Key Pakistan area gets new al-Qaeda chief

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

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Farman Ali Shinwari, a native of Pakistan’s Khyber Agency, has been named al-Qaeda’s new leader in that country to replace Badr Mansour, whose “martyrdom” in a US drone strike in Miran Shah, North Waziristan, in January was confirmed by al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab media foundation on March 9. [1]

Al-Qaeda’s Dawa [Propagation] and Media Department, which is led by Ustad Ahmad Farooq and disseminates speeches on Taliban and al-Qaeda websites, including As-Sahab, announced Shinwari’s promotion on April 30. According to the statement, Shinwari was approved as leader in Pakistan after consultations by al-Qaeda’s “top leadership” and ratification by its commanders in Pakistan.

Authentic documentation about the promotion is yet to emerge in

al-Qaeda online media, so some tribal elders and militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas say they cannot confirm it. However, Pakistani officials in FATA have confirmed the statement.

Moreover, the decision to promote Shinwari is consistent with al-Qaeda’s preference for putting men affiliated with Kashmiri militant groups into leadership positions. Such leaders include Ilyas Kashmiri, former al-Qaeda external operations commander and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami founder, and Shinwari’s predecessor Badr Mansour.

The immediate effect of Shinwari’s promotion is that he will oversee the intensification of attacks by al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on North Atlantic Treaty Organization supply lines passing through Khyber Agency into Afghanistan from Pakistan. The medium-term effect is that he can take advantage of his family connections to Kashmir- and Central Asia-focused militant groups in North Waziristan to support al-Qaeda and the TTP as they renew their operations in those regions.

In the long term, Shinwari’s youth makes him an ideal candidate to be one of the faces of al-Qaeda leadership in the next generation – if he can avoid the drones that will be honing on him, as they did his predecessor Mansour.

Militant family base
Farman Ali Shinwari belongs to the Khugakel clan of the Shinwari tribe based in the Landikotal subdistrict of Khyber Agency. His tribe, the Pakistani Shinwaris, is different from the 400,000-member Afghan Shinwari tribe living in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, which in 2010 agreed to support US troops to fight the Taliban in exchange for US$1 million in development aid. The Pakistani Shinwaris are not the largest tribe in Khyber Agency – others such as the Afridi tribe are larger – but Farman Ali Shinwari’s power base does not stem from his tribal affiliations; rather, it stems from his militant affiliations and his family’s commitment to the TTP, al-Qaeda, and Kashmiri militant groups.

The Shinwaris are among the most important militant families in Khyber Agency. One of his brothers, Hazrat Nabi (aka Tamanchay Wala), taught theology at a government-run school in Landikotal before becoming one of the TTP’s leading commanders in 2005. Hazrat Nabi has sent many fighters to Kashmir and Afghanistan and is reportedly now leading both a TTP faction in North Waziristan and the Kashmir-focused militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

Three of Farman Ali Shinwari’s other brothers, Rehmat Nabi, Matiullah and Raziullah, were deployed with Harkat-ul-Ansar in Kashmir during the height of militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and now are affiliated with the TTP (Harkat-ul-Ansar changed its name to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen after the United States designated it as a terrorist organization in 1998).

Early in his career, in the late 1990s, Farman Ali Shinwari was affiliated with Harkat-ul-Ansar, which was then led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. Badr Mansour was also affiliated with the Harkat-ul-Ansar and later the TTP, like Shinwari. Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil’s past association with Farman Ali Shinwari contributed to Shinwari’s credibility when al-Qaeda decided to promote him. Similarly, Mansour was known to have been personally acquainted with Shinwari through their affiliations in Harkat-ul-Ansar and the TTP. Al-Qaeda’s Dawa and Media Department reportedly said Shinwari was chosen as Badr Mansour’s successor because Mansour had trusted him.

Al-Qaeda eyed Shinwari because he is a Khyber Agency native with deep knowledge of FATA and the NATO supply routes. He is uniquely capable of supporting the TTP to assert control of the Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley and to continue to disrupt the supply lines that pass through the area into Afghanistan. The Khyber Pass is the transit point for as much as 70% of the supplies that sustain the NATO alliance in its battle against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Farman Ali Shinwari’s strongest militant credential for al-Qaeda’s top post in Pakistan is his leadership of the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade with his brother Hazrat Ali (aka Abu Ma’sab). The TTP and other militant groups operating in FATA have formed specialized wings that carry out specific tasks independent of the parent organization. The Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade operates under the TTP and attacks convoys of Afghanistan-bound NATO fuel supply trucks, especially in Peshawar and Khyber Agency. (Despite the similar names, the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade is distinct from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which are operating in various countries and territories, including Pakistan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Jordan.) [2]

The TTP also has priorities in the Tirah Valley, which is strategically located on the confluence of Khyber, Orakzai, and Kurram Tribal Agencies, and connects northern and southern FATA. Control of the valley would provide the TTP with a regular land route to ferry logistics and human resources throughout the length and breadth of FATA and shift its bases to new areas in FATA where the Pakistani and US governments have yet to establish effective human, signals and technical intelligence networks for supporting the US drone campaign. [3] The TTP is still vying for control of the Tirah Valley with two militant groups, Lashkar-e-Islam, which is led by Manghal Bagh Afridi, and Ansarul Islam, although the TTP now controls most of Khyber Agency itself.

Internet savvy
In 2011, Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani, the leader of the third-largest militant group in FATA after the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Uighur-based Turkistan Islamic Party (formerly called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM), was promoted to al-Qaeda leader of FATA. He is believed to be powerful enough within the militant groups in North Waziristan that he was considered as a possible successor to Osama bin Laden after bin Laden’s death on May 1, 2011. The TIP is believed to have broken into two factions, one focused on Xinjiang and the other focused on international militancy. However, their numbers are hard to ascertain, since the Pakistani government has the incentive to under-report or not report at all about the group to avoid conflict with its top ally, China.

In addition to his militant resume and family background, Farman Ali Shinwari was chosen over other high-ranking militants such as al-Turkistani because Shinwari’s youth, high level of education and Internet savvy are appealing to al-Qaeda, which seeks these attributes in new leaders to replace aging men like Ayman al-Zawahiri and “martyred” leaders such as bin Laden and Ilyas Kashmiri.

Shinwari is 30 years old, married since 2008 with two children, fluent in English, and a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from Landikotal College in Khyber Agency and a first-division master’s degree in international relations from the University of Peshawar. He has worked in several private schools in Landikotal teaching chemistry and biology and has a reputation for being an eloquent speaker on issues of jihad.

In 2008, when Pakistani security forces initiated a campaign to root out militants in Shinwari’s home town of Landikotal, his family members escaped to Waziristan. The security forces later demolished the Shinwari family house in Khugakhel village in Landikotal and arrested several members of his extended family who did not escape. Thus Farman Ali Shinwari is surely to have revenge on his mind, another asset that will motivate him as al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan.

Security analysts from India worry that al-Qaeda under Shinwari will set its sights on Kashmir, since it has been a main target of Pakistani-based militant groups and the Shinwari family for decades. While Kashmir is still a key battleground for al-Qaeda and the TTP, however, the first priority for Shinwari is to expedite the US withdrawal from Afghanistan by intensifying attacks on NATO’s supply lines in Khyber Agency.

This will open up opportunities for al-Qaeda foot soldiers and the TTP to shift their operations to Kashmir and other fronts, such as the secular Central Asian countries and the West, while also working to secure safe havens in Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan as al-Qaeda had in the era preceding September 11, 2001.

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