The author, Fiza Siddiq, has been pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad since 2017. At the National Defence University, she learned contemporary geopolitics from different perspectives of international relations. Fiza is currently finishing her degree and hopes to join the civil services of Pakistan in the near future.
If two organizations such as the Boko Haram and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are the same in terms of their ideology and way of conduct, then both should also display other similarities.
Boko Haram (BH) which means “Western education is forbidden,” emerged in 2003 with the aim to purify society from foreign forces. It is the belief of this terrorist group that the reason for political corruption, poverty, state failure, under-development, and injustice in Nigeria is the influence of foreign elements in the Northern Region. The reasons that led to the emergence of BH were the weak institutional capacities of Nigerian institutions and a lack of governance due to political turmoil in the region. This group was involved in a series of confrontations with security forces from 2003 to 2009, but the intensity of these violent acts increased after the killing of their leader, Muhammad Yusuf, while he was in police custody. With a change in leadership, the group moved more towards violent acts. BH capacity to operate was not only limited to Nigeria but it was operating beyond the Nigerian border in countries such as Chad, Cameroon, and Niger (Oyewole, 2018).
In Nigeria, BH has become a national threat to the security of the state since 2009. This group is exploiting the ethnoreligious differences to wage a war of terror in Nigeria. The northern side of Nigeria is the least developed and the youth there is suffering from unemployment along with extensive poverty. Carrying arms for the sake of money becomes justified to some while others die from hunger. Despite a larger majority of Muslims, the political set up of Nigeria is dominated by the Christian population. This contamination of politics on identity fractionalization is also a reason for the emergence of terrorist groups such as BH. When BH came into being its purpose was to purify society and not try to overthrow the government, but with time and a growth in popularity, its ideology further transformed and the leadership decided to challenge the government. Since 2009 a new broader agenda i.e. the establishment of an Islamic state has been introduced by BH leadership (Badejogbin, 2013)
The TTP is an extension of the Afghan Taliban. When the U.S started “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan after the World Trade Center attack, a huge population of Afghan Taliban left Afghanistan and settled in the tribal belt of Pakistan. Under the leadership of Mullah Omer, the Afghan Taliban started operating again after suffering a heavy defeat from NATO forces. In Pakistan, a new militant group emerged in solidarity with the Afghan Taliban intending to clear Afghanistan from foreign influence (Abbas, 2008). Akin to the BH, a few factors which made the TTP sustainable and appealing to some Pakistanis were poor socio-economic conditions, decrepit infrastructure, unemployment, and a fragile law and order situation.
Anti-Americanism, as well as government policies towards the Taliban also agitated the minds of the youth. The leadership of TTP utilizes all these factors very skillfully to mobilize the masses against the government. When TTP came into being, its agenda was only limited to helping the Afghan people and the withdrawal of NATO forces but when their ideology was accepted by a larger majority, the TTP transformed its strategic objective and introduced a new agenda of global jihad (Akhtar, 2018).
Parallels between Boko Haram and TTP
Theoretical Underpinning: The life cycle of a terrorist organization can be categorized into four phases
- Emergence: Emergence of an organization may require the following conditions:
- Ideology: Ideology is the basis of any political, social change, or mobilization. Ideology is a necessity in the formation or emergence of terrorist organizations.
- Committed leadership: The leader of the organization must be committed to the ideology of the organization. Such a commitment can either be in the form of interpersonal, ideological, or psychological commitment.
- Ability to organize for conflict: The leadership must be capable of mobilizing the mob or organization under a cause.
- Members who can communicate with one another: There must not be any communication gap between the members of the organization.
- Rise: Rise of a terrorist organization may include the following prerequisites:
- Popular support: The cause of the organization must be supported by the masses.
- Funding: Funding is essential for the rise of a terrorist organization. International interest groups, anti-establishment groups, public or private groups can boost the funding of such organizations.
- Sufficient political legitimacy: Many political leaderships or political parties can network with such organizations to increase their political agenda or to defeat their political opponents.
- Logistical support: Such organizations must have a strong logistical system that would help not only in their longevity but also in increasing their influence over a large geographical area.
- Downfall: Multiple factors lead to the downfall of a terrorist organization
- Loss of focus on violence: If a terrorist organization loses its focus on violence, it can indicate the downfall of the terrorist organization.
- Decline in public support: This happens when the public turns against a terrorist organization due to its indiscriminate violence or any other reason.
- Territory loss: When the government begins operations against a terrorist organization, it can lead to the loss of territory and lives for the outfit.
- Internal group rivalry: When rivalry starts within a group vis-à-vis its leadership, it might cause the disintegration of the group which can lead to the emergence of multiple factions.
- Change in objective: When a terrorist group changes its objective from the one that was introduced at its nascence.
- Demise: The demise of a terrorist organization can be possible if the following conditions are fulfilled:
- When the goal is achieved: If a terrorist organization achieves its goal, it ceases to exist.
- Capturing and killing of leader: If the leader of a terrorist organization is killed, and its ideology cannot be successfully passed on to the next generation.
- Mass arrests: When massive members of a terrorist organization are arrested by security agencies.
- Negotiations: When a terrorist organization is involved in the process of peace talks and it achieves its objectives through an agreement with the government.
- Transition into legitimate political power: Some terrorist organizations transform into political organizations, and when this happens, it ceases terrorist activities.
- Heavy military defeat: Heavy military defeat at the hands of government forces can also cause the death of a terrorist organization.
For the emergence of a terrorist organization, a conducive environment is required. In the case of TTP, the cataclysmic event of 9/11 provided an opportunity. The U.S initiated “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF) in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. A bulk of the Taliban retreated as a result of that operation and settled in the Pashtun tribal belt of Pakistan. Based on strong tribal bonds and the same religion, ethnicity, and cultural norms, the Taliban was warmly welcomed in Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal belt. In sympathy with the Afghans, a group named “Pakistan Taliban” emerged in Pakistan. Anti-Americanism and the Pakistani government’s decision to become a U.S ally precipitated the emergence of the group. In December 2007, this militant group refined itself and under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud, it renamed itself to “Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan”.
Boko Haram is derived from “Boko”, which is a word of the Hausa language meaning “Western education” and “haram” is an Arabic word meaning “forbidden” but unfortunately, there is no clear evidence about the origins of the terrorist organization itself. Some trace its origins to before the arrival of the Britishers in Nigeria in 1900. Before colonization, the Bornu Empire ruled the territory where Boko Haram is now active. The Empire was Islamic until the British annexed it and spread Christianity in this region through missionaries – many forceful conversions took place as well.
Nigeria became independent in October 1960 but experienced several military coups until the late 1990s. Since independence, the vicissitudes in the country’s politics provided an ideal environment for the growth of terrorist organizations. From 1967 to 1970, Nigeria experienced a civil war and during this time, around 50% of the population were Muslims while 40% were Christians. When Mohammed Marwa, nicknamed Maitatsine, the founder of an Islamist group Yan Tatsine was killed, religious violence started in Nigeria that lasted for almost 20 years. One of the most significant factors for the rise of religious extremist groups in this country is identity fractionalization. There is a huge gap between the north and the west in terms of development, socio-economic conditions, and prosperity. Despite a huge Muslim population, the politics of Nigeria is mostly dominated by Christians because of identity-based politics.
The modern history of Boko Haram can be traced back to 2002. Under the leadership of Muhammad Yusuf, a non-conformist group emerged. He established religious schools and complexes where free education was provided to Muslim children. He was inspired by the Salafi Izala doctrine and trained the youth to rid the Western influence in society.
According to the pre-requisites for the emergence of both terrorist organizations, it can be examined that the ideology of BH was Salafist Jihadism while TTP’s was based on Sunni Jihadism. The aim of TTP which was set by its leadership was “to drive foreign forces away from Afghan society” while in the case of BH, it was “to get rid of foreign influence in the society and to purify it”. If the leaders’ commitment of both groups was studied, an ideological dedication can be observed. In both organizations, the religious factor was most significant. Both leaderships were able to seem appealing to many due to their persuasiveness. Both groups used mass media to convey their message abroad and to operate transnationally.
The epicenter of the TTP in Pakistan was FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Baluchistan while for BH, the epicenter was Bornu State in north-eastern Nigeria. The interesting thing about both organizations is that they operated near the border areas where the host countries did not have sound diplomatic relations with their neighbors. For instance, in the case of TTP, it operated on the Pak-Afghan border – both countries do not hold strong diplomatic relations due to their clash over the Durand Line as well as other issues. This mutually cold relationship proved as an edge for the TTP and so they used the border area as their hub. On the other hand, BH was also operating on the border areas of Nigeria. Because of weak democracy, the Nigerian government is also unable to keep a sound relationship with its neighboring countries. This cold diplomatic relation proved to be a conducive environment for the growth of BH on the Nigerian border.
Boko Haram and TTP both exhibit quite a lot of similarities, such as their ideology as well as their modus operandi (suicide attacks, kidnapping, car bombs, and targeted assassinations). Their target selection is also similar in a way that both organizations mostly attack security forces, markets, villages, construction sites, schools, and religious scholars, etc. One important similar feature of both organizations is that they both use religious decree to justify their acts. For example, sales of drugs are justified by TTP as:
“Sale of drugs for serving the cause of Jihad is not haram, this cash crop is God’s gift to fight the infidels”.
While kidnapping is justified by BH as:
“The girls were slaves and would be sold in the markets because Islam permits slavery”.
The rise of a terrorist organization can be gauged by the number of recruitments, terrorist attacks, and fatalities. In the case of TTP, the period from 2007 until early 2010 was equated with the organization’s rise. There were two major reasons behind this rise; one was the incident of Lal Masjid and the other one was the episode of composite dialogues over the issue of Kashmir in 2007 between Pakistan and India. Due to these two events, the public turned against the government and some became inclined towards the TTP. For the rise of a terrorist organization, popular support is a pre-condition and TTP successfully increased its recruitment during this time – 10,000 fighters were recruited in early 2008.
During the years 2011 to 2015, the popularity of BH rose while Nigeria went through political trauma due to the illness of its president Umaru Musa. Vice president Goodluck Ebele Johnathan became the acting president and then officially became the president after Musa’s death. Goodluck, a Christian, succeeding Musa, a Muslim, was perceived as a Christian conspiracy by some and hatred towards the Christian community ignited. The BH activists conducted a large number of attacks during this time.
With regard to the TTP, they received support from some parts of the population due to the unpopular American-led NATO war in Afghanistan. According to the Pew Research Center’s public opinion survey the American-led war is widely opposed in Pakistan as 65% wanted US and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
While in the case of BH, as it was a non-conformist group, Nigerian Muslims welcomed the ideology of this group as they experienced a lot of crises and military coups throughout their country’s history.
Funding is the second condition necessary for the rise of a terrorist group. The sources of funding of BH include bank robbery, drug trafficking, extortion, cattle rustling, etc. Conversely, for the TTP, their funding came from drug trade, ransom money, taxes, smuggling, etc.
The other factor required for the rise of a terrorist organization is sufficient political legitimacy. If a terrorist organization has some sort of political legitimacy, it proves to be helpful in the rise of that terrorist organization. For instance, in the case of TTP, it received political legitimacy from a religious organization of Pakistan called Jamiat-e-Islami, and in the case of BH, it received political legitimacy from some local political parties of Nigeria.
There are multiple indicators by which the downfall of an organization can be gauged – for example, if a terrorist organization loses its focus on violence, it might indicate the downfall of that organization. Boko Haram and TTP both are distinctive in that regard. In fact, with the change in leadership of both organizations, from Baitullah Mehsood to Hakimullah Mehsud vis-à-vis TTP, and from Muhammad Yusuf to Abu Bakr Sekau vis-à-vis BH, indiscriminate violence was observed. This indiscriminate violence has turned public opinion against them.
A survey conducted by the Community Appraisal and Motivation Program stated that “Only 4.5% of tribesmen in FATA viewed TTP as a trusted authority”.
The other factor that leads to the downfall of a terrorist organization is territory loss. Efforts at a government level lead to the downfall of Boko Haram and TTP. For instance, Pakistan’s Armed Forces conducted operations such as Zarb-e-Azab, Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijat, Radd-ul-Fassad which led to the downfall of TTP in Pakistan while on the other hand, improvements were made in the Counterinsurgency Operations (COIN) of the Nigerian Military by increasing the deployment of troops. In 2012, there were only 3,000 Nigerian troops which were raised to 50,000 in 2017. Furthermore, efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) proved significant for the downfall of BH in Nigeria.
Internal group rivalry is another factor that also sometimes paves a path for the downfall of a terrorist organization. With respect to Boko Haram and TTP, internal divisions can be observed after the death of their founding leaders. In BH, this contention over leadership lead to the division of BH into three factions in 2012. After the death of Muhammad Yusuf in 2009, clashes started among three leaders – Khalid Al Barnawi, Abu Baker Sekau, and Mamman Nur which ended with the division of BH into three factions headed individually by the aforementioned men. The same was the case with TTP – clashes emerged, dividing TTP into multiple factions.
One last factor that can also lead to the downfall of a terrorist organization is the change in objective as was the case for both Boko Haram and TTP. They changed their strategic objectives. When TTP emerged, its purpose was only to drive foreign NATO forces away from Afghanistan but after a few years, they began targeting Pakistan’s government as well as security officials and declared global jihad as part of their agenda. As for Boko Haram, initially, their objective was to purify society from foreign elements and not to overthrow the government but after a few years, when BH reached its zenith, it changed its primary objective to overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamic state. The idea of global jihad was also introduced by BH.
There are also some specific indicators of demise that have been discussed in the explanation of the framework earlier. There is no evidence for the complete demise of Boko Haram and TTP. Both are still operating, but the intensity, as well as the number of their attacks, has reduced since the last few years due to government and societal efforts.
Boko Haram and TTP are both deadly terrorist organizations that emerged from similar socio-economic settings. As discussed throughout the paper, both seem to have quite a lot of similarities between them – such as their ideology, way of conduct, operations, selected targets, etc. Despite extensive efforts at all levels; individual, organizational as well as international, their demise was not possible, though eventually, both organizations collapsed to some extent.
- Oyewole, F. C. (2018). Anatomy of Boko Haram: The Rise and Decline of a Violent Group in Nigeria. Al Jazeera. https://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2018/04/anatomy-boko-haram-rise-decline-violent-group-nigeria-180422110920231.html
- Badejogbin, O. (2013). Boko Haram: An enquiry into the socio-political context of Nigeria’s counter-terrorism response,. Law Democracy & Development, 17, 226-232. https://www.saflii.org/za/journals/LDD/2013/1.pdf
- Abbas, H. (2008). A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. CTC Sentinel, 1 (2). https://ctc.usma.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Vol1Iss2-Art1.pdf
- Akhtar, S. (2018, December). Defeating TTP: An Appraisal of Pakistan’s Counterinsurgency Operations. Pakistan Politico. https://www.pakistanpolitico.com/defeating-ttp-an-appraisal-of-pakistans-counterinsurgency-operations/
If you want to submit your articles and/or research papers, please check the Submissions page.