By Zia Ur Rehman
March 14, 2014
Days after the announcement of a month-long ceasefire by the government and the Pakistani Taliban, terrorist attacks in Islamabad and Hangu indicate that splinter groups of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may not abide by the truce.
The attacks were claimed by two little known militant groups – Ahrarul Hind and Ansarul Mujahideen. Some analysts believe the Taliban concocted these groups as part of a strategy.
The Ahrarul Hind claimed responsibility of the March 3 attack on Islamabad district courts, killing 11 people including a senior judge. The group’s spokesman Asad Mansoor told reporters they were not bound by any ceasefire with the Pakistani government. “We were part of the TTP,” he said, “but now we operate independently.”
The killing of six soldiers of the FC paramilitary force in Hangu on March 5 was claimed by Ansarul Mujahideen. Abu Baseer, the organization’s spokesman, said that the attack was a reaction to US drone attacks on Taliban militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid denied involvement in both the attacks, saying his group was striving for the enforcement of Sharia in the country, and after a ceasefire had been announced, any violation of the truce would be un-Islamic.
But journalists, experts and security officials who monitor the activities of the Taliban say there are serious differences among several Taliban groups over the recent peace negotiations between the government and the TTP. Some militant groups are not happy with ongoing peace talks, and want to sabotage the process by carrying out attacks.
“It is very confusing. There are several militant groups that operate in North Waziristan and other tribal areas but are not part of the TTP,” said a Peshawar-based researcher. A majority of these groups are directly linked with Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
“The Pakistani Taliban is a very fractured and divided organization driven by dissonant factions,” said Michael Kugelman, senior program associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based think tank. “They disagree on various things – from tactics to targets. Several powerful TTP factions, for example, want to focus their fight on Afghanistan, not Pakistan – a position that has put them at odds with the TTP’s previous two leaders, Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud,” he said. –
Daud Khattak, a Prague-based journalists and analyst, believes a number of groups carrying out attacks in the name of Taliban are not happy with the dialogue process. “The reasons are group or individual interests, tribal affiliations, sectarian views, affiliation with foreign militants such as Al Qaeda, and sources of finance,” Khattak said in a recent article in Foreign Policy.
The TTP leadership is frustrated. Sources close to Pakistani Taliban leaders said they had formed a special cell to identify militants associated with splinter groups.
Maulana Yousaf Shah, a member of the Taliban’s negotiation committee, confirmed that the TTP leadership was chasing the little-known militant groups who claimed the recent attacks, especially the Ahrarul Hind.
“First, the TTP leaders will try to persuade the splinter groups to follow the ceasefire. Otherwise they will take stern action against them,” Shah said. He said the TTP should completely disown the breakaway factions that oppose the peace talks and help the government take action against such groups.
According to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, there are 39 militants groups, including the TTP, operating in the province and FATA. Provincial police chief Nasir Durrani recently briefed an advisory committee of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government that included the chief minister and the speaker, and parliamentary leaders of all political parties. He said there were 20 “fake militant groups” using the name of Taliban for extortion and kidnapping.
Ahrarul Hind came into the limelight on February 9 when its spokesman issued a statement to media groups saying it would not accept any peace agreement short of complete enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan. He claimed that the group was headed by Maulana Umar Qasmi. An AFR report said the Ahrarul Hind consisted largely of Punjabi Taliban.
Experts say such groups have no shortage of resources and weapons because of their links to Al Qaeda and other foreign and local fighters.
“So it would have been easy for Ahrarul Hind to commit an advanced, spectacular attack like that on the Islamabad courthouse,” said Kugelman, adding that it could have worked with some of the Punjab-based extremist groups (which, like Ahrarul Hind, regard India as a chief target) or with FATA-based foreign fighters like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Ansarul Mujahideen have remained part of the TTP in the past, Taliban sources say. They had previously claimed the October 2013 killing of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa law minister and PTI leader Israr Gandapur in Dera Ismail Khan. In December 2013, the group also warned PTI chief Imran Khan and Maulana Samiul Haq, the leader of his own faction of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, against championing the polio vaccination campaign.
“Khan and Haq should refrain from supporting the anti-polio campaign,” Abu Baseer had said in a statement. “At the moment, our focus is on Nawaz Sharif’s government, but we will turn our guns towards them” if they do not relent, he had said.
Some analysts and police officials doubt these groups have nothing to do with the TTP. A senior police official in Karachi said there were two main reasons behind the cracks in the Pakistani Taliban. “Some leaders form their own outfits, abandoning their own groups because of differences with their leaders, and then make direct links with TTP, Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban,” he said. “Some groups form new operational cells or groups consisting of some of their members who are responsible for carrying out activities in a specific geographical location.” Law enforcement agencies have discovered several such groups in Karachi. The second kind of splintering should not be viewed as a victory for the law enforcement agencies, because when the militants strategically downsize, they also become hard to catch, experts say.
“By creating fake splinter groups, you give yourself a convenient scapegoat if you want to keep carrying out attacks after declaring a ceasefire, but you don’t want to be seen as being responsible for these attacks,” said Kugelman.
The Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party, both in the opposition, are especially wary.
“I think the cropping up of new groups claiming responsibility, and the pro-Taliban political parties insisting that the good old peace loving TTP have nothing to do with these attacks, is all part of the ongoing peace talks drama,” said Bushra Gohar, a central leader of ANP, a liberal political party which are bearing the brunt of TTP attacks since 2008.
“The government’s non seriousness became evident when it announced a largely pro-Taliban negotiations team, and it became utterly ridiculous when the TTP announced its own committee,” she said.
The Taliban are in talks with the Taliban, Bushra Gohar said, and nothing positive can come out from such a process.
The author is a journalist and a researcher