The news of Mufti Noor Wali replacing Maulana Fazlullah as chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came as a shock to Ashrafuddin, a Mehsud tribesman running a heavy construction machinery business in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth suburb.
Confirming Fazlullah’s death in a US drone strike on June 3, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani said this past Saturday that the terrorism outfit has named Wali, alias Abu Mansoor Asim, a commander for the organisation’s Mehsud chapter, as Fazlullah’s successor.
Now in his 40s, Wali, a religious scholar and a prolific writer, hails from Gorgoray village in South Waziristan’s Sararogha tehsil and belongs to the Michikhel sub-clan of the Mehsud tribe. He also studied at a madrasa in Karachi’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood.
Wali has carried out several significant responsibilities, particularly as judge of a sharia court set up by the outfit’s founder, Baitullah Mehsud, and as incharge of the organisation’s training centre in his native village.
However, as head of the TTP’s Karachi chapter from June 2013 to May 2015, he tormented the city’s Pashtun community, especially Mehsud tribesmen, among whom was Ashrafuddin.
In Karachi the TTP is organisationally divided into two groups: one loyal to the outfit’s central chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, and the second to Wali-ur-Rehman, chief for the South Waziristan chapter. The Mehsud group, however, dominated as the most powerful faction.
Both groups had tense relations over turf and collection of extortion money in the metropolis, and the situation took a turn for the worse after Rehman made Wali chief of his faction in the city.
“Wali commanded his group from his office in North Waziristan’s Miramshah town, and after starting violent clashes with Hakimullah’s faction in June 2014, skilfully ousted it from the city within four months,” said a Mehsud tribal elder acquainted with the TTP’s affairs in the metropolis.
After the killing of Sher Khan, a notorious Hakimullah group commander, in August 2014 and other key leaders, Wali’s faction largely controlled extortion and ransom kidnappings until 2015, when a Rangers-led operation weakened it by killing and arresting most of its members.
When Wali headed the TTP in Karachi, he banned resolution of disputes, whether monetary or family, at regular courts and private jirgas. Whatever the dispute, big or small, the aggrieved parties had to go to Miramshah bazaar to present their cases in Wali’s court set up at his office.
Until late 2014, any phone calls starting with the code 0928 would worry Karachi-based Pashtun traders and affluent people, mainly belonging to the Mehsud tribe.
Using a landline phone at their office in Miramshah bazaar, Wali’s group used to threaten Pashtun traders and affluent people with targeting their families if they failed to pay extortion money. In some cases the group even summoned them to appear in their court in Miramshah.
Ashrafuddin travelled from Karachi to Miramshah twice in 2014 to resolve his different business disputes. “Every week several businessmen from our community would travel to Miramshah and stay there for days, and in some cases for weeks, to resolve their disputes,” he said. “For the poor it was very tormenting, because they could not afford the costs of travelling to Miramshah and staying there until the resolution of their disputes.”
Karachi’s Pashtun residents breathed a sigh of relief when the military started Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014 against local and foreign Taliban militants.
“Zarb-e-Azb disrupted Taliban militants’ free movement between Karachi and Miramshah by destroying their offices and forcing them to flee,” Ashrafuddin said, adding that it also weakened them in Karachi.
However, analysts claim that actual action against the TTP in Karachi was initiated after the terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School in December 2014. Most of the key Taliban commanders and supporters in Karachi have been killed by law enforcement and security agencies, especially the Rangers, after the Peshawar attack.
Law enforcement officials believe that Wali taking over as TTP chief will not help the terrorist outfit regain control in Karachi. “In fact, the TTP started weakening in the city during Wali’s leadership,” said a senior counterterrorism official.
In his book, titled ‘Inqilab-e-Mehsud’ and released this January, Wali acknowledges that in the crackdown on violent groups in Karachi, law enforcement and security agencies killed most of the key Taliban leaders in an “extrajudicial” manner. The book also names 104 of the people who were killed.
However, according to Mehsud tribesmen acquainted with the TTP network in the metropolis, most of the listed people were active members of the terrorist outfit in the city’s Pashtun-dominated areas, such as Sohrab Goth, Manghopir, Ittehad Town, Quarry Colony and Shah Latif Town.