By Zia Ur Rehman

September 5, 2014

Amid the ongoing military operation against the local and foreign Taliban militant groups in North Wazirstan, disgruntled leaders in the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) formed a new faction ‘Jamaatul Ahrar’ last week. Meanwhile, pro-government Taliban commander Turkistan Bhittani, who had been presumed dead, announced his return to the region and vowed to resume his activities.

The announcement of the formation of a new faction of the TTP and the appointment of Qasim Khorasani as its head was made through a video produced at an unknown location and broadcast on behalf of the TTP Mohmand chapter. Ehsanullah Ehsan, who has been appointed as the spokesman for the new group, told reporters that along with Khorasani, the Shura of the new group also consists of Umer Khalid Khorasani from Mohmand Agency, Qari Shakil Haqqani from Charsadda, Maulana Yasin from Swat, Qari Ismail from Khyber Agency, Maulana Abdullah from Bajaur Agency, Mufti Misbah from Peshawar, and Maulana Haider and Mansoor Nazim from Orakzai Agency. He said that the purpose of forming this new group was to save the TTP from further division, frustration and internal rifts.

Analysts believe that the main reason behind the formation of the new group is the dominance of Mehsud militants in the organizational structure and policy-making of the TTP. A Peshawar-based journalist, who covers Taliban groups operating in the region, said that Baitullah, Hakimullah, Waliur Rehman and Khan Said alias Sajna – all key commanders of the TTP as well as majority of its members – were from the Mehsud tribe. He said that the appointment of Maulana Fazlullah as the head of the TTP after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in November last year signals a significant shift for the organization into a group based increasingly on ideology rather than tribal ties. However, he said, it failed because a majority of Mehsud militants, instead of following the directives of Fazlullah, see Sajna as their leader.

A Mehsud tribal elder in Karachi said that Mohmand group not only supported their rival faction headed by Sheharyar Mehsud but also asked Mehsud traders to pay extortion money in Karachi. “It is also a factor behind the differences between Mehsud and Mohmand militants,” he said.

Turkistan was once friends with Baitullah Mehsud and the two fought in Afghanistan together

Analysts say that attacks carried out by little-known militant groups Ahrarul Hind and Ansarul Mujahidin during the peace talks between the TTP and the government exposed a split in the group and showed that the TTP leadership has lost influence over its various factions. The TTP is made up of several different groups, and some of them carry out subversive activities on their own, for reasons varying from tribal affiliations to sectarian views, to ties with foreign militants such as Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Turkistan Bhittani, a pro-government Taliban leader, phoned local journalists and said the reports of his death were false. A tribal journalist based in Tank quoted Turkistan as saying that his group, which is loyal to Pakistani security forces and the government, would be active against the anti-state elements in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts and the Tank Frontier Region – adjacent to South Waziristan – and will play a key role in ending the rising incidents of abduction for ransom, extortion and other crime. Sources in the local law enforcement authorities in Tank could not verify this.

Turkistan, who had retired from the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary (FC) in 1998, was known for his opposition of the then chief of TTP Baitulllah Mehsud. Belonging to the Bhittani tribe from the Sur Ghar area of Jandola, a town situated at the boundary of South Waziristan, Turkistan formed a Lashkar (armed militia) to keep the TTP away from Jandola and Tank.

Turkistan was once friends with Baitullah Mehsud and the two fought in Afghanistan together. But then he abandoned the group and formed an anti-TTP lashkar. Local residents say that the killing of the FC soldiers belonging to his tribe at the hands of the Mehsud militants caused Turkistan to leave the TTP and started fighting against them. Since early 2008, the region has been the scene of tit-for-tat killings between the TTP and the Turkistan-led group.

The fighting cost Turkistan dearly. He lost 70 relatives, including eight members of his family. Among them was his son Hindustan Khan. Then, he joined hands with Qari Zainul Abidin, a relative of late Taliban commander Abdullah Meshud, who was also fighting against the TTP. In the beginning, Turkistan and Zainuddin worked successfully to rid Jandola, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan of the TTP’s influence. The two commanders supported the government when it made public its post-Swat operation against Baitullah and promised to join in the government’s effort. TTP militants assassinated Zainuddin in June 2009, and after his killing, Turkistan ‘disappeared’.

“There were rumors that Turkistan had also been killed by the TTP,” the journalist in Tank said, adding that his recent phone calls to reporters have dismissed the rumors.

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