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Involvement of Afghans in Dera Ismail Khan suicide attack raises tensions with Pakistan

The recent Tehreek Jihad Pakistan attack in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province raises tensions between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan as evidence of Afghans’ involvement emerges.


19 Dec 2023

Image: A view of Babe Dera in Dera Ismail Khan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan | Credit: Asad ASAd, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tehreek Jihad Pakistan (TJP) has claimed responsibility for a devastating attack involving four suicide bombers that targeted an operational camp of security forces at the Daraban Police Station in the Dera Ismail District in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on 12 December 2023. The attack, which included a VBIED attack on the main gate, is one of the deadliest suicide attacks on the army in Pakistan's history, with 23 soldiers reported killed and over 30 injured.

A statement from TJP, widely described in Pakistani media as affiliated to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed the four suicide bombers were local to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, naming them as Maulvi Hasan Gandapur from Dera Ismail Khan district, Maulvi Obaidullah from Mardan, Mullah Muhammad Jameel from Lakki Marwat, and Maulvi Siddiq Ullah from Swat districts. However, video and audio content surfacing on social media appeared to contradict these claims, and independent Afghan media accounts quickly reported that Gandapur was in fact an Afghan from Musa Qila district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, and his real name was Qari Shakir.

Video and audio statements point to Afghan attackers

Three short video clips and several pictures surfaced on social media in which Shakir shares his thoughts with two other people – apparently his co-attackers – before embarking on the mission. Importantly, two of the voices, including Shakir, speak in Afghan dialect Pashto, while the third speaks in the Pakistani dialect Pashto. This suggests at least two of the suicide attackers were Afghan. One attacker mentions he is jealous of Shakir for being chosen to drive the VBIED, while Shakir says he has waited a long time for this moment.

Figure: Shakir is seen on the left dressed in white. Marwat, a second Afghan, is in the middle. The individual on the right, with green scarf around head, speaks in a Pakistani dialect of Pashto common in the Peshawar valley and adjacent Malakand and Mardan divisions

On 14 December 2023, an audio message surfaced online, apparently of the second Afghan suicide attacker. He was named online as Mullah Muhammad Jameel Marwat, allegedly from Khost, and is pictured in the aforementioned video alongside Shakir. The voice in the new audio appears to match with the other Afghan voice heard in the video recording of the three attackers.

In the audio recording, the individual says he is associated with Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani (NB: Khost – from where the fighter reportedly originates – is a Haqqani stronghold). Despite harbouring various grievances against Haqqani, the individual still expresses profound respect and love for him. He mentions waiting for an extended period without the opportunity for a martyrdom attack under Haqqani (likely referring to the insurgency period). However, he adds that despite several attempts, he was prevented from meeting Haqqani by those close to him.

He emphasizes that their jihad aimed not only for the independence and the establishment of an Islamic system in Afghanistan but also for the broader objective of establishing an Islamic system worldwide. The individual then appeals to Haqqani for prayers and expresses the hope that they will meet on Judgment Day after martyrdom. He requests that Haqqani offer full support to his Muhajireen mujahid companions (likely referring to the Pakistani Taliban). If such support is not feasible, he implores Haqqani to bid them a proper farewell.

The recording circulated on Facebook and in pro-TTP channels. There were no comments questioning the veracity of the audio or indeed the points he makes regarding Haqqani. Instead, the comments are supportive. It is also worth noting that the pro-TTP channels normally aggressively quash incorrect messages or content, but this material has not been disputed and has been allowed to spread.

Taliban deny Afghan responsibility, but willing to investigate

Immediately following the attack, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan summoned the Taliban’s Charge d’Affaires to deliver what they described as a ‘strong demarche’, demanding the Taliban fully investigate and take stern action against the perpetrators, publicly condemn the attack, and apprehend and handover the perpetrators of the attack and TTP leadership in Afghanistan to Pakistani authorities. It is worth noting that TJP is described as affiliated to TTP in the official statement.

In response, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid expressed condolences over the attack, but said it was not connected to Afghanistan, adding that it was Pakistan’s responsibility to prevent attacks in their country. He stressed that the Taliban does not allow its territory to be used against Pakistan, but assured that the Taliban would initiate an investigation if Pakistan provided detailed information about the incident.

The deadly attack by TJP, seen in Pakistan as a deniable front for TTP, highlights two sensitive and connected issues for the Afghan Taliban. Firstly, Pakistan continues to blame the Taliban for ongoing attacks by TTP and other groups in Pakistan, leading to frequent tensions, as well as Pakistani threats of interventions into Afghanistan. Secondly, the likely involvement of Afghan Taliban footsoldiers stirs fears – among Taliban leadership and the international community – that the Taliban is losing control of rank and file as they become disillusioned by the Afghan Taliban’s turn away from international jihad. The audio message from the second attacker, lamenting his loss of opportunities under Haqqani, plays directly to these fears.

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