Pakistan faces a formidable array of militant groups concentrated in the semi-governed Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, and Northwest Frontier Province, or NWFP, along the country’s Afghan border. This map, based on a survey of available, open-source reporting, displays major leaders of different militant groups and coalitions attacking into Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They are often collectively referred to as “Taliban”—a label many militants embrace as the jihadi brand of choice—but these groups possess varied origins, motivations, tactics, and leadership. Militants have consolidated their control over large swathes of FATA territory since 2001. The majority of these groups endorses and carries out at least occasional attacks on international coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, but several groups have also increasingly engaged in clashes with the Pakistani state and military forces since 2007.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban—also known as the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, or TTP—is led by Baitullah Mehsud and has acted as an umbrella movement for various commanders across the FATA and conducted direct attacks on the Pakistani state. Others, such as the Haqqani Network, primarily target foreign troops in Afghanistan and the Afghan government, allegedly with the knowledge or active support of Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, who have a long history of cultivating armed militants based in the tribal region as regional proxies.
Several of these militant commanders operate under independent banners, but many of these groups are believed to share resources, expertise, and training to pursue their objectives. Al Qaeda is believed to act as a “force multiplier” for several of these groups by networking between the local militant factions and offering them access to international sources of funding, technical training, and volunteers.
Infighting has been reported among several of the local militant factions, as Pakistani authorities have reportedly sought to play the groups off one another—a traditional divide-and-rule strategy that has had only marginal success. Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP fought with the rival Local Taliban Movement, or MTT, in 2007 and 2008 over Mehsud’s decision to carry out attacks on the Pakistani state. Yet in February 2009 Mehsud appeared to have reconciled with former MTT commanders Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Together they formed a new coalition—the Shura Ittehad-ul Mujahideen or United Council of Mujahideen—and pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The group said it would place a priority on attacking international forces in Afghanistan, but Nazir and Gul Bahadur have stood with Mehsud in the face of increased pressure from the Pakistani security services.
The Pakistani military has conducted sporadic, yet firepower-intensive, operations against select militant groups since 2002—operations that have escalated in the past year. They have left untouched other groups fighting U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military entered Khyber Agency in the summer of 2008 to attack fighters loyal to Mangal Bagh, although his forces withdrew and do not appear to have been pursued. The TTP’s rising profile led to military operations in Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies against Tehrik-e-Taliban fighters. The Pakistani military declared victory over the Taliban in these areas in February 2009, although reports of engagements with local militants continue there today.
An aggressive Pakistani military offensive in Swat valley began in April 2009 against the fighters of Maulana Fazlullah, and the conflict has displaced almost two and a half million people. Beginning in July, the Pakistani military announced military operations to target Baitullah Mehsud, but its difficulty consolidating gains in Swat and Mehsud’s entrenched position in South Waziristan have slowed the dispatch of any sizeable ground force, leading the military to rely primarily on remote artillery and aerial bombing strikes.
The militant groups continue their deadly attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan with increasing ferocity—including a deluge of suicide bombings, IEDs, targeted killings of security forces, and more—despite the Pakistani military’s renewed offensive.
Understanding these commanders and their groups is key to either defeating the militants militarily or beginning a process of reconciliation. As shown in these profiles, this is not a monolithic insurgency. However, many of these groups have collaborated with each other and Al Qaeda to advance shared interests. These militants have shown resilience in their response to the Pakistani military’s efforts—forming new alliances, making peace agreements, appointing new commanders, and melting away when necessary to avoid a fight. The Pakistani military appears moreover to believe that they can pick and choose which militant groups to support, failing to recognize the extent of their collaboration and the danger that even the Afghan Taliban ultimately present to Pakistan.
For more analysis and recommendations regarding Pakistan’s struggle with interrelated challenges of internal violence, failing governance, and regional instability, please see “Partnership for Progress: Advancing a New Strategy for Prosperity and Stability in Pakistan and the Region,” and “Meeting the Challenges in Pakistan.”
For more information, see:
- Faces of Pakistan’s Militant Leaders: In-Depth Profiles of Major Militant Commanders
- Interactive Map: Missile Strikes in Pakistan on the Rise
- Interactive Map: Pakistan’s Refugees Threaten Further Instability