Hafiz Gul Bahadur was born around 1961 and belongs to the Madda Khel clan of the Uthmanzai Wazir tribe, which is located near Lwara, North Waziristan (between Miram Shah and the Afghan border). He annointed himself “Hafiz”, which means one who mastered the entire Qur’an. Bahadur may have fought with the mujahedeen against the Soviets, but certainly fought with QST in Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal. He is reported to have received his religious education from a Deobandi madrassa in Punjab. Not surprisingly, Bahadur subscribes to the Deobandi Islamic revivalist ideology and maintains a political affiliation with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), a Deobandi political party. Deobandism, a branch of Sunni Islam, promotes the belief that, instead of following a single school of Islam throughout one’s life, one could employ any one of the four principal schools. Deobandism eventually became the force behind the Jamiaat Ulema Islam (JUI), founded in 1947 first as a religious movement, which helped to set up popular mosques across Pakistan. He maintains a private profile, avoiding any direct contact with journalists in recent years and putting out statements only through his spokesman, Ahmadullah Ahmadi.
The Bahadur Militant Network
Gul Bahadur is considered one of the most important militant leaders in North Waziristan, is known for hosting al-Qaeda and other militant Arab groups, and enjoys close ties with the Haqqani Network. Bahadur currently leads a force of more than 1,500 militants. He rose to fame in 2005, when the Pakistani military initiated combat operations to evict foreign militants from the Tochi River Valley in North Waziristan. The Valley was an operating safe haven for al Qaeda militants forced out of South Waziristan by Pakistani troops, which launched offensives in October 2003 and in April 2004. During the offensives, Bahadur led his men against the Pakistani military alongside troops led by Saddiq Noor and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
After taking a considerable beating by Pakistani troops, Bahadur entered into a ceasefire with the Pakistani government, which resulted in the September 2006 North Waziristan Peace Agreement. The Agreement, facilitated by Jalaluddin Haqqani and Mullah Dadullah (now dead), called for the eviction of foreign militants from North Waziristan, who had been interfering in the local affairs of the region. The interference created tension between the foreign militants, local Taliban leaders from the Mirali area who supported the foreign militants, and Bahadur. The expulsion of certain foreign militants, mostly non-al Qaeda Arabs (Iraqis) and Central Asian militants (Uzbeks) was, however, supported by both Saddiq Noor and Haqqani.
Before the Agreement was implemented, the Uzbek militants expressed their disapproval and refused to comply with Bahadur’s terms. This led Bahadur to assemble a five-member jirga comprised of senior Taliban commanders, which sent a clear message that the militants had no other choice but to honor the truce. Ultimately, politics won over principle and the militants were able to stay in the Mirali area due to strong support from local Taliban leaders such as Manzoor Daur, who openly opposed Bahadur’s decision to expel the foreign militants.
After the signing of the 2006 Peace Agreement, Bahadur became the emir (leader) of the newly formed North Waziristan Taliban and set up a government that paralleled the QST. Unlike South Waziristan, where the Taliban is divided on a tribal basis, the North Waziristan Taliban remained somewhat united. In October 2006, Bahadur’s Taliban took a major step towards “Talibanization” when it issued a pamphlet in which they outlined the levy of new taxes and prescribed harsh penalties for various offenses, such as listening to CDs or shaving beards.
Not surprisingly, the fragile peace agreement broke down in mid-2007 amid acrimony. Pakistani checkpoints in his territory and the Red Mosque Raid were a few of many gripes. Just a few months later, a new peace initiative was launched by a tribal jirga from the Orakzai Agency. While negotiations proceeded Bahadur joined several other FATA/NWFP Taliban commanders to form the TTP. Baitullah Mehsud (responsible for the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) was chosen as emir and Bahadur as deputy, but Bahadur quickly (and unofficially) distanced himself from the TTP after Mullah Omar opposed its formation based on military philosophy. Unlike Mehsud, Bahadur supports the Pakistani government (more likely the ISI) and avoids attacks on it or personnel in the FATA. As negotiations drew to a close at the beginning of 2008, the Pakistani military initiated an offensive against Mehsud. To ward off the onslaught, Mehsud attempted to attack Pakistani forces through the Razmak area of North Waziristan. Bahadur, however, barred his axis of attack, saying that any attack would jeopardize his peace agreement, which was finalized in February of 2008.
Partly as a response to Bahadur’s rebuff, Mehsud expanded his TTP influence in the FATA and attempted to eliminate or assimilate rival Taliban commanders. This alarmed many Waziri leaders, who formed the Muqami Tehrik-e-Taliban (Local Taliban Movement), or the “Waziri Alliance”, with Bahadur as emir and Mullah Nazir (a South Waziristan leader) as his deputy. The Waziri Alliance, backed by the Haqqanis, deterred Mehsud, as he was encircled on all sides by the coalition. Not surprisingly, the Bahadur-Nazir alliance did not last long. In February 2009, Bahadur, Mehsud, and Nazir declared that they had overcome their differences and formed the Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahedeen (Council for United Holy Warriors). The SIM focused military actions against Western forces in Afghanistan rather than oppose Pakistan, but fell apart in mid-2009 when tribal tensions sky rocketed and a U.S. drone strike killed Mehsud. Bahadur’s approach closely resembles the Haqqani philosophy, which favors the ISI, and as of 2010, both are free to conduct attacks into Afghanistan and to “Talibanize” their tribal lands. Bahadur usually conducts attacks against Pakistan immediately following U.S. drone strikes, claiming that they violate the terms of their peace agreement.
Bahadur’s most important commander is Maulana Saddiq Noor of the Daur tribe who commands about 800 militants. Noor was born around 1955 and has been intimately involved with the QST since 1996. Like Bahadur, Saddiq Noor is based near Miram Shah, where he directed the Mamba-ul-Uloom madrassa, originally built by Jalaluddin Haqqani to support the jihad against the Soviets. The madrassa served as Noor’s headquarters until a U.S. drone strike destroyed it in September 2008. Although Saddiq Noor was left unscathed, it was reported that either nine of his family members or nine members of the Haqqani family were killed in the attack.
Noor’s deputy is Sayeed Khan Daur, who is also from Miram Shah. Although he is younger than either Noor or Bahadur, Khan Daur has a university degree and is known as a computer expert. Abdul Khaliq Haqqani, who commands about 500 militants (and not related to the Haqqani Network as he is Pakistani), is a former Bahadur commander, but was exiled after charges of embezzlement and collaboration with the Uzbeks.
Other close allies of Bahadur are: 1) Wahidullah Wazir, who leads a militant group of 200 Waziri tribesmen around Miram Shah; 2) Halim Khan Daur, who leads about 150 militants: and 3) Saifullah Wazir, who leads about 400 militants. All groups are primarily involved in cross-border attacks on Western forces, but also engage the Pakistani army from time to time.
U.S. drone strikes have killed several associates of Bahadur and include: al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libbi in January 2008 near Mir Ali, former Egyptian Islamic Group Leader and reported chief al Qaeda propagandist Abu Jihad al-Masri in October 2008, senior al Qaeda member Abdullah Azzam al-Saudi on November 19, 2008, Rashid Rauf, the organizer of the plot to bring down trans-Atlantic flights, on November 22, 2008, al Qaeda member Asad al-Misri (along with twenty-three militants loyal to Bahadur) on May 16, 2009, and a September 4, 2008 drone strike near Miranshah that killed two Arab fighters along with four Daur tribesmen.
Bahadur is committed first to his own survival, second to Afghanistan, third to Mehsud, and last to his vision of an Islamist Pakistani state. His political and ideological backgrounds allow him to continue supporting the fight against Western troops while compromising on almost everything else. He will likely continue to direct some level of violence, but will probably avoid unchecked hostilities with the Pakistani government, which both seem to believe would be harmful to their respective interests. His ability to effectively engage Western troops is most likely somewhat limited by the political games he plays with Mehsud and and the ISI. Peace between Bahadur and Pakistan may boost Islamabad’s (ISI’s) interests in the short term, but will hurt Western interests in the long term.