Poet turned TTP commander: Who was Omar Khalid Khorasani?

Poet turned TTP commander: Who was Omar Khalid Khorasani?
It was the year 2006 and I was a 7th standard student in a local school in Mohmand district. In our village bazaar, an organization called Harakat al-Mujahideen had an office located on the second floor of the local market. A young man with long hair and a fine beard would often sit there, who, along with reciting poetry, would also play volleyball in his free time. And although this person recited his poems in literary gatherings his mood was dry and strict, not romantic as compared to other poets, and his poetry was coloured by romance and yet it had religion too. He would talk about jihad like Taliban commanders and with the long hair and beard even looked like a member of the Taliban, the man was rarely seen in a turban and mostly wore a Chitrali cap.

After the Lal Masjid operation, the activities of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) increased. Whenever we would go out during the school holidays, the Taliban would be present in various places, in the form of caravans. They would try to lure young men to join and get trained by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Then one day, for the first time, this man appeared in a gathering with a Kalashnikov along with dozens of fighters. He was there to deliver a message from the TTP to the people. Addressing a gathering of around 500 people on a summer afternoon, he announced that the TTP was going to establish Sharia courts and they will not tolerate the oppression and abuse of anyone. He further said that no one will be allowed to collect illegal taxes and steal.

This young man struck terror in the people of Mohmand district when he slaughtered more than five members of a family in the same district in the presence of thousands of people in an alleged crime of theft and illegal tax collection. And thus, a new era of terror began.

This young man's name was Abdul Wali, who later became known as Omar Khalid Khorasani (Khorasani). Omar Khalid Khorasani had participated in the talks with a peace jirga consisting of tribal members and a delegation of scholars who went to Kabul a week ago. Recently in Afghanistan's Paktika province, his car was allegedly hit by an improvised explosive device, killing him along with three other companions. The TTP spokesperson also confirmed his death but said details would be released later.

Before he became Omar Khalid Khorasani, he was born as Abdul Wali in 1977 in Tehsil Safi of Mohmand District. His father used to work in the capacity of a helper for grade 4 in the local government school and is now retired. He received his early education in the village and later studied in a seminary in Karachi.
Abdul Wali had been a normal youth like other young men who played volleyball and wrote romantic poetry. Another friend described him as being a 'friend of friends' and he was always ready to sacrifice for his friends. Although Abdul Wali was described as not having a harsh nature, it was after seeing the atrocities committed by India in Kashmir via videos and CDs, like most of the youth of our region he was attracted to the Kashmir war. This cause of his never stopped and only ended with his death. Over time the friends lost contact but Abdul Wali did remember to send his friends messages on Eid and other occasions. It was thought that if anyone suspected that Abdul Wali was in touch with his friends, it would cause problems for us. Hence he simply cut off contact.

Khorasani was married and according to unconfirmed reports, he left behind two wives and five children among the bereaved. After becoming Omar Khalid Khorasani, he started his journey of militancy with Hirakat-ul-Mujahideen and became in-charge of the local office of Hirakat-ul-Mujahideen in Mohmand district. However he did not take any significant part in the Kashmir war but was associated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan.

When the Lal Masjid operation started in Islamabad during the regime of President General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, Khorasani painted the dome of the tomb of the famous anti-imperialist freedom fighter Tarangzo Babaji in Safi Tehsil of Mohmand district with the colour red. Consequently, this shrine was named Lal Masjid. After that, Khorasani and the local shrine became the focus of national and international media and dozens of local and foreign media representatives visited him there. In the military operation against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the armed fighters led by Khorasani created severe difficulties for the Pakistani forces in the beginning and the Pakistan Army faced stiff resistance.

Omar Khalid Khorasani was the commander and head of the Mohmand branch of TTP and was considered as one of the hard line leaders of the organization. In 2013, when the then TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike, Fazlullah became the TTP chief. When differences started between Omar Khalid Khorasani and Fazlullah, Khorasani established his own organization Jamaat-ul-Harar in 2014 and succeeded in making this organization dynamic and successful.

This organization targeted a congregation during the Friday prayers in Mohmand in a suicide attack and also conducted an attack during a Christian religious festivity in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park. The news of Khorasani's death appeared in the media several times, but he remained absent from the media for several months. It was later learned that he had been injured in an attack and was undergoing treatment.

A jirga member who went to Kabul in connection with the peace talks with the TTP told Naya Daur that  Khorasani was very active and alert but he was very worried about his security. Khorasani's fighting spirit was still young, but he used say that his last wish was to be buried in his native graveyard. His wish was not fulfilled. The jirga member also said that Khorasani told him a month ago that while the spirit of fighting had not decreased, he missed his region, fields and our people a lot. But he was also not ready to trust Pakistan and reportedly said, that even if he made peace and went back the next day, they would all be killed in an explosion. The Jirga member continued to share that whoever attacked Khorasani had endangered the future of peace talks and that this conspiracy will end them completely.

After the death of TTP chief Fazlullah, when the command of the organization came into the hands of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, Khorasani brought the Jamaat-ul-Harar along with other organizations back under the umbrella of TTP. Consequently, the TTP emerged as a strong organization which saw an increase in attacks in Pakistan, after which the Pakistani government started peace talks with it.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government set a bounty on his head in 2014, and a reward was set at one crore fifty lakh rupees. In 2017, Khorasani's Jamaat-ul-Harar organization was banned by the United Nations, while the US government set a $3 million bounty on his head.

A few days ago, I spoke to Khorasani on his personal bodyguard's mobile phone. The bodyguard had been his son-in-law Ali Hassaan (who also died with him). When asked about the ongoing peace talks, on one hand he was happy about the achievements of TTP and on the other hand, he was eager to return to his native region. He said that today a nuclear power like Pakistan was begging the TTP for peace and this was their success; but he also said that they had fought for so long and if the TTP surrendered to them, their years of struggle will be lost.

He took a deep breath and said that if Pakistan was a reliable state, the TTP would have signed a peace deal, but he also believed that the security agencies of Pakistan would do the same to member of the TTP as they had done to their family and relatives.