By Zia Ur Rehman
September 19, 2014
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.
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.