PESHAWAR - At least 19 militants were killed in three separate incidents of bombing and gunfight in tribal areas Friday, local security officials said, the latest clashes in almost a week of infighting between rival Taliban factions
A total of 62 people have been killed in the violence which erupted on Sunday between supporters of commander Khan Said Sajna and followers of the late Hakimullah Mehsud group in troubled North Waziristan.
Local sources said the first incident occurred in the tehsil Datta Khail area when a remote-controlled explosive device hit the vehicle of Taliban insurgents belonging to Haqqani network. The incident resulted in killing of three people while two others were injured and rushed to the agency headquarters hospital in Miranshah. Sher Amanullah, a commander of the Haqqani militant network, was killed along with two others in the incident, intelligence and militant sources said.
Amanullah is said to be a close associate of Mullah Sangeen Zadran, who was blacklisted as a terrorist by the United Nations and United States and was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in September last year. The blast badly damaged the vehicle in which they were travelling.
The second incident took place in the remote Shawal area of the agency near the Afghanistan border. Reportedly, the militants belonging to Sajna group were on their way when their vehicle came under rocket attack, resulting in death of 10 people.
Separately, six militants were killed when their vehicle was blown up with a remote-controlled bomb in the Shawal area (45 kilometres west of Miranshah) of the restless tribal belt.
The incidents are the latest in clashes between the two factions of TTP – Khan Said Sajna and Hakeemullah Mehsud groups. Both the groups claimed to have inflicted heavy losses on each other.
Meanwhile, anti-Khan Said Sajna militants have formed sanctuaries in the settled areas of Tank where they have distributed pamphlets among the local residents asking them not to side with Sajna group. Militant sources also confirmed the clash and casualties.
The feud began after Sajna, a senior commander, was rejected for the TTP leadership following the killing of then-leader Mehsud last November, militants say. The TTP has long been riven by infighting.
Sajna had been seen as a strong candidate to become TTP chief following Mehsud’s death. But the movement’s ruling council at the last minute elected Mullah Fazlullah, who hails from Swat and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
It is unclear if the fighting will weaken an insurgency aimed at bringing down the nuclear-armed Pakistani state but the security agencies will be hoping to turn the bloodshed to their advantage. Sajna supports peace talks with the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a Taliban commanders said.
But his rival, Shehryar Mehsud, is against the tentative talks that began in February and one of his commander said attacks on the government would go on regardless.
“We will continue attacks even if they sign a peace agreement,” the commander said, adding that his men had killed 20 of Sajna’s fighters and razed a dozen of their training camps in South Waziristan in the past week.
Shehryar Mehsud recently returned from Afghanistan, where he spent years in exile after quarrelling with previous Taliban leaders. He has access to foreign money and thinks he should lead since he comes from a prominent family, a militant insider said.
Government and military spokesmen did not return calls seeking comment.
The fighting underscores the difficulty of trying to negotiate a peace deal with an insurgency that has no unified command, an analyst said.
“The Pakistani Taliban are unlike the Afghan Taliban. They are a loose alliance, they have no central command,” said author Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the militants. “Exactly who are we talking to? This is a question Nawaz Sharif has never answered.”
The government would be trying to seek advantage but had to tread carefully, said a security analyst.
“The policy of the civilian government is to make these people fight among themselves,” said retired general Talat Masood. “But if one wins, it will emerge stronger and far more dangerous.”
The analyst with the insurgent contacts said the government was trying to exploit the split by getting Sajna to agree not to attack government forces.
“They have sent Sajna several messages but he has yet to respond,” said the analyst. Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said commanders were trying to get the rivals to talk.
Imtiaz Gul of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies said the clashes were likely at least partly related to money.
Although security officials would be hoping the split would weaken the insurgency, Gul said he doubted it would.
The insurgents may be afraid of each other, he said, but they are even more afraid of being divided and picked off alone.