ISLAMABAD - Tension and confusion continue to prevail in South Waziristan after a group of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed that the head of TTP Maulana Fazlullah has sacked Commander Khan Said, alias Sajna, from his position while the latter remains in place and continues to lead the militants in the Mehsud heartland.

When contacted, Commander Azam Tariq, a member of Taliban’s political Shura and a close associate of Commander Sajna, said: “He is still the Amir of South Waziristan; neither has Commander Sajna been removed by the central Shura of TTP nor is it in the cards to sack him”.

According to Azam Tariq, it would be against the group’s principles if Khan Said was removed from his position. “A 16-member Shura of TTP endorsed the decision that Khan Said should lead the Taliban in South Waziristan”.

On Friday, 9 May, Omar Khurassani, the official spokesperson of the Mohmand chapter of TTP, claimed that on the special orders of Maulana Fazlullah, Commander Sajna was removed from his position. “Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, the deputy head of TTP, would work as caretaker head of South Waziristan while Omar Khalid Khurassani - the head of Mohmand Chapter of TTP - has been asked to resolve the issue of infighting in South Waziristan,” claimed Omar Khurassani. 

A similar claim was made by Daud Mehsud, the spokesperson of Shehriar Mehsud, “Sheikh Khalid Haqqani will be the leader of TTP in South Waziristan”.

However, the central leadership of TTP is silent over the issue of the removal of the commander in South Waziristan.

Shahidullah Shahid, the central spokesperson of the TTP, is yet to issue any statement on it.

The issue of the appointment of the leader of Taliban in South Waziristan surfaced when Waliur Rehman, the head of the South Waziristan chapter of TTP, was killed during a US drone strike in May 2013 and Commander Sajna unilaterally announced himself as his successor.

Commander Shehriar Mehsud was not happy over the decision but some leaders of TTP kept him out of the area to avoid any clashes. After the death of Hakimullah Mehsud in November 2013, Shehriar Mehsud returned to South Waziristan and started a campaign to remove Commander Sajna. Their differences finally converged into infighting in the first week of April 2014 that has so far claimed around 60 lives from both sides. 

Taliban sources say that the majority of TTP’s commanders want to remove Commander Sajna but they are unable so far to do so. “At the initial stage they used Shehriar Mehsud to dethrone Commander Sajna but the plot failed.

 The Mohmand Taliban announced that Maulana Fazlullah has sacked Commander Sajna, which is the actual desire of the head of TTP and his kitchen cabinet, but the latter would never agree to step down so easily”, said a South Waziristan-based militant commander. South Waziristan, and especially the Mehsud heartland, is a sacred place for all the Taliban, as Baitullah Mehsud, the founding chief of TTP and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud, belonged to this particular area.

Now the problem is that the TTP leadership can neither remove Commander Sajna nor can they afford to have him as their commander in strategically and symbolically significant South Waziristan.

“Commander Sajna still controls some areas in South Waziristan like Shaktoi and Bobara while the majority of places in the Agency have been occupied by the security forces. Sajna cannot be removed as long as his men maintain control of some parts of South Waziristan”, the commander added.

On the other hand, there are some grounds for Commander Sajna not to revolt against the central leadership of TTP at the moment. The majority of the TTP people are based these days in North Waziristan and Commander Shehriar is very strong there. In case of such a revolt, according to Taliban sources, Commander Sajna’s men would be restricted to a smaller part of South Waziristan and thus unable to enter North Waziristan via Mir Ali.

Mehsud tribesmen have old rivalries with the Wazir tribesmen of South Waziristan, who are based in Wana, the headquarters of the Agency and other adjoining areas.

Commander Sajna’s men would not be welcomed by militants with Wazir tribal background, led by Salahuddin Ayoubi, according to tribal sources.

(The writer is a freelance contributor)