When a suicide bomber detonated himself and killed 60 people on the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan last month and when militants infiltrated an army camp in Uri on Friday, naturally one of the questions was whodunnit?

Former Inter Services Intelligence chief Hamid Gul’s predictable ham-fisted accusations towards India must have been offensive to the local boys, because they were all clamouring for recognition for their work. In fact, three different militant outfits – all Pakistan-based – took responsibility. One even shared the identity of the bomber to verify its credentials. But the ensuing intra-militant competition begs the question: how many militant groups are there in Pakistan? Do they all kill the same people? Are they competing with one another? Is the Pakistani government fighting (or supporting, it’s generally difficult to say which) all of them?

To separate the Jihadi Johns from the Salafist Sams, Scroll.in explains the alphabet soup that is Pakistan’s militant groups.

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan

This is the big daddy of Pakistan’s militant groups. It was formed shortly after former dictator Pervez Musharraf’s bloody siege of the Red Mosque in 2007, in which hundreds of militants holed up in the mosque for months were killed. The group, a coalition of smaller militant groups that came together under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud (status: droned), explicitly targets the Pakistani state, and aims to install a caliphate in its place.

The TTP has staged some spectacular attacks in the last few years, including the 2008 Marriott bombing and the attacks on a naval base in Karachi and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. It also attacked the Karachi airport in June, after which the army started a military operation against it. The group also tried its hand at international terrorism when newly-minted American citizen Faisal Shahzad loaded his Nissan Pathfinder with fireworks and a full fuel tank and parked it in Times Square to embarrassing effect (all that training in North Waziristan only to be made fun of on Saturday Night Live). But because the ‘bomb’ had all the sophistication of a first grade science project, it was quickly defused, and Shahzad found himself out of his Emirates flight and on top of a waterboarding table.

The leader who followed Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud (status: droned), managed to keep the coalition together until November, after which a hellfire missile transported him to heaven. His successor Mullah Fazlullah has struggled to keep the coalition intact, and after a major breakaway earlier this year by the TTP Jamat-ul-Ahrar – and, of course, getting their asses handed to them by the Pakistan army – the TTP seems to have significantly weakened.

Major attacks: 2012 assassination attempt on education activist Malala Yousufzai; 2009 attack on army headquarters in Rawalpindi – 17 killed; 2010 attacks on two Ahmadi Mosques in Lahore – 100 killed.

Similar groups: Jundullah, TTP Mehsud Faction, TTP Jamatul Ahrar.

TTP Mehsud faction

The Judean People’s Front to the People’s Front of Judea. In May, the group split from the Fazlullah-led TTP and went on its own, led by the deceptively named Sajna (meaning, beloved). The group was upset that Fazlullah became the leader after Hakimullah’s death, because Fazlullah did not belong to the Mehsud clan like his predecessors, and Sajna wanted to keep the leadership within the family.

Major attacks: Sajna, while still in the TTP, was responsible for the 2012 jailbreak in Bannu, in which at least 400 convicted militants escaped; 2011 attack at a naval base in Karachi.


This group really does not like Shias. It is nominally affiliated with the TTP, but its focus is almost exclusively sectarian. Their parent organisation, the Sipah-i-Sahaba, was born in the ’80s in the wake of a proxy tussle between Iran and Saudi Arabia over influence in Pakistan, which Saudi Arabia overwhelmingly won. Its political affiliate, the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, has significant grassroots support and has come close to winning parliamentary seats on numerous occasions. A group of ASWJ “activists” shut down an Iranian stall at a book fair in Karachi last year because they said their literature was “sectarian”. Think about that.

Major attacks: Two bombings early last year in Quetta that targeted Hazaras, an ethnic minority that is also Shia. Together, the attacks killed more than 200 people. Also, last year, they detonated a car bomb in Abbas Town, a predominantly Shia neighbourhood in Karachi, which killed almost 50 people. They also regularly assassinate prominent Shia religious leaders, doctors, and civil servants.

Related groups: Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.


Indians are familiar with this one. The LeT was formed in 1990 by Hafiz Saeed, currently an active and prominent citizen of Lahore deemed worthy of protection by the state. It has been active particularly in Kashmir, but has been known for occasional forays in Delhi and south Mumbai. India accuses the Pakistani government of training, funding and supporting the LeT – to which the Pakistani government replies, “Who, me?” While the LeT was formally banned, it rebranded itself as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and continues to function as before.

Major attacks: 2001 attack on Delhi parliament – 14 killed; 2008 Mumbai attacks – 162 killed.

Related groups: Jaish-e-Muhammad, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.

Afghan Taliban

The LeT of the Northwest. The Taliban rose to prominence during the civil war that engulfed Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in 1988. The Afghan Taliban eventually took over the country in the ’90s on a winning campaign that promised opium revenues and public beheadings. They also undertook giant renovation projects such as roads and communications, as well as the total destruction of the 1,700-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain, which no doubt took a lot of effort.

In 2001, the United States did not look too kindly at its chummy relationship with Osama bin Laden, who was hiding there at the time and invaded. The Afghan Taliban has since sat in the metaphorical Opposition, bombing and shooting at NATO and Afghan forces whenever they can. The United States and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai both accused Pakistan of funding, training and supporting the Afghan Taliban – to which the Pakistani government replied, “Who, me?”

Major attacks: Intense insurgency that continually threatens the Afghan state; numerous attacks on Indian and American diplomatic missions in Afghanistan; widely suspected in a suicide attack at a volleyball game in Paktika last month, which killed 50 people.

Related groups: Haqqani network.

Haqqani Network

Former American military chief Mike Mullen called the Haqqani Network “a veritable arm of the ISI”, Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency – to which the Pakistani government replied, “Who, me?” The Haqqani Network has been operating in some capacity since the ’80s, when it was the recipient of American aid to fight the Soviets. Since then, it has intermittently allied itself with the Taliban (its leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, served in the Taliban-led government for a while).

Since the American invasion, they have led a full-fledged insurgency against NATO forces. Lately, the American drone programme has gone after Haqqani militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Nasiruddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son and chief financier of the group, was killed in Islamabad under mysterious circumstances. (I don’t know what it is about terrorists living in leafy neighbourhoods close to cantonment areas in Pakistan.) It remains to be seen whether Pakistan’s recently launched military operation is meant to target the Haqqani Network as well.

Major attacks: 2008 Indian embassy attack – 58 killed; a series of attacks on Afghan government installations in February 2009 – 21 killed.

Related groups: Afghan Taliban.

Balochistan Liberation Front

An altogether different kind of outfit, the BLF is a largely secular militant group fighting for the political independence of Balochistan province. The Baloch have been largely unhappy with many things the state does in the province: killing, torturing and “disappearing” its citizens for decades; exploiting its resources, primarily natural gas, and then pumping it elsewhere; assassinating tribal leaders. No wonder then, the province is trying to break away. Pakistan blames the Indian government for fuelling the insurgency – to which India replied, “Who, me?”

Major attacks: 2013 attack on a coastguard check post in Gwadar – 7 killed; 2003 murder of three Chinese engineers in Gwadar.

Related groups: Baloch Republican Army, Balochistan Liberation Army.