by Zia Ur Rehman

November 14, 2014

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the country’s largest alliance of Taliban militant groups, has been suffering a split in its ranks as several key commanders have formally announced to form their own factions or abandon the collation in recent months. Analysts take it to mean that the organization is weakening.

A soldier stands guard in Miranshah Bazaar during the recent operation against the Taliban –

The TTP is not a monolith. It ismade up of several different Taliban groups, mainly operating in Swat, South Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur, and formed in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. After the killing Mehsud in a drone strike in November 2013 and the appointment of Maulana Fazlullah as the new emir, cracks began to appear in the coalition. The main reason behind the split in the beginning was the dominance of Mehsud militants in the organisational structure and policy-making of the TTP. A Peshawar-based journalist who covers Taliban groups operating in the region said Baitullah, Hakimullah, Waliur Rehman and Khan Said alias Sajna, all key commanders of the TTP as well, and a majority of its members were from the Mehsud tribe. He said the appointment of Fazlullah as the head of the TTP signaled a significant shift for the organization into a group based increasingly on ideology rather than tribal ties. But it failed, he added, because a majority of Mehsud militants take Sajna to be their leader, instead of following the directives of Fazlullah.

The Mehsud chapter – a powerful group led by Sajna – has already left the TTP in late May, accusing the alliance’s leaders of being involved in un-Islamic practices. The group is now carrying out peace talks with the government through an 11-member Jirga consisting of Mehsud tribal elders. An elder said that Mehsud militants would not carry out subversive activities in Pakistan and only focus on Afghanistan.

A new Taliban spokesman from Gilgit Baltistian has caused fear in the region

Also, the TTP Punjab chapter, commonly known as Punjabi Taliban and headed by Asmatullah Muawiya, a former leader of South Punjab-based banned Jihadi group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), announced on September 12 the cessation of subversive activities in Pakistan “in the best interest of Islam and the country”.

Mohmand militants led by Abdul Wali, who is known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, has also left the TTP and formed the ‘Jamaatul Ahrar’. The group has also announced support for the Mangal Bagh-led Lashkar-e-Islam militant group in Khyber Agency, which was not part of the TTP.

Six other key commanders, including Shiekh Maqbool, a militant commander from Kurram Agency who was TTP’s central spokesman under the assumed name Shahidullah Shahid, has recently defected and announced allegiance to Abu Bakar Baghdadi, the chief of Islamic State, in October.

Following the split, Maulana Fazlullah-led TTP appointed Muhammad Khurasani as its new spokesman on November 7. Sources close to Taliban say his real name is Maulana Muhammad Ali Balti and he is known in Taliban circles as Mufti Khalid. He belongs to Chorbat, an area near the Indian border in district Ghanche of Gilgit Baltistan, they say. Local analysts say that the announcement that a militant commander from Gilgit Baltistian is the new TTP spokesman has caused fear in the region. “It could worsen the security situation and escalate the sectarian violence in Gilgit Baltistan,” said an editor of a local Urdu newspaper.

The TTP has also announced Mansoor Mohmand as new chief of its Mohmand agency chapter, in a bid to regain lost ground in the tribal district following the defection of its Mohmand chapter leadership. However, tribal elders and journalists says that the new emir is little known and will not be able to organize the group easily in the presence of leaders of TTP Jamaatul Ahrar.

Analysts believe that the recent split has made it more difficult for Fazlullah to bring any semblance of order to his increasingly fractious organization. Fazlullah is mainly operating from Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan and has influence in Karachi. However, the TTP has lost its ground in South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Mohmand tribal agencies.

“It seems that Mehsud militants led by Sajna and Punjabi Taliban led by Moawiya are also becoming ’good Taliban’ and in the near future, they would be in an alliance with the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led North Waziristan militants and the Bahawal Khan-led Wana militants – groups that were operating under a non-aggression pact with Pakistani security forces and mainly focusing on Afghanistan,” said the Peshawar editor of an English daily.

But the Fazlullah-led TTP and the newly formed Jamaatul Ahrar are unlikely to abandon their violent activities.