What is the TTP’s real agenda?

Published: February 28, 2011
The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies Programme

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy Studies Programme

Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar, better known by the nom de guerre ‘Imam’, is dead, brutally executed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The videotape of Imam being shot and his body dragged around emerged only days ago, but reports suggest he was killed in January this year, 10 months after he was kidnapped. His death, as also the earlier killing of Khawaja, provides intriguing insights into the TTP threat and its relations with the Afghan Taliban.

The details are known but here’s a quick recap.

The story started in March last year when Imam, along with two other companions, former air force officer Khalid Khawaja and British freelance journalist Asad Qureshi, went to North Waziristan. The real reason for the visit remains a matter of debate, but the ostensible one was to do a documentary on US Predator attacks in the agency for Channel 4, which had commissioned an independent film company to shoot it. Qureshi was the media person and the two former military officers, both known to be sympathetic to the Taliban, were with him to facilitate his work and use that documentary to agitate the issue in the courts and with the public.

From Bannu they went to Mir Ali and then disappeared. A series of videotapes emerged in April last year which confirmed they were in captivity. The group that held them called itself the Asian Tigers, a front for the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ). The group’s operational head was Sabir Mehsud and the man dealing with the media and holding negotiations was Usman Punjabi, an LJ member.

Three jirgas were put together to intervene with the group and secure the release of the kidnapped men. Two of them had the backing of Taliban heavyweights. They failed and Khawaja was the first to go, shot in the head. It was amazing because it showed that some groups, affiliated with the TTP, had no regard for the Afghan Taliban even as these groups have been perpetrating violence within Pakistan on the pretext of jihad.

When I spoke with Khawaja’s son, Osama, shortly after a videotape showed his father confessing to being a “spy” and working for the ISI and the CIA, he clearly said that his father was on a mission to tell the TTP that their ranks had been penetrated by hostile agencies and they should stop attacking Pakistani interests. This was also corroborated by other sources. However, for various reasons, no one was prepared to own publicly the two former officers even as efforts were mounted to get them out.

Interestingly, the demands included not just the release of TTP terrorists but also money. At some point, Sabir, the man heading the group, thought Usman Punjabi was negotiating independent of him. He got Punjabi and his five men killed. This in turn got Hakeemullah Mehsud to send his men and kill Sabir along with his bodyguards. Their bodies were found in Razmak’s main bazaar with a letter saying Sabir was killed to avenge the death of Khalid Khawaja.

After Sabir’s killing, Col Imam and Qureshi were taken over by the TTP directly. Qureshi was released after his relatives paid a huge sum to the TTP but Imam was not released. It is intriguing that the TTP, which killed Sabir ostensibly for executing Khawaja, brutally killed Imam in January this year on charges that had nothing to do with Imam.

Interesting also is the fact that the TTP charge sheet included drone attacks and some other issues, mostly dealing with the Afghan Taliban and their struggle, even as the Afghan Taliban were trying their best to get Imam released. A number of smaller details, criminal activities, operational choices, target acquisition etcetera make analysts believe that there is something deeply amiss vis-a-vis the TTP.

The loose confederation of groups and the brutality with which they have attacked Pakistan’s interests is another issue that one has to take note of; coupled with this are multiple reports about the penetration of these groups by hostile agencies.

One thing is clear: The TTP, for all its rhetoric about the Afghan jihad, is focused on Pakistan. And in that focus it has attacked, and continues to attack, Pakistan on the pretext of Islamabad being a US ally in the war on terror. Interesting it would be to find out what the real agenda is.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Pan Mat
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:07AM

    You are missing the bigger picture of strategic depth here, Col Imam surely understood that as he faced last few seconds of his life. Even after all this analysis the objective seems to be finding a scape goat – you cannot find the right cure with wrong diagnosis.

    As long as Pak’s foreign policy is conducted by security establishment no correction in direction seems likely in near future.Recommend

  • zakria
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:12AM

    Dear Author! Nice and informative piece. Could you please tell us and give us some names as to who are these hostile agencies and how they were facilitated by people on our side to penetrate TTP?
    I wish our security agencies were busy looking deeper to uncover these sinster kind of connections rather than torturing journalists like Umar Cheema or kidnapping people in Blauchistan.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:37AM

    “Interesting it would be to find out what the real agenda is.”

    The same agenda with which Pakistani Army derails Democracy, why Mullah’s hate Democracy,etc., – Power.

    They need Power and control of Pakistan and want to spread their version of Sharia(again control).

    Also, I’d be surprised if you have discreetly suggested the support of Foreign Powers(India, Israel, US) to the TTP, forgetting the TTP is Pakistani establishment’s own child or the average reader interprets this line line as India’s/US’s/Israel’s support for TTP.Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2011 - 11:43AM

    Would you believe this theory: The deep state is financing the TTP – because in the absense any real threat from either Afghanistan, India or the US, the Deep state needs leverage to sustain the financing it gets via the budget and the US. Essentially the deep state is in constant need of an enemy – and what better enemy than one it can stage-manage. Recommend

  • Khalid Munir
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:48AM


    Pro Taliban people had been telling us all these years that Suicide Bombings are the result of Drone Attacks in which innocent people are being killed. Being pushtuns the relatives of the victims are bound to take revenge. They never answered the question that if their argument is taken as correct then why the relatives of thousand of Pushtuns killed in suicide bombing, beheading do not resort to revenge? Are they lesser Pushtuns?
    Now after Raymond Devis incident a twist is being given to call Talibans as American agents. We are treading a dangrous path. reminds me of Gen Yahya Khan knocking Russian President Padgornee’s chest with his stick, warning him to lay off from East Pakistan. We felt proud of Yahya Khan then.Recommend

  • shy
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:53AM

    Negative agenda for helpless public of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Khalid Rahim
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:57AM

    @ Ejaz Haider,
    The New World Order cannot be debated by Parliaments of developing and new emerging Nations. It has to be put into practice without raising any questions. Where obstacle are placed
    in its implementation force through act of terrorism must be enforced. Nations that raise their voice to the neocon policies must suffer the pangs through the created terrorist cells placed in
    their countries. TTP is one of the cells funded and trained to terrorize our nation with help of their proteges.Recommend

  • Shafqat Ali Khan
    Feb 28, 2011 - 12:41PM

    TTP is nothing but a group or groups of criminals get together for money. Their hidden agenda is just to collect money. They are declaring themselves as real force/power of the area. But dealing with them really required wisdom because they captivate poor and innocent tribal people by the name of Islam.

    I guess both TTP and American CIA are working on the same agenda in Pakistan which is obvious to every one at least in KPK. Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Feb 28, 2011 - 1:10PM

    Dear Ejaz, Are we to believe that the indomitable Ejaz Haider has taken the proverbial conspiratorial bait? Recommend

  • Feb 28, 2011 - 4:10PM

    Seems as if the TTP are experiencing withdrawal systems. The reality of having power is that it creates enemies and suspicions. the more the TTP grows, the more rivals and hostilities it creates amongst various other factions operating along the Durand line. They may have financial troubles but they dont need to worry about their image.There is no shortage of Pakistanis who would support their cause. Recommend

  • UmEr
    Feb 28, 2011 - 6:37PM

    This is the best article I have ever read about TTP.Recommend

  • Hassan
    Feb 28, 2011 - 6:54PM

    @ Khalid Munir, being against drone attacks is not the same as being pro taliban, the drone attacks cause a severe resentment against the goverments of both pakistan and the US there is absolutely no denying this fact. It is easier to recruit people against the goverment than it is to recruit people against a shadowy enemy such as the Taliban.

    Pushtuns are both against the US and the TTP which as the writer clearly states has an agenda which is very different from that of the Afghan Taliban. To understand some of what the US is doing in Afghanistan we need to understand what the US did in vietnam under the Phoenix Program.Recommend

  • sheikh farhan ahmed
    Feb 28, 2011 - 7:38PM

    Colonel Imam was Blessing of ALLAH.We need People like Colonel ImamRecommend

    Feb 28, 2011 - 8:16PM

    Well, a very interesting article by the writer. How this inside information was obtained by him and whether the same is factual or fake, is the main issue. Nevertheless, the killing of Col Imam who was father of Taleban movement, was a big blow to security agencies as well as the Afghan Taleban itself.
    One thing must be clear to those who create these killing machines is that, once these outfits become powerful and independent they stop taking dictation from their creaters, but kill them on the first opportunity. All these outfits have a clear agenda of ruling the country one day through anarchy and creating instability throughout the state. After Taseer’s murder, they may now be working on plan B ie finding and then brainwashing Qadir’s in security forces and agencies in order to destabilise them, which appears to be a distinct possibility since they are the main hurdle in their objective. Therefore, Pakistan is slowly but surely heading for difficult times due to flawed doctorine followed as mentioned above, which needs to be reviewed before it is too late. Recommend

  • Ben
    Feb 28, 2011 - 9:52PM

    It is decidedly not the Afghan Taliban who would attack Pakistan’s interests; it is those who are funded and equipped by Pakistan’s enemy. The very fact that they killed Imam and released the British journalist for money speaks volumes about these thugs. If they are against US they would attack US interests. How could real Taliban kill their revered guru?Recommend

  • nakamura
    Feb 28, 2011 - 10:14PM

    Interesting to know that hostile agencies ahve infiltrated TTP. How about ISI? Has they also been been infiltrated or not? If not how have they kept themselves chaste against constant lure and seduction of dollars?Recommend

  • Imran Mohammad
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:06PM

    What is TTP’s real agenda?

    Ask Leon Panetta’s secretary to pull TTP file from ‘Allies’ cabinet and read it over a cup of cappuccino ……:-)Recommend

  • observer
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:42PM

    The TTP’s agenda is to secure ‘strategic depth’ for the Afghani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan, specially so in south Punjab and Karachi. And the ISI’s agenda is to secure ‘strategic depth’ for LeT, LeJ, JeM et al in Afghanistan. So we can say they are working in tandem securing strategic depth for the operatives belonging to the different clans of the same tribe- tribe jihadi, and when they succeed in their missin we will have a united jihadistan across Af-Pak, which then will radiate to Central Asia and Parts of China.
    The fact that the TTP and ISI are working in tandem can be seen in the Kurram peace accord, ISI armtwisted the resisters in submitting to the wishes of the Haqqani network and TTP promised ‘punishment according to sharia’ to the violators.Recommend

  • Uzair Javaid
    Mar 1, 2011 - 1:21AM

    Col Imam’s BRUTAL killing is a message at a time where Davis was in prison and likely to get a sentence for murder if not espionage. They (CIA) sent out a strong message to the Pakistani premier agency that like Imam ISI would also face such brutality. While TTP is their (CIA) proxy in Pakistan, they had Col Imam killed to reiterate their existence! Recommend

  • Mar 1, 2011 - 1:19PM

    they are foreign guysRecommend

  • saeed ahmad
    Mar 1, 2011 - 4:47PM

    Regrettable…. Author should have had the courage to name the hostile agencies…

    Why exercise this useless caution? Recommend

  • Pan Mat
    Mar 2, 2011 - 1:45PM

    @sheikh farhan ahmed:

    I only hope that your wish comes true and expanded generously with the likes of rulers like Zia ul Haq. Pakistan should strive for glory of 8th century AD Islam, we should be emulating Afghanistan as the model of economic prosperity!

    Hey we may not care about honor of our women, or the lives of innocent teenagers in Sialkot and we are “eating grass” but we have strategic depth and can annihilate neighbors on the east coast if they (hypothetically) even raised their eyebrows.Recommend

  • saeed ahmad
    Mar 2, 2011 - 4:27PM

    Root of all evil is US’ presence in the region and so called vested or national interests of US.

    Till this hog is running amock in Asian fields, there will be no peace. Recommend

  • Afghan
    Mar 10, 2011 - 1:06PM

    @Pan Mat:

    This is the real fact, according to book of Ahmad Rashid 200 families control the politics of Pakistan, they play them game with 160 million Pakistani and 30 million afghans.

    For their survival for centuries they have to play such games. ISI and Pak army is also part of them.

    The so called Paki establishment created Islamic parties to fight in Afghanistan.
    They destroyed Afghanistan and its people beyond recognition even worse then Russians.

    the solution:

    A revolution in Pakistan such as in Egypt, Tunisia.
    Bringing the Durand line issue to UN, the pashton area should be put to referendum, it should become part of Afghanistan, or become independent or part of Pakistan.

    In all three situations there would be no tribal areas, everything will become under control.
    1. If Pashtuns decided to be part of Pakistan or become independent country, Afghanistan should be give a border to get direct connection to Gwader port, so from that point Pakistan will never block its transit way, and this will avoid Pakistan interfering in Afghanistan.
    4. After this a real Pakistan will emerge.Recommend

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