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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Stop hitting 'worthless targets' with suicide bombings, Pakistani Taliban tells fighters

Document lays out guidelines on solving internal disputes and advises on attacks and sharing booty

An undated handout video grab file taken from footage released by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2014 shows its head Mullah Fazlullah (C) at an undisclosed location at the Pakistan-Afghan border. EPA
An undated handout video grab file taken from footage released by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2014 shows its head Mullah Fazlullah (C) at an undisclosed location at the Pakistan-Afghan border. EPA

Pakistan's Taliban has released a guidebook giving fighters detailed new instructions about when to use suicide bombings, how to resolve internal quarrels and what to do with spies, as the struggling group tries to impose discipline and distance itself from ISIS.

The 12-page operations manual released last month in Urdu, and later in English, aims to “correct the direction” of the Tehreek-e -Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement after it fractured due to tribal dispute and was largely driven into Afghanistan.

Experts on the group say the guidance reflected the rifts suffered by the TTP and the challenge it faced from the local branch of ISIS.

The group’s new manual stresses that suicide bombings, which it calls martyrdom operations, should only be carried out “on very important targets” and “not be wasted on worthless targets”. It said that a centralised regional office to oversee the preparation and training of these should be established.

Permission for such attacks can only be given at the highest level and “if ever martyrdom operation is carried out on an inappropriate target, then the brothers responsible for the attack shall be punished”.

Suicide bombs should also avoid killing and harming members of the public, the guidance claims, despite TTP attacks regularly killing civilians.

Saifullah Mahsud of the Fata Research Centre said he was sceptical about whether the new guidelines would prevent civilian casualties.

“Writing it on paper is one thing but carrying out these attacks on the ground, there's always been a huge amount of collateral damage,” he said.

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Also detailed in the manual is the advised way to divide up war spoils – four-fifths to be divided among the fighters and one-fifth is to be handed to central leadership. The guide also contains instructions on and how to treat spies and enemy prisoners – confessions extracted under torture are to be considered suspect.

The mediation procedure on internal disputes is also laid out. First, the TTP’s Regional Regulatory Shura body will try to reach a compromise, but if this fails then the issue can be raised to the Supreme Shura, and must be submitted in audio or written format to be ruled on based on provided arguments.

The group has also undergone new leadership, with Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud taking charge in June after Mullah Fazlullah was killed by a US drone strike.

The guidance tells fighters to only use suicide bombings against the most important targets and explains the group should narrow its focus to fewer enemies. It also contains extensive guidance on how bands of TTP fighters should work together, or settle their differences.

Militancy experts said the document reflected the reality on the ground for the TTP, which has been fragmented and weakened after being driven from Pakistan's border areas by the army.

“Recent years have not been easy for the TTP,” said Tore Hamming, a militancy researcher at the European University Institute.

He said the group had been advised to change its behaviour by Al Qaeda allies and the new document was influenced by the terrorist group.

“[The TTP] has consistently been affected by internal divisions that on occasions have led to organisational fragmentation when factions have left the main group, only to return later,” he said.

The group has also been badly hit by the emergence of ISIS in the region as fighters and senior figures defected to ISIS.

The manual states it is “necessary for the Mujahideen to reduce the number of war fronts and enemies”.

“It's important that they have put that on paper,” Mr Mahsud said, “but there's always been this debate within the TTP about legitimacy. There have always been voices saying it might not be in the interests of the groups that targets are not chosen carefully.”

The TTP has been on the back foot for several years now after it was driven across the border by a series of Pakistani military offensives following its attack on an army school in Peshawar.

Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud is considered better educated than the previous leader of the TTP. As well as being a religious scholar, he has written a 700-page history of Mahsud tribe militants from South Waziristan.

Mr Mahsud said: “He likes to write and he's got a book to his name. This is an attempt by him to put everything on paper and to reorganise.”