar Daraz Wazir, Bannu-based journalist, May 2013; personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

[11] Mark Mazzetti and Declan Walsh, “Pakistan Says U.S. Drone Killed Taliban Leader,” New York Times, May 29, 2013; personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013.

[12] Personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013; personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

[13] Soon after the May 11, 2013, election in Pakistan, the TTP reciprocated with a positive statement in response to an offer of peace talks by leaders of different political parties. The mainstream party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif requested Maulana Fazlur Rahman for help in approaching the TTP. Waliur Rahman was previously a local leader of Maulana Fazlur’s JUI-F party.

[14]  Mahsud.

[15] Zia Ur Rehman, “The Pakistani Taliban’s Karachi Network,” CTC Sentinel 6:5 (2013).

[16] Ismail Khan and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, “Hints of a Rift After Pakistani Taliban Deputy’s Death,” New York Times, May 30, 2013.

[17] Ibid.; Abubakar Siddique, “The Potential Fallout Of A Pakistani Militant’s Death,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 17, 2013.

[18] “Waliur Rehman Dead: Pakistan Taliban No. 2 Reportedly Killed In U.S. Drone Strike,” Associated Press, May 29, 2013.

[19] Khan and Mehsud.

[20] Personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.; Nasir Khan, “Waliur Rehman Killing Confirmed! TTP Names Khan Said New Chief in S. Waziristan,” News Tribe, May 30, 2013.

[23] Personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

[29] “Sources: Pakistani Taliban Chooses New Second-In-Command,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 30, 2013.

[30] Personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013.

[31] Ibid.

[32] “Sources: Pakistani Taliban Chooses New Second-In-Command”; “Pakistani Taliban Appoint New Deputy after US Drone Strike,” Guardian, May 30, 2013.

[33] Personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013; personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

[34] Rehman.

[35] Personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

[36] Personal interview, individual with knowledge about the Taliban who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, May 2013.

[37] Ibid.; personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

[38]  Personal interview, Sailab Mehsud, journalist, May 2013.

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