Realignment in Waziristan

Posted: June 11, 2014 in Published in, The Friday Times

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By Zia Ur Rehman

June 6, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/realignment-in-waziristan/

After the separation of Mehsud militants from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and formerly pro-state North Waziristan commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s announcement to revoke his truce with the government, various militant groups have started working out a new Taliban alliance in the tribal region.

Analysts believe there will be more splits among the ranks of Taliban throughout this year, and new alliances will continue to emerge amidst the changing circumstances in FATA and Afghanistan especially after the withdrawal of US forces from the country.

On May 28, Khan Said alias Sajna, the head of TTP’s Mehsud faction (linked to Waliur Rehman), announced he was quitting the TTP, alleging that the “directionless” alliance was involved in extortion and attacks on innocent civilians and places of worship.

A Taliban militant stops during a patrol in Waziristan

“A group of conspirators in the TTP has compelled the organization to target public places, and then claim responsibility of the attacks, carried out under various fake names,” said his spokesman Azam Tariq, whose real name is Raees Mehsud.

The TTP has not responded so far.

Local Mehsud elders believe the Mehsud faction of Taliban has been dealing with a crisis since the killing of former TTP emir Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike. Differences between two factions loyal to Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud became severe over time, and more than 300 militants, including key commanders, were killed in infighting in North and South Waziristan, Tank, and Karachi.

In order to control the infighting, TTP’s new emir Mullah Fazlullah removed Sajna from his position as the chief of the group’s Mehsud circle, and appointed Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, deputy head of the TTP, as an interim emir of Mehsud Taliban. But Sajna refused to accept his dismissal.

“Mehsud militants were not ready to accept a non-Mehsud Fazlullah as their new leader since day one,” said an official working in political administration of South Waziristan. He said the separation of the Mehsud faction, the most powerful militant group within the TTP, is a blow the organization.

Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based security analyst, says it will be difficult for Fazlullah’s TTP to find new strong allies in the Waziristan region. Two pro-state militant groups – the Mullah Nazir faction and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction – also dislike Fazlullah, and so does the Haqqani Network, he said.

But local elders and security officials say things are not that simple. “The government has been busy in separate clandestine peace talks with the Sajna faction and working to transform the group from ‘bad Taliban’ to ‘good Taliban’,” said a Mehsud tribal elder in Islamabad, adding that security agencies, working on “divide-and-rule policy” had helped the Sajna-led militants expel their rival Hakimullah faction from Karachi.

Another Mehsud political leader associated with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said Sajna made the decision to bring back the displaced Mehsud population to their native town. Almost the entire population of the Mehsud tribe had been displaced because of a military operation against the TTP in the Mehsud area of South Waziristan that began in October 2009. Sources privy to the recent developments say local leaders of  JUI-F helped the government persuade Sajna to leave the TTP.

On the other hand, the militant group led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan announced on May 30 to revoke their truce with the government, citing the recent air strikes by security forces as a breach of the accord. The group also asked the local population to leave the area by June 10, saying it was getting ready to resist the military operation.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur signed a peace treaty with the government in 2008, and had not been targeting Pakistani security forces since then, mainly focusing on Afghanistan. But the group was providing sanctuaries to the TTP and other foreign militants, especially the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, in the area under their control.

Because of that, there had been immense pressure on Pakistan from both the US and China, to carry out operation in Waziristan, against militants targeting their interests.

“The government is not taking action against Hafiz Gul Bahadur, but against the foreign militants, which are creating problems now for Pakistan,” said a retired military officer, who had served in the region. “It seems that the announcement to end the truce is a tactical move by Gul Bahadur to pave way for the government to target foreign militants.”

Insiders say Sajna is planning to orchestrate a new Taliban alliance and was already contacting various groups in the tribal areas, especially North Waziristan.

It seems that the new Taliban alliance may consists of three powerful militant factions led by Sajna, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and Bahawal Khan, also known as Salahuddin Ayubi, who is the chief of the Mullah Nazir group in the Waziristan region.

The group will not target Pakistani interests, and focus on Afghanistan.

Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and researcher based in Islamabad

 

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