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Prospects of TTP merger within Al-Qaeda

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On July 25, the UNSC was presented with a 30-second report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team identifying key threats by various terrorist outfits. While the report largely focused on the activities of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, it also made a claim that TTP might merge with Al-Qaeda. The claim not only lacks logical basis, but is also contrary to other claims made in the same report. The differences of orientation, limitations of Afghan Taliban regime and organisational aims and objectives point towards trajectory of distinct identity rather than prospects for merger.

Reflecting on Al-Qaeda’s previous experiences with affiliates in Africa, renowned researcher Antonia Guistozzi argues that the organisation looks at its global affiliates as ‘liability’ to global jihad. Despite their vows of allegiance, these regional affiliates did not act in unison due to localised aims and objectives. To avoid any such preference divergences, Al-Qaeda’s model of “cooperation and advisory” as opposed to “affiliate” provided greater benefits to the organisation’s image globally. Hence, Al-Qaeda prefers clientele in terms of logistical and advisory support than absorption of such groups.

As argued above, Al-Qaeda has opted the model of “cooperation and advisory” to avoid unnecessary preference divergence within South Asia. This has been the case between TTP and Al-Qaeda too, where the latter has provided advisory support along with training camps for TTP fighters.

Afghanistan has for years remained a ground for contesting jihadist ideologies and aims. The top four jihadist outfits — Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, TTP and IS-Khorasan — all had contesting aims and objectives, falling under two distinct jihadist ideologies. Al-Qaeda’s main objective was to act as the vanguard of global Islamic jihad: Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for Afghan Taliban; Emirate of Waziristan/FATA for TTP; and Caliphate for IS-K.

Keeping in view the differing objectives, the orientations also differed massively. While Al-Qaeda’s objective was to lead global jihad, TTP strictly remained Pakistan-centric. During their talks with the state of Pakistan in 2022, TTP clearly demanded FATA’s demerger and Sharia imposition within that territory. This entails a convergence of a selective target or aim, not a comprehensive unison goal between Al-Qaeda and TTP. Also, Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is an already established affiliate of Al-Qaeda, operating in the same region.

The UNSC report also mentions Al-Qaeda remains wary of the limitations on Afghan Taliban for not allowing their territory to launch attacks on the US and allies. On the other hand, TTP has increased its offensive against Pakistan. Any such merger will cause an Al-Qaeda “affiliate” attacking a US ally and a neighbouring country. This will put Afghan Taliban regime directly into the crosshairs of global governments. Nor would Al-Qaeda want an extended pressure on the Afghan Taliban due to its actions at such a nascent stage of government control.

Coming back to the prospect of affiliate or clientele, for any organisation to become an affiliate requires certain preconditions. Quoting Mendelsohn in Jihadism in Pakistan, Giustozzi writes, “Groups are likely to retrench only if the move guarantees the group’s survival, since it represents a scaling down of the group’s profile and acknowledges its vulnerability and declining power.”

Drawing upon the above precondition for merger, TTP does not fit in any of the variables provided. Firstly, since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the group has found an ideological rejuvenation. There are no threats to its survival as it enjoys sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Secondly, with an uptick in attacks within Pakistan, TTP has gained greater attention. A merger would require scaling down of its profile which does not seem to be an objective of TTP right now, rather it’s the other way around. The more its profile gets attention, the more they can challenge the writ of the state. Finally, neither there seems any vulnerability nor decline in power of TTP for it to merge with Al-Qaeda.

Hence, the prospects for TTP to continue its distinct course are greater than the prospects of it merging within Al-Qaeda.

Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 02 September 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.


IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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