Ansar ul-Islam, like the TTP, is officially banned by the Pakistani government and has been accused of reprisals and killings. Critics claim it aims to
control the Afridi tribe, the largest tribe in Khyber Agency, in order to take over the lucrative trade that passes through the district.
'They Are Not Terrorists'
Latif Afridi, a secular politician from the region, says that Ansar ul-Islam is fighting against a coalition of the TTP, Al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Islam --
its hard-line nemesis in Khyber.
Afridi says Ansar ul-Islam is essentially acting as a defense force for the region.
Supporters of Ansar ul-Islam note that the group allows and protects schools in the regions it controls, while they are the targets of attacks by other
Pakistani Taliban factions.
"They are not terrorists. They have never been involved in terrorist activities such as suicide bombings," Afridi says. "They are just fighting for
protecting their region. They have always helped the government in its efforts to establish peace in the region."
Ansar ul-Islam arrived on the scene when followers of an Afghan Sufi preacher, Pir Saifur Rehman, formed the militia in 2004 to counter the Lashkar-e-Islam
(Army of Islam) formed by Mufti Munir Shakir, a hard-line Sunni cleric who opposes Sufism.
Rehman and Shakir followed two different sects of Sunni Islam. The former preached Brelvi Islam inspired by Sufism, while the latter advocated puritanical
The two engaged in a propaganda war, branding each other "infidels" through their own illegal FM radio stations.
Pakistani authorities expelled both clerics from Khyber in 2006 and Rehman later died in Lahore, but their followers kept Ansar ul-Islam and
Lashkar-e-Islam alive as rival militias.
The group allows and facilitates government officials to make identity papers to tribesmen in Khyber's Tirah Maidan region.
The two groups moved their fight from the lowland trading town of Bara into the highlands of Tirah, where clans and families among the Afridi Pashtun tribe
supplied their fighters.
Ansar ul-Islam counted on local support and covert government aid, while Lashkar-e-Islam established an alliance with the TTP.
Thousands have died and tens of thousands of families have been displaced by the fighting between the two groups since 2006.
Afridi says that, over the years, Ansar ul-Islam has emerged as a more moderate faction focused on protecting its supporters.
'Government Needs Such Groups'
Most significantly, it has moved away from preaching sectarian hatred, which wins it more support among the Afridis of Khyber.
"In a way, they are good people. Pakistan today needs such people," Afridi says. "They do not engage in sectarian hatred and are tolerant. You can sit with
them and they will even listen to your advice or criticism. The government needs such groups."