Archive for the ‘The Friday Times’ Category

Buner beware

Posted: January 25, 2015 in Published in, The Friday Times
Tags: ,

tft-logo

By Zia Ur Rehman

January 9, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/buner-beware/

On December 31, unidentified militants shot dead three police constables and injured the station house officer of the Jowar police station in Buner. The cops went missing during an overnight search operation in Shoprang area of the district.

According to the local legislator, 17 policemen have disappeared in Buner in recent months. A number of tribal elders and political leaders, especially those belonging to the Awami National Party (ANP), have been killed in gun attacks in the district, and the residents live in fear. Local journalists and political leaders believe Taliban militants hiding in the mountainous border between Buner and Swat are responsible.

A destroyed vehicle at the site of a suicide attack in Buner in 2012. Six people were killed in the attack, including anti-Taliban leader Fateh Khan

After gaining control of Swat, Taliban militants led by Mullah Fazlullah had extended their influence in the neighboring Buner and seized control of a large part of the district after a brief battle with local residents in April 2009.

From their stronghold in Swat, the Taliban made several incursions into Buner, but faced a stiff armed resistance from the people. Residents of Buner dug up roads to block the entry of the Taliban from Swat, and took up positions at vantage points in the hills to fight the militants. In August 2008, a volunteer force of villagers in Shalbandai village killed six Taliban militants, including a key commander, Kamran, who had killed eight policemen in the village. The Taliban took revenge, sending a suicide bomber to the Shalbandai village on the day of a National Assembly by-election. Tens of villagers were killed in the attack. But the Taliban militants could not seize Buner until early April 2009, when the ANP-led provincial government had struck a peace deal with the Swat Taliban. By May 2009, the truce had fallen apart and the areas controlled by the Taliban were freed in the military operation that followed.

A number of local leaders have left the area because of security concerns

Buner’s residents are confident the Taliban will not be able to win control of their district, but the threat of attacks on political and social figures has created an atmosphere of fear.

Hassan Buneri, a provincial leader of National Youth Organisation (NYO), says he feels insecure in his hometown after the ‘targeted killings’ of liberal political leaders. After receiving direct threats from Taliban militants, he moved to Peshawar. “We have lost a number of party leaders in the district in recent months and the ANP is their key target,” Buneri said. A number of local leaders have left the area because of security concerns.

Among the politicians killed by the Taliban in the recent months are Afzal Khan, Adalat Khan, Muhammad Khan, Anwar Ali and Gul Zaman. In 2012, Taliban militants killed Fateh Khan, head of an anti-Taliban militia and a leader of Qaumi Watan Party, in a suicide attack.

An official at the Jowar police station said Taliban militants were active in the mountains of Elum and carried out attacks in Gadezai and Salarzai areas of Buner. “During the military operation in Swat in 2009, there were reports that a number of Taliban militants had found sanctuaries in the mountainous border areas of Swat and Buner,” he said. In May, the military had imposed curfew in the area and carried out a search operation. He said Manikhel, Pacha Kalay and Sultanwas union councils were the most sensitive. Locals say Taliban militants are seen in public both at night and during the day.

“It seems that the army operations have only shattered the network of Taliban militants, but not finished them,” said a political leader in Pirbaba area. Militants continue to target local leaders in hit-and-run attacks, he said.

“Buner is not in the tribal areas and Elum mountains are not Torabora, where the government cannot end Taliban sanctuaries and protect the people from their attacks,” said a principal of a government school in the district.

Mufti Fazal Ghafoor, a JUI-F legislator elected from Buner, took up the issue in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on January 5. “The provincial government has not taken the matter of terrorists’ activities in the mountains of Elum seriously, and it has become no go area,” he said, adding that 17 policemen had gone missing in the area in recent months.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/buner-beware/#sthash.B6xLVASd.dpuf

tft-logo

By Zia Ur Rehman

December 26, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/crackdown-in-karachi/

Law enforcement agencies have intensified operations against various Taliban groups in Karachi, in response to the December 16 killing of over 140 children at an army-run school in Peshawar.

Rangers and police have killed a number of TTP militants, including Abid Mehsud, alias Mucharh – an operational commander of the Mehsud faction of TTP led by Khan Said alias Sajna – in an encounter with Rangers on December 18.

The Mehsud faction broke away from the TTP – which claimed the Peshawar attack – in late May, and was carrying out peace talks with the government through an 11-member jirga of Mehsud tribal elders, one of whom said they had agreed not to carry out subversive activities inside Pakistan and focus on Afghanistan.

But on December 21, Azam Tariq, the spokesman of the faction, endorsed the Peshawar school attack and said it was a reaction to the killing of children in military operations and drone attacks.

The same day, the police’s criminal investigation department (CID) killed two militants of the Sajna faction. On December 22, police and rangers killed nine militants belonging to the TTP and four operatives of Al Qaeda in the Deluxe Town locality of Sohrab Goth.

“Mucharh was the most dangerous commander of the TTP,” said an officer in Manghopir police station. “He was involved in attacks on the Rangers and police and workers of the Awami National Party,” he said, “and was collecting extortion money from Pashtun traders.”

He said Mucharh’s killing “was a big blow to the TTP in Karachi and a great achievement for law enforcement agencies”.

The city and its law-enforcement officials fear revenge attacks

Mehsud tribal elders in Karachi and Tank say the recent killings have disrupted the peace talks. Background interviews with the Pashtun elders, analysts and police officials familiar with the network of the TTP in Karachi reveal that most of the Pashtun-majority areas of the city are under the TTP’s influence. Law and order conditions in these neighbourhoods have worsened in the last two years, as the TTP joined hands with local operatives of banned sectarian outfits and criminal syndicates. They have become “no-go areas” for law enforcement agencies, liberal political activists especially those belonging to the ANP, polio vaccinators and nongovernmental organizations.

The recent operations seem to be part of a genuine crackdown against Taliban groups in the city, according to them.

tft-46-p-1-i

“The situation has changed completely after the Peshawar attack, it seems,” said a tribal journalist who covers militancy in North and South Waziristan region. “The military has been targeting all Taliban groups, whether they were involved in peace talks or not.” He said that the Sajna faction might rejoin the TTP alliance.

Police officers in Karachi said that the city and its law-enforcement officials might become targets of revenge attacks after the recent executions of militants and the intensification of the operation against Taliban.

“Our officers have been receiving threatening phone calls from Afghan Taliban leaders,” said a CID officer. He said law enforcement agencies have increased security of the offices of military and police, vital installations such as the airport, shipping ports and oil terminals, political leaders, foreign diplomatic missions, and civil society organisations.

The writer is a journalist who covered security issues in Pakistan. 

Twitter: @zalmayzia

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/crackdown-in-karachi/#sthash.EZIT838a.dpuf

tft-logo

By Zia Ur Rehman

December 17, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/target-mangal-bagh/

Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI), the Mangal Bagh-led militant organization based in the Khyber tribal agency, is facing a serious existential threat after the Pakistani military started a full-fledged operation codenamed ‘Operation Khyber One’ in the tribal district.

The political administration in Khyber Agency claims that security forces have been targeting all militant groups including Ansarul Islam (AI), an LeI rival, and Haji Nadmar’s militant group once known as Amr Bil Maroof Wanahi Anil Munkar (Invitation to Virtue and Negation of Vice). But local journalists and tribal elders say that the main targets are the LeI and some militants belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who moved to Bara and other areas of Khyber Agency after fleeing the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan.

A girl travels atop a vehicle laden with her family’s belongings, as they flee the military offensive against militants in the Khyber Agency –

Khyber Agency is one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies and borders Afghanistan to the west, Orakzai Agency to the south, Mohmand Agency to the north and the district of Peshawar to the east. Militant groups such as the LeI, the AI, the TTP and Haji Nadmar group have became active in the region after 2004 and have since wreaked havoc on the lives of Khyber’s residents. Though the militant groups often compete with one another, the LeI, which is loosely allied with the TTP, has a strong base in the region.

The TTP and its breakaway faction Jamaatul Ahrar have sent fighters to help Lashkar-e-Islam

The LeI is based in areas where a majority of the population belongs to the Afridi tribe and are most prominent in the Bara sub-division of Khyber Agency. Recently, however, the strategically located Tirah valley has emerged as a flash point in Khyber Agency and is believed to have been used by Al Qaeda militants escaping into Pakistan in the wake of US and NATO attacks on Afghanistan in 2001. Security officials believe that a number of militant commanders belonging to the TTP and other groups from North Waziristan have also taken refuge there because of Operation Zarb-e-Azab.

Although the several counterterrorism operations launched by the Pakistani military in Khyber Agency in the past few years have failed to dislodge local militant groups, tribal elders believe that it seems that the government has decided to disrupt the command-and-control of the LeI in the new operation.

“Before the launching the operation, Khyber Agency political agent Shahab Ali Shah explained Jirga tribal elders in Khyber House in Peshawar that security forces are launching a full-fledged operation,” said an Afridi tribal elder, who attended the meeting. “In previous military operations, the authorities did not consult tribal elders,” he said. “But this time they convened meeting with us.”

All the military operations in Khyber Agency carried out in the past were given theatrical Pushto codenames, like Daraghlam (Here I Come!), Bya Daraghlam (Here I Come Again!), and Khwakh ba de Sham (I will fix you).

The TTP and its breakaway faction that named itself Jamaatul Ahrar after it separated from them in August 2014 have also announced support for the LeI and have sent fighters to help Mangal Bagh in response to a request he made.

“The LeI has never been a part of the TTP. It is an alliance of various militant groups operating in the region,” said a Khyber-Agency-based journalist. “The announcement of support for the group from both the factions of the TTP is an important development.” He said that the LeI remains a serious threat in Khyber and beyond, having the capability to cause trouble in Peshawar.

The recent operation has also forced thousands of families to flee the area. More than 30,000 people have been moved out from Sipah, Kamarkhel and Akkakhel, according to officials in the political administration. A large number of Khyber Agency’s families are already displaced and political officials say most of the new displaced families registered with them in 2009 and 2010.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/target-mangal-bagh/#sthash.U4CWtf0K.dpuf

tft-logo

by Zia Ur Rehman

Nov 21, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/backlash/

Bangladesh’s diplomatic missions in Pakistan are facing serious security threats after its war crimes court gave out stern sentences to leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Khalida Zia-led Bangladesh National Party (BNP) for mass murder and rape during their 1971 independence struggle against Pakistan. Analysts say militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda could target Bangladeshi interest in Pakistan, especially in Karachi.

Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan shout slogans during a protest against the Bangladeshi government –

Police and security officials in Karachi say that law enforcement agencies have received letters from the federal home ministry to beef up the security of Bangladesh high commission in Islamabad and their deputy high commission in Karachi. Dhaka’s diplomatic officials in Islamabad had told the Pakistani foreign office (FO) in a letter that unidentified people had threatened to attack the two buildings, they say.

“We have increased the security of the diplomatic missions of Bangladesh and the residences of their staffers,” a senior police official said. The missions were closed down for several days in the beginning of November.

In Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a domestic crimes court set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects involved in the mass murder in 1971, had indicted several political leaders since 2012, said Rezwan Islam, a Bangladeshi political analyst currently based in Canberra. They included nine leaders of the JI – the largest Islamist party in the country that opposed the independence of Bangladesh during the war and helped Pakistan Army – two of the BNP, one from the ruling Awami league, one from the opposition Jatiyo party and several leaders from the defunct Muslim League. So far, 28 people – some of them not politicians – have either received a verdict or are on trial.

Zawahiri has called on the Muslims of Bangladesh to wage a Jihad

Dubbing the tribunals ‘fake courts’, JI Pakisan has strongly condemned the death sentences given to the JI Bangladesh leadership, especially its chief Motiur Rehman Nizami. Nizami led the JI’s student organization, Islamic Chhatro Shango (ICS), in 1971, which, Bangladeshi politicians and court say, was involved in war crimes at that time.

Following a call by the JI Pakistan chief Sirajul Haq, protest demonstration were organized across the country against the verdicts of Bangladeh’s ICT. They asked the Pakistani government to present before the international community a tripartite agreement that was signed between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India following the 1971 War. “According to the agreement, signed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then Pakistani prime minister, Indira Gandhi, then Indian prime minister, and Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, then Bangladesh president, and endorsed by several states including the United Kingdom and the United States, the three countries had agreed to release all prisoners of war and not to punish anyone for their role in the war,” said a JI leader in Karachi. He criticized the Pakistani government for keeping a “criminal silence” over the convictions of “patriotic Pakistanis who had sided with the Pakistani army in the 1971 war”.

Chaudhary Nisar, federal home minister, has also expressed concern over the death penalty given to Nizami. “Though what happens in Bangladesh is that country’s internal matter, Pakistan cannot remain divorced from references to 1971 and its aftermath,” he said. Last year, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution expressing concern over the execution of Abdul Quader Molla, another JI central leader, who, according to the text of the resolution, was punished for “supporting Pakistan in 1971”.

After Nisar’s statement, Pakistan’s acting high commissioner in Dhaka was summoned by the Bangladesh foreign ministry and conveyed a strong protest over the minister’s remarks on the ongoing war crimes trials.

Political analysts say there were fears that JI Pakistan, and especially its sister organizations Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) and Shabab-e-Milli, would carry out violent protest outside the Bangladesh diplomatic missions. But the protests were largely peaceful.

But analysts and security officials who monitor the global Jihadi network see it differently. They say local militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda could target Bangladeshi interests in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. “There are several Al Qaeda cells operating in the city and there are reports that a number of members of JI, especially from the IJT, have joined them,” said a Karachi-based police officer. “These groups could target Bangladeshi diplomatic missions.”

Al Qaeda has been struggling recently to set up a network in Bangladesh. In an audio tape released in February, Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has called on the Muslims of Bangladesh to wage a Jihad to protect Islam. “My Muslim brothers in Bangladesh, I invite you to confront this crusader onslaught against Islam, which is being orchestrated by the leading criminals in the subcontinent and the West against Islam, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and the Islamic creed, so that they may turn you into slaves of a despotic and disbelieving system,” he said in the message titled “Bangladesh: A Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence”.

An Islamabad-based analyst who monitors video messages by global Jihadi groups said Zawahiri offered accounts of Bangladesh’s freedom from Pakistan in the video message in a way similar to the one presented by the JI.

TTP is crumbling

Posted: November 22, 2014 in Published in, The Friday Times
Tags: ,

tft-logo

by Zia Ur Rehman

November 14, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/ttp-is-crumbling

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.

tft-logo

By Zia Ur Rehman

October 31, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/fallout/

The recent suicide bombing in Quetta – the third failed attempt of its kind to assassinate prominent political figure Maulana Fazlur Rehman – indicates a growing ideological divide between religious parties and Taliban militant groups, analysts believe.

Fazlur Rehman, head of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s (JUI-F), was unhurt in the attack that took place shortly after a rally in Quetta on October 3. One person was killed and 20 others injured in the blast near his bulletproof vehicle.

Security and rescue officials gather at the site of the suicide bombing near the JUI-F rally in Quetta –

A faction of Taliban consisting mainly of Mehsud militants and led by Khan Said alias Sajna condemned the attack, but another militant group Jundullah claimed responsibility, vowing to attack Fazlur Rehman again.

“We very proudly claim responsibility for the suicide attack on Fazlur Rehman and we will do it again,” said Ahmed Marwat, the group’s spokesman. “He has been speaking and acting against us, for which he was targeted.”

JUI-F leaders say Rehman has criticized and opposed the US policies in the Middle East, but also militancy, sectarian proxy wars, and acts that undermine democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan. “We believe it is an international agenda to silence the voice of Fazlur Rehman,” said Jan Achakzai, a leader of the party. “JUI-F is the only force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan particularly working against sectarianism and extremism and a stumbling block against the creation of something like the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Syria in Pakistan.” He said the rise of ISIS was a byproduct of the rivalry in the Middle East between the US and regional forces. “All those exploiting such fault lines in Pakistan see the JUI-F opposed to extremist forces. They mastermind such attacks.”

The first attack on Fazlur Rehman took place near Swabi on March 30, and the second in Charsadda the very next day. About 20 people were killed in the two attacks. The JUI-F is among Pakistan’s leading religious political parties and follows the Deobandi school of thought, relying on a large network of religious seminaries. It is working for what is described as a “pure Islamic state”, but mainly functions as an ‘electoral party’. Success in elections, no matter how limited, has given them opportunities to form governments at provincial level as well as a presence in various federal cabinets, and hence access to resources and power. The party had a strong influence on Pakistan’s militant groups. Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Waliur Rehman Meshud and his successor Sajna, and several other militant leaders in the FATA region were affiliated with the JUI-F and its student wing Jamiat Talaba-e-Islam.

But in the last few years, key leaders and activists of JUI-F have been targeted and killed in KP and FATA by Taliban militants, including Maulana Mairajuddin, a former MNA from Mehsud area of South Waziristan, Maulana Noor Muhammad Wazir, a former MNA from Wana area of South Waziristan, Haji Khan Afzal, former district mayor of Hangu, and Maulana Mohsin Shah from Lakki Marwat.

Some analysts and party leaders believe the attacks were carried out by irreconcilable Pakistani militant groups which disapprove of JUI-F’s policies, especially supporting the government, which is carrying out a military operation against the Taliban in FATA. “The attacks are a result of a growing ideological divide among Pakistani Taliban concerning the legitimacy of the Pakistani state,” said a security analyst based in Peshawar. Insiders say the JUI-F’s relationship with various Taliban groups, especially the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, have deteriorated over the last seven years. Analysts say the party blames the US for the attacks in order to downplay its differences with the Taliban.

Some observers link the recent attack on Fazlur Rehman with sectarianism in Balochistan. “We are against sectarianism and violent means of Jihad, and believe in democratic means,” said a party leader in Quetta. “Our former Balochistan party head Maulana Khan Muhammad Sherani had formed the Ittehad-e-Millat-e-Islamia Mahaz (IMIM), an alliance of six groups belonging to different sects, in Quetta, and openly condemned the banned sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for killing hundreds of Shia Hazaras in Quetta.” Sherani, who is considered a strong critic of Taliban and sectarian groups and has resisted them in the Pashtun areas of Balochistan, escaped an assassination attempt in November 2004. He had blamed a group of Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Dadullah (who was later killed by US forces in Afghanistan) for the attack.

Since the formation of IMIM, the LeJ had been threatening JUI-F leaders in Balochistan, calling them ‘Iranian agents’ and ‘secular leaders’. The JUI-F had decided not to join the Difa-e-Pakistan Council – an alliance of religious parties, Jihadi groups and retired military leaders, led by Jamaatud Dawa – which was formed after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.A JUI-F leader said that party did not want to be seen by foreign observers as being tied to banned militant organizations.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/fallout/#sthash.FTxuzpVR.dpuf

tft-logo

By Zia Ur Rehman

September 19, 2014

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/punjabi-taliban-will-fight-in-afghanistan/

Pakistani Jihadi groups are preparing for what they expect will be a civil war in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US forces at the end of this year, analysts say, and a recent video message of the Punjab chapter of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) corroborates the reports.

Afghan National Army soldiers from 2nd Kandak, 2nd Battalion, 201st Corps rest during an operation in Kunar province – See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/punjabi-taliban-will-fight-in-afghanistan/#sthash.c0S5QI3r.dpuf

The TTP Punjab, commonly known as Punjabi Taliban and headed by by Asmatullah Muawiya (a former leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), a Punjab-based banned Jihadi group) announced on September 13 the cessation of subversive activities in Pakistan, “in the best interest of Islam and the country”. Earlier, in a September 5 statement, the group said it would continue to fight in the neighbouring Afghanistan.

TTP insiders say that Muawiya surrendered to the security forces in the Razmak fort of North Waziristan a few weeks ago and made a peace agreement with them. “Now the group will abandon violent attacks in Pakistan and will send militants to Afghanistan for fighting,” said a Meshud tribal elder who is familiar with the development. The information could not be verified from any military sources.

Pakistan Army frequently denies links with the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan and says its recent operation against militants in North Waziristan is indiscriminate. “For the security forces, there will be no discrimination among the TTP groups or the Haqqani militant network,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said during a recent briefing to reporters. “All the terrorist groups are going to be eliminated.”

US Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, who has recently stepped down as the top US commander in Afghanistan, told the Associated Press that although some fighters had fled to Afghanistan, “we didn’t see hundreds of fighters massing, or any significant level of violence increase that would indicate the enemy came from North Waziristan and was able to conduct operations inside Afghanistan.” US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen Martin Dempsey said it was too early to judge the offensive by the Pakistani military. “I think it’s too soon to say this has all been, you know, symbolic, or this has been less effective than it needs to be.

The US government is considering withdrawing all of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Regardless of whether it leaves some troops behind, it is certain that there will be major consequences for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, analysts believe. “The Punjabi Taliban’s decision to take their fight to Afghanistan underscores the perils of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan,” said Michael Kugelman, a security analyst assocaited with the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “The departure of most international forces will leave a security vacuum that the Afghan forces will struggle to fill – and that regional militants, particularly those affiliated with the Taliban, will happily exploit.”

Insiders say Mehsud militants led by Khan Said alias Sajna persuaded Muawiya to lay down arms and abandon subversive activities in Pakistan. After separating from the TTP, Meshud militants decided that they will niether recruit any non-Mehsud fighter nor give shelter them. “It seems that Mehsud militants led by Sajna and Punjabi Taliban led by Muawiya are also becoming ’good Taliban’ and in the near future, they would be in an alliance with the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led militants in North Waziristan and Bahawal Khan-led militants in Wana – who are operating under a non-aggression pact with Pakistani security forces and mainly focusing on Afghanistan,” said a Peshawar editor of an English daily. But Swati militants loyal by Maulana Fazlullah, and Mohmand militants who have now formed a new group ’Ahrarul Hind’, are unlikely to abandon voilent actitivites in Pakistan.

The recent developments underscore how divided the Pakistani Taliban are

Experts say the recent developments underscore how divided the Pakistani Taliban are. “On the one hand, you have Punjabi Taliban laying down arms and deploying their fighters in Afghanistan, and yet on the other hand we have a new splinter group of TTP that vows to intensifity its fighti in Pakistan,” said Kugelman. ”This will all make it even more difficult for Fazlullah to bring any semblance of order to his increasingly fractious organization.”

Pakistani Jihadi organizations have already started to reorganize in major cities since the formation of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in November 2011. The DPC is an alliance of right-wing groups – including banned Jihadi groups operating under new names – formed after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at Salala, a border area of Mohmand Agency. Pro-Afghan Taliban Jihadi slogans, flags and posters of outlawed militant groups are visible across the country. The banned groups are operating under new names, but old flags, leaders and headquarters.

The Afghan government is also carefully monitoring the recent divide in Pakistani Taliban and has expressed concerns about the recent announcement of the Punjabi Taliban. Aimal Faizi, spokesperson to the Afghan president Hamid Karzai, said in an interview that Afghan intelligence agencies have pointed to the involvement of Punjabi Taliban in violent attacks in Afghanistan several times. “Punjabi Taliban’s recent message clearly indicate that the Pakistani military is preparing to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs again,” Faizi told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Pashto Aazadi radio. “We have evidences that Punjabi Taliban were leading the recent attacks in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.”

Afghan politicians and activists have expressed similar concerns. Habib Khan, a Kabul-based youth activist, believes that the Punjabi Taliban’s statement shows that Taliban groups, whether Pakistani or Afghan Taliban, are proxies of the Pakistani military establishment to fight their war in Afghanistan – a charge Pakistan Army has repeatedly denied.

The writer is a journalist and researcher.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/punjabi-taliban-will-fight-in-afghanistan/#sthash.c0S5QI3r.dpuf