By Zia Ur Rehman

January 24, 2014

After the killing of a number of their key leaders especially in Balochistan, Afghan Taliban do not feel safe in Pakistan any more, security analysts say.

Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Salim was reportedly injured in an attack by his own security guards in Quetta city, and died later on January 6. He was the shadow governor of the Mizan district of Afghanistan’s Zabul province. Mullah Noorullah Hotak, reportedly the Taliban’s shadow governor for Zabul province and a member of the Taliban Shura, was shot dead in the Naway Adda area of Quetta on December 26. Another veteran Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Malik was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on December 29. Senior Haqqani Network leader Dr Nasiruddin Haqqani was shot dead near Islamabad on November 10.

Nobody has taken responsibility for the killings so far. Officially, the Taliban have denied the spate killings is connected.

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan province and about 80 kilometers from the Afghanistan border. US and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of supporting Afghan militants and giving them sanctuary in Quetta. Islamabad has always denied their presence. “Reports of presence of Afghan Taliban in Quetta are baseless,” Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti told reporters in Quetta. “There are no signs of Afghan Taliban in the province,” he said, adding he had no information about the recent killings of Taliban leaders.

“A number of other low-ranking Afghan Taliban militants have also been killed in the Pashtun districts of Balochistan in recent months,” said a leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Nazaryati faction (JUI-N), a religious party that openly supports the Afghan Taliban and their battle in Afghanistan.

Rahmatullah Nabeel, the chief of Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS), told Afghan reporters that nearly 12 Afghan Taliban commanders had been killed in Quetta, and all of them had been speaking to the Afghan president’s negotiators, either directly, or through provincial governors or tribal elders.

Experts who monitor the activities of Afghan Taliban say there are several explanations. “One possibility – suggested by the Afghan Taliban – is that the Afghan intelligence service is responsible,” said Michael Kugelman, senior program associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based think tank.

Quetta is about 80 kilometers from the Afghan border

Talking to the Kabul-based Khaama Press, Afghan Taliban leaders said they believed Gen Abdul Razaq, the security chief of Kandahar province, was behind the cross-border assassination campaign. They said they had arrested six suspects, who had confessed during interrogation that they were part of a special cell created by Gen Razaq.

Some observers and Afghan officials blame these killings on Pakistani officials, saying they feared losing influence over the commanders who had become part of peace talks. “A second possibility is that the Pakistani intelligence agency, unhappy about the Afghan Taliban pursuing peace, is behind the killings,” said Kugelman. Blaming the ISI for the killings, Daoud Jalali, a former official at the Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, told Voice of America that Pakistani intelligence agencies would do whatever it took to stop Taliban commanders from making contacts with Afghan officials.

Sources close to the Afghan Taliban say internal rivalries and revenge attacks are also a major reason behind the recent series of killings. “Hardline factions of the Afghan Taliban, strongly opposed to peace, could be culprits,” said Kugelman. “The fourth possibility is some combination of the second and third possibilities.”

Afghan Taliban who support the peace process complain they have nothing to show to their wary partners from their engagement with Kabul and Washington, say Afghan journalists.

A report published in Hasht-e-Subh newspaper in October said there had been a split in the Afghan Taliban on the issue of peace talks, and a new group Mahaz Fedai Tahrik Islami Afghanistan, or the Suicidal Front of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, was formed in June after a Taliban liaison office opened in Doha for negotiations with the US and the Afghan government.  The group is very close to Al Qaeda, the report said.

Shadows of local residents are reflected on a bullet-riddled wall of a bakery where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated near Islamabad

Dr Asim Yousafzai, another Washington-based Afghan expert, says there will be heightened tensions and increased bloodshed throughout 2014. “The killings of Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan are a precursor and a window into what we will observe in the coming months,” said Yousafzai, who recently wrote a book titled Afghanistan: From Cold War to Gold War. “Each side is trying to score as many blows as possible, and the strongest player will emerge victorious.”

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