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The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-Darra Adamkhel chapter claimed to have killed Haji Mangal Bagh, their rival and head of Taliban-styled Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) militant outfit, in a suicide attack in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on March 9, 2012 (The News International, March 10, 2012). Around 23 people were killed in the said attack.
The TTP-Darra Adamkhel is led by Commander Tariq Afridi, who is vying for control of the Khyber Agency with LI. The LI, on the other hand, styles itself as a puritanical militant group, which vows to remove vices from Khyber Agency, such as dens of criminals, drugs and smuggling of weapons. The LI was established in the Bara area of the Agency, which is inhabited by the Sipah sub-tribe, which is the smallest of the Afridi sub-tribes. Mangal Bagh is himself from the Sipah, and enjoys his support base within Sipah and Shalobar sub-tribes of Afridi Tribe.
According to details, a suicide bomber detonated himself on March 2, 2012, near the gate of a mosque in Tirah Valley when people were leaving after offering Friday prayers. The mosque was located in an area controlled by LI fighters and most of the dead belonged to the proscribed outfit. According to reports, the target was Mangal Bagh, who was rumoured to have received serious injuries. The LI spokesman, Muhammad Hussain, immediately issued a denial on March 9, 2012, saying Mangal Bagh was not present on the site and therefore was alive and well (The Nation, March 20, 2012). However, some reports pointed to the fact that Bagh’s four-wheeler SUV was present outside the mosque when the suicide attack took place (The Express Tribune, March 20, 2012).
The situation took a dramatic turn when Akbar Khan Hoti, Inspector General of Police of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, announced in a media briefing on March 19, 2012, that Mangal Bagh was killed in a skirmish with Pakistani security forces. LI’s spokesman was quick to reject the claim, saying Mangal Bagh is alive (The News International, March 20, 2012).
Almost a month has passed since rumours began circulating that Mangal Bagh has died. The LI continues to deny the news, however, has been unable to provide any evidence showing that Bagh is alive. It is pertinent to mention that Bagh regularly runs an FM radio channel in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, through which he delivers regular sermons to local Afridi tribesmen. He has neither appeared on his FM radio since March 2, 2012, nor spoken to media people to dispel the impression of his killing. If would be strange for him to go into hiding become his fight is with Pakistani security forces as well as with other competing militant outfits in the area, such as TTP and Ansarul Islam. It has been noted that in the past militant leaders have gone into hiding in the Waziristan region to avoid U.S. drone strikes. But Mangal Bagh has never been a target of U.S. drones and Pakistan does not possess the drone capabilities to seek him out and target him. The LI killed 5 Taliban militants on March 19, 2012, belonging to the TTP in Doa Toe area of Tirah Valley by detonating a mule carrying a remote-controlled bomb on its back, as punishment for spreading “false reports” of Mangal Bagh’s death (Dawn, March 20, 2012).
While many analysts and local journalists are of the opinion that Mangal Bagh has been killed, the LI has yet to formally announce his death. The killing of Mangal Bagh would not augur well for the LI, since Bagh has run the militant group single-handedly since its inception, and has not allowed or groomed his subordinates for the leadership role in the wake of his killing. Similarly, LI is currently mired in numerous difficult conflicts: It is fighting simultaneously against Pakistani security forces, TTP, Ansarul Islam and its own dissident group led by Tayyab Afridi. Similarly, some sub-tribes of Afridi, especially Malikdin Khel, Zakhakhel and Akakhel, have raised lashkars (volunteer tribal militias) against LI to eliminate its presence in their respective tribal territorities. The decapitation of LI’s leadership could bring the group under tremendous stress, which may see its total dissolution. However, the weakening of LI may allow the TTP to make inroads into the Khyber Agency, which could augur bad for both Pakistan and Afghanistan, since Afghan trade as well as the NATO supply route, the Khyber Pass, is located in Khyber Agency. Similarly, it may bring more instability in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which could further destabilise northwest Pakistan and cast a serious affect on the war on terror. It is known that the LI does not conduct suicide attacks as a terror tactic, and all the suicide bombings in Peshawar Valley are being orchestrated by the TTP branches in Darra Adamkhel, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies. The arrival of TTP in Bara area, which is roughly a ten-minute drive from Peshawar, may coincide with a surge in terrorist activities in Peshawar Valley.
Similarly, Khyber Agency has been viewed by the Pakistani establishment as an “iron curtain” between the northern agencies of FATA and districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province—namely Mohmand, Bajaur, Dir, Swat and Buner—and the central and southern agencies, such as Orakzai, Kurram, North and South Waziristan. The weakening or subsequent elimination of LI and spread of TTP could see the latter establishing a regular land route to ferry logistics and human resources throughout the length and breadth of FATA. Since Al-Qaeda, TTP and other foreign militant groups are facing tremendous pressure from U.S. drone strikes, therefore there is a dire urgency within the ranks of local and foreign militant groups in Waziristan region to shift to new places hitherto visited by them in the past, where they could be safe from drone strikes and where the Pakistani and U.S. governments have yet to establish an effective HUMINT, SIGINT and TECHINT network so far. Such an eventuality may allow Al-Qaeda and its associated foreign and local terrorist groups to recuperate, regroup and re-launch terror attacks against the “near enemy” as well as “far enemy”.
It is pertinent to mention that the TTP is already trying to establish its presence in other parts of Khyber Agency, such as Jamrud and Landikotal. However, it has not met with success so far since the Kuki khel sub-tribe of Afridi living in Jamrud and Shinwari Tribe living in Landikotal are forcefully resisting TTP’s penetration into their area.