ISLAMABAD - 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.
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.
The Nation learnt that the battle between fighters of Sajna and relatively young Sheharyar erupted when rival tribes tried to rule Mehsud in their own land. They said the fight would unite Mehsuds under Sajna in large to defend their land against invaders (rival tribes).
A key TTP member said that rival ethnic groups were using Sheharyar to oust Sajna of South Waziristan who enjoys widespread support of Mehsud tribe. “We fear that Mehsud tribe will lose their heartland once other tribes enter South Waziristan,” he added.
A source close to Raees Khan, who is commonly known as Azam Tariq and is also head of TTP shura, said that Khan Said Sajna was acting more like a Mehsud leader than a TTP commander mainly because rival tribes intended to rule South Waziristan.
A source said that 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. He said Sajna was not fighting for leadership of TTP but for commanding Mehsud tribe only. He said Sajna had been offered the top slot of TTP many a times but he declined to accept it.
“We cannot allow people of Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai and Khyber agencies to operate freely in the heartland of Mehsuds (South Waziristan) without taking on board Khan Said. We have drawn a clear line that Mehsud tribe will rule their land,” a source close to Sajna said.
Sources said that the unclaimed attacks on police in Charsadda and other settled districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the ceasefire agreement with government was one of the reasons that TTP was not acting like a united force.
“Fazlullah can influence Taliban in Afghanistan but not in tribal parts of the country. This gap caused split in TTP and this is the reason that Taliban commanders stick to their tribal identity than religious affiliation,” a source close to TTP Mohmand chapter commented.
On the other side, security analysts view the fissure in TTP ranks as a victory for the security forces and weakening of the ferocious militant group. “Mehsuds are the major fighting force of TTP. Dividing them on ethnic lines means weakening of TTP. And, this works in tribal culture, “ security analyst Asad Munir said.
“The battle within TTP is not over. It’s difficult to say who would finally command TTP but the point is that for how long will Mehsud tribe bear the brunt of the long drawn-out war? It’s not a war within TTP but a war of Meshuds with other tribes that are intruding into South Waziristan,” a key member of TTP told The Nation on Saturday.
Another another TTP source and member of Mehsud tribe said that Sajna, who controls most of South Waziristan, wanted Mehsud tribe to return to their native villages after tens of thousands of them fled their areas in 2009 due to military operation. “He (Sajna) wants Mehsud tribe and not the ideological members of TTP. Each tribal agency has its own TTP force based on ethnic majority. Fighters from Bajaur, Orakzai and North Waziristan want to control South Waziristan. Sajna wants Mehsuds to rule their land,” he said.
“We will hoist flags of peace on our houses in South Waziristan soon. The battle has turned out to be too long for us. The rest of tribes in tribal agencies have been rehabilitated but most of Mehsuds remain refugees. We think that South Waziristan has been turned into a hell for Mehsuds,” Kalimullah, a lawyer who advocates return of Mehsud tribe said.