By Manish Rai
The internecine fighting between Pakistan Taliban factions belonging to the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan forced the TTP shura to devote its energies to mediate a ceasefire in its own ranks. The internal fighting in which an unspecified number of Taliban fighters were killed had also something to do with the peace talks as the TTP factions differed on talking unconditionally to the government and unilaterally declaring ceasefire. To pre-empt further divisions in its ranks and put pressure on the government to accept its demands, the TTP subsequently decided not to extend the 40-day ceasefire. The renewed clashes between rival TTP factions hailing from the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan also created hurdles in holding meaningful talks. Dozens of militants including commander Amir Hamza were reportedly killed in a clash reportedly involving the fighters affiliated to the Khan Said Sajna and the Shahryar Mehsud groups. The clash took place despite claims by the TTP that a ceasefire had been mediated and the dispute resolved through the efforts of its shura. Internal fissure in the otherwise organised Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) seems to be shaping into a tribal war as the outlawed militant group splits along ethnic lines than uniting under its orthodox religious ideology. The infighting started between the two groups of Mehsud tribe when Mualana Fazlullah, on becoming new chief of the TTP after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike, sidelined Khan Said Sajna Mehsud and other TTP members and gave a prominent role to Shehryar Mehsud. Sajna and his loyalists swallowed the bitter pill at that time, but continued planning to overthrow their rivals out of power when the situation turned in their favour.
With TTP Mohmand Agency chief Omar Khalid Khurasani calling the shots in his area, fight between forces of Khan Said alias Sajna and Sheharyar Mehsud has not subsided. Taliban sources say the battle is about controlling South Waziristan, largely inhabited by Mehsud tribe. TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, dubbed as Mullah Radio, has become a mere a titular head of the militant organisation after its key leaders got divided along tribal lines. A senior TTP commander said Fazlullah can influence Taliban in Afghanistan but not in tribal parts of the country. This vacuum of strong central leadership has caused split in TTP and this is the reason that Taliban commanders stick to their tribal identity than religious affiliation. On the other side some security analysts view the rift in TTP ranks as a victory for the security forces and weakening of the ferocious militant group. Mehsuds are the major fighting force of this militant organization. Dividing them on ethnic lines means weakening of TTP. The umbrella TTP group on the other hand has termed the internal rift a petty issue and had blamed the media for creating hype. But that’s not the truth as fighting spilled over from South Waziristan into Shawal in North Waziristan and Gomal area of Tank, the TTP got panicky and appealed to the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network to mediate. When the mediation failed to stop the infighting the TTP started accusing the Pakistani agencies of causing rifts in the organisation, but as matter of fact it’s a just a power struggle inside TTP. The Taliban rely on violence for settling differences. They have vowed to enforce a system of their liking in Pakistan through bullet rather than ballet. Similarly differences among the Taliban are not settled through argument, but resort to the use of weapons.
Some analysts strongly suggest that the infighting will increase further and new alignments and alliances would take place among the TTP and in this process, many key commanders are likely to be assassinated. There is a common belief amongst the ranks of the militants that the intelligence agencies have now taken Commander Sajna and his close allies, including Azam Tariq, in their hands and will use them against the central leadership of the TTP to weaken the outfit. Earlier, it was simply a fight between Shehriar Mehsud and Commander Sajna who had challenged each other’s authority. But Shehriar Mehsud men’s allegation that Commander Azam Tariq was biased during the fighting is ‘something serious’. Inside sources in TTP are of the view that there is hardly any chance that the TTP in South Waziristan would again reunite, as happened in the past. Sajna enjoys the backing of senior commander like Commander Azam Tariq and Commander Shamim and all those militants who want peace in Mehsud dominated areas of South Waziristan. The sources say that the central leadership of TTP will go all-out to support Shehriar Mehsud, as they will not like the area to fall to yet another potential ‘good Taliban’, as this is the hometown of TTP founding leader Baitullah Mehsud, his successor Hakimullah Mehsud, and many more key commanders. Differences in the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) aren’t something new, but it is unusual for its various factions to start killing each other using heavy weapons.
The infighting within the ranks of the TTP, which has claimed more than 40 to 60 lives in the last month, represents a potential opportunity for the government. The killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone strike and the leadership struggle that followed combined with disagreements over negotiating with the government has broken the previously unified front presented by the TTP. This might weaken the TTP as a whole and reduce its ability to strike, something the group has previously done at will. Now the Taliban is led by a lame-duck figure, Maulana Fazlullah, who has struggled to keep his commanders in line and is himself struggling to keep his position intact within the organization. Fazlullah is not a strong leader because he was defeated, he left Pakistan and he remains across the border. Many believe the Taliban chose Fazlullah to quell feuding between rival factions of the Mehsud tribe. But the violence hardly abated after Fazlullah’s nomination, and it began looking like an all-out turf war in Waziristan. It’s clearly visible TTP is bleeding internally due to internal rifts the question now is if the government finds itself willing to take initiatives and take decisive steps like ordering a military operation which will definitely broke the backbone of already divided TTP.