The official al-Qa’ida media outlet al-Sahab has released a flurry of videos in the past two weeks featuring leaders of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), both living and dead, in what amounts to a media campaign announcing their open alliance with Pakistan’s deadliest militant network. On September 28, Zawahiri’s video eulogy for the slain TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud – the “role model of the youth” (ritha’ qudwat al-shabab) – was posted to the forums, followed two days later by a similar video message on the “martyrdom” of Baitullah starring Mustafa Abu’l-Yazid. On October 2, al-Fajr Media distributed a third al-Sahab video eulogy for Baitullah, but this time featuring Wali ur-Rahman, the new TTP commander for the Mehsud tribal areas (an English transcript of which can be downloaded from here; links to all three videos can be found here).
This series of al-Sahab celebrations of Baitullah, released two days apart over the course of a week, is itself a rather unusual concentration of al-Qa’ida media attention on a single non-al-Qa’ida member, and is totally unprecedented in terms of the al-Sahab air time devoted to the TTP. Prior to these developments, the closest that al-Qa’ida came to officially signaling its ties to the TTP was in the release of an al-Sahab interview with Mullah Nazir shortly after he and Gul Bahadur joined Baitullah Mehsud to form the Shura Ittihad ul-Mujahidin this February. Aside from the brief mention of Baitullah in that video, these recent releases are to my knowledge the first official al-Qa’ida communiqués to give any significant attention to the TTP and its leadership.
But that’s not all, folks. Yesterday, an Urdu newspaper reported that Aqil, alias Dr. Uthman, the sole surviving attacker in this weekend’s dramatic assault on the Pakistani Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi , is the subject of an al-Sahab video released to a private television station in Pakistan, in which Aqil is shown receiving training in Waziristan and casing targets in Rawalpindi (Khabrain, 13 October 2009, pp. 6 and 8; article unavailable online, but there is an OSC translation). And today, Pakistan’s ARY TV aired an al-Sahab video that they’d received, featuring TTP amir Hakimullah Mehsud, appearing alongside Wali ur-Rahman, in which both of them deliver statements to the people of Pakistan regarding their jihad against the state. (Ironically, both TTP leaders emphasize in the video that the TTP is not a servant of foreign masters, and that the TTP are “sons of Pakistan”).
While the close relationship between al-Qa’ida and the Pakistani Taliban has long been known, this release of multiple joint AQ-TTP messages from the al-Sahab production outlet is nonetheless extremely significant. First of all, these developments indicate that al-Qa’ida has successfully seized the moment in the wake of the death of Baitullah to dramatically increase its influence over the TTP. But this series of videos is perhaps also evidence of a decreasing willingness on al-Qa’ida’s part to remain in the shadows of its Pakistani partners as they unleash yet another bloody campaign of violence in Pakistan’s cities. If so, this would represent a very important strategic shift in the thinking of al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders, who have thus far been content to provide largely anonymous guidance, training and force-multiplication assistance to their Pakistani jihadi allies.
UPDATE, 10/22/09: The video mentioned here as being aired in part by ARY TV on 14 October was distributed on the forums today by al-Sahab. It is a little over thirty minutes long and, after opening invocations in Arabic, features Hakimullah and Wali ur-Rahman speaking in Urdu. There is no subtitling.