ISLAMABAD - While the reported death of Mangal Bagh, the head of notorious banned militant organisation Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), shrouds in mystery with credible reports negating the development, Pakistan's military and those fighting it deny ceasefire reports amidst possible reconciliation between terrorist groups.

The security officials concerned in Khyber Agency rejected the reports of ceasefire between security forces and militants citing the continuity of the military operation in Bara and adjoining belt as a justification to this effect.

The officials, however, admitted that tough times awaited the military and its operational offshoots engaged in battling the militants on account of expected reconciliation between LI and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after a series of violent feuds.

The occurrence of such a scenario suggested consolidated militant build-up against the security forces.

Sources in Khyber Agency political administration confided, “Pakistan's military establishment had lately aided LI against the TTP using intelligence channels and 'lifafa' (slang for money in Urdu and Pashto languages) to create rift.”

"When the forces stepped in Bara, militants were a united unit and they took on the military with impunity. They're divided now and up at each other's throats. Reconciliation would mean trouble for us," officials commented.

Khyber Agency Political Agent Mutahir Zeb, however, did not believe if unity of militant groups could land the security forces in hot waters. "We've broken their back and a good number of both the TTP and LI leaders is dead. I personally think Mangal Bagh is no more. Even if these militant groups reconcile and get united again, it would mean nothing."

Zeb said the recent killings in consequence of violent clashes between the TTP and LI men were witness to his observation. "Security forces took them on and their personal feuds did the rest. Yes it was different a year ago or so but we're calling the shots now," the Agency's administrative told The Nation.

The Army launched several operations in Bara against LI and TTP over the last couple of years. The latest and ongoing operation was launched on October 22 last year that coincided with the launch of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato)-led military offensive in Khost, Afghanistan. This newspaper had brought to light this development the next day (October 23) with headline:  “Bara operation coincides with Nato offensive in Khost.”

TTP Spokesman Ehsaanullah Ehsaan hinted at conditional reconciliation with LI militants. "Our those brothers who lost track to the truth and joined hands with 'Kafirs' (infidels), if they seek repentance and apologise for their sins, we would welcome them back but there's no question of shaking hands with Mangal and his close associates. He is a 'Kafir' and serves Kafirs' agenda," Ehsaan said referring to military's reported support to LI against TTP. "LI is a faction of traitors and a question of reconciliation with them does not arise. Individual militants minus their central leadership are welcome."

Despite efforts, LI version could not be incorporated as no word came from the militant organisation.

A politician from Fata, requesting anonymity, said that LI was likely to join hands with TTP's Naimat Mehsud group to counter security forces after Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-run drones campaign in Pakistan's north-western tribal region targeted LI leaders. "There's a deeper feeling in LI leadership that intelligence agencies had coordinated with CIA to have LI targeted in drones," he said referring to reports regarding deaths of LI leaders in drone strikes in Waziristan region, where certain LI offshoots are based in.

Once known as TTP offshoot, the LI parted ways and emerged as a separate militant organisation in Khyber Agency due to its sectarian-centric approach and tug-of-war for power in the region both the militant organisations had been locked in.

Parliamentary Leader of Members National Assembly (MNAs) from Fata Munir Aurakzai said reports of Mangal Bagh's killing at the hands of TTP militants were “suspicious.' He opposed aiding any militant faction against another. "At the end of the day they all are the same. We need to eliminate militants and introduce reforms, build infrastructure, create jobs and provide education in FATA. That's the only durable solution to militancy."

Some days back, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General Akbar Khan Hoti had cited reports of Mangal Bagh's killing earlier last month in a suicide attack in a mosque in Bara carried out by a TTP bomber. LI rejected Hoti's version while reports that followed also negated Bagh's death reports.