By Zia Ur Rehman
April 18, 2014
Infighting between two groups of the Mehsud faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has stopped after efforts by key Taliban leaders especially belonging to the Haqqani Network, but tribal elders and other sources say the ceasefire is temporary. More violence is likely in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Pashtun areas of Karachi, they say.
More than 40 militants have been killed since April 7 in the infighting between the two groups in South Waziristan, North Waziristan and district Tank in the last two weeks, Mehsud tribal elders say.
The split between factions formerly led by Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud – killed in drone attacks – had begun in Karachi and spilled over to the tribal areas. Khan Saeed alias Sajna heads the Waliur Rehman group while Sheharyar Mehsud and Ehsanullah alias Warghoom Kay are leaders of Hakimullah group. Hakimullah and Waliur Rehman were killed in drone strikes on November 1 and May 29 last year respectively.
In recent violent clashes, several militants including Kasheed Khan Mehsud, an important commander loyal to Sheharyar Mehsud, have been gunned down in several attacks in various parts of North and South Waziristan. In the nieghbouring district of Tank, five people were killed in a gun attack on April 9. Three of them were linked to the TTP.
The TTP remained silent on the matter in the beginning, but then their spokesman Shahidullah Shaid released a statement saying the TTP had nothing to do with the clashes. “A segment of the media is exaggerating the normal differences between two groups in South Waziristan,” Shahid told reporters. He said the fighting would not affect the ongoing peace talks between the TTP and the government.
Azam Tariq, spokesman of TTP’s South Waziristan chapter claimed the two groups had agreed on a one-month truce. Media reports say the two sides plan to hold meetings during the ceasefire to resolve their differences.
A source said Sajna was in favor of dialogue with the government, while Commander Sheharyar, the leader of the rival faction, opposed talks.
Mehsud tribal elders and other sources believe that that the ceasefire is temporarily and the groups will start carrying out attacks against each other soon. “The faction led by Sajna has asked the TTP Shura to expel Sheharyar Mehsud and his militants from the area, while Sheraryar Mehsud asked the TTP to compel Sajna to hand over the killer of Kasheed Khan,” a Mehsud elder said.
Differences between the factions of the TTP led by Hakimullah Mehusd and Waliur Rehman began after the killing of TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike in August 2009. Both of them were contenders for the TTP emir. The differences were resolved temporarily after the TTP Shura appointed Hakimullah as the group’s chief and Waliur Rehman as his deputy. But the split resurfaced when, after the killing of Waliur Rehman in a drone strike in May 2013, his followers appointed Khan Said aka Sajna to replace him without consulting Hakimullah. Hakimullah also appointed his man Latif Mehsud as the deputy head of the TTP, after he had developed serious differences with Sajna. Latif was arrested by US troops from the Logar province of Afghanistan on October 5, 2013, where he had gone to hold talks with Afghan intelligence officials.
Because of these differences, TTP’s Mehsud faction had been divided into two groups in Karachi — one loyal to TTP’s former chief Hakimullah while the second is loyal to TTP-South Waziristan chief Waliur Rehman. Hakimullah appointed Qari Yar Muhammad as the TTP chief in Karachi and Sher Khan as the city’s operational commander. Waliur Rehman appointed Mufti Noor Wali as the TTP Karachi chief and Khan Zaman as the operational commander.
Violent clashes between the two groups in started in Karachi when fighters loyal to Waliur Rehman killed Sher Khan in the Manghopir area of Karachi on August 16 last year. At least 30 key leaders of Hakimullah Mehsud have been murdered by the rival faction since then. Recently, the Waliur Rehman group virtually expelled the entire Hakimullah faction from the port city, according to intelligence officials and Mehsud tribal elders.
Elders and sources say the Hakimullah faction lost the battle because it had no powerful commander to replace Hakimullah. Some Mehsud militants associated with Hakimullah, who had refused to work under Sajna and were working with the Mullah Sangeen Zadran group of the Haqqani Network and some cells of Al Qaeda, are now supporting the militants led by Sheharyar Mehsud. Three Haqqani Network militants have been killed in recent attacks, likely because of the infighting.
The writer is a journalist and researcher.