Pakistan Taliban splits into factions

Group’s key figure releases video saying his faction is no longer part of central leadership, accusing TTP of “robbery”.

The Mehsud group is separating from the TTP for ideological reasons [AP]

Islamabad, PAKISTAN– A major faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has announced that it is no longer associated with the group’s central leadership following months of infighting, according to its spokesperson.

Azam Tariq, a representative of the Mehsud group and also a member of the TTP’s central governing committee, released a video statement on Wednesday saying that his faction had separated from the TTP’s central leadership on ideological grounds.

“[The leadership] within the TTP has gone towards robberies, extortion, unjustified killing [and targeting] Islamic madrassas, and it is taking foreign funding to attack targets in Afghanistan, taking responsibility for attacks under false identities, creating divisions within other jihadi groups, and especially spreading unfounded propaganda against the Afghan Taliban,” said Tariq in the video, which was shot at an undisclosed location.

“The current leadership of the TTP has become a haven for criminals and […] therefore we are announcing that the people of the Mehsud areas are, under the leadership of Khalid Mehsud, severing all ties with the current leadership of the TTP.”

Tariq said that the new Mehsud faction of the TTP will be led by Khalid Mehsud, a local TTP commander in South Waziristan. It is unclear, however, whether Khalid Mehsud commands the more than 2,600 Mehsud tribesmen who fight under the TTP banner, or only a smaller subset of that group.

Leadership row

The two factions of the TTP, an umbrella organisation of armed anti-state groups, have been engaged in violent infighting that has claimed dozens of lives for several months. The rift began over differences regarding the successor to Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP chief who was killed by a US drone strike in November 2013.

Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal leader of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan, founded the TTP in 2007, and the leadership of the group had since then rested with his tribe, which makes up a majority of the TTP’s fighters. Following Hakimullah’s death, however, Khan Said, a follower of a TTP commander who had previously clashed with Hakimullah, led a rival leadership bid.  

Following days of consultations, the leadership was finally given to Mullah Fazlullah, a non-Mehsud Taliban commander from the Swat Valley, on November 7.

That move, however, failed to unite the TTP for long, and clashes have ensued for several months between local Mehsud commanders Shaheryar Mehsud and Khan Said in the South Waziristan tribal area.

Fazlullah, who Pakistani intelligence officials say is based in Afghanistan, has been unable to quell the infighting, and, in fact, saw his sacking of Khan Said in South Waziristan rejected by his own group’s central leadership earlier this month.

It is Khan Said’s group, as represented by Azam Tariq and Khalid Mehsud, that has now broken away from the main TTP.

Peace talks

It is unclear where the split in the TTP’s ranks leaves the government’s dialogue process with the TTP, which Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on May 16 was due to enter a final, “result-oriented” phase.

Analysts say that breaking up the TTP over the issue of talks was always part of the government’s strategy.

“The idea of talks was to try and see which groups could be weaned from this insurgency against the state. [The government was] sure that because there are multiple groups, and not all are reconcilable, that they could split [the TTP],” says Ejaz Haider, a senior journalist and security analyst.

Said’s faction of the TTP had been pro-talks, Haider said, and this distances them from Fazlullah’s group, which has taken a more hardline stance.

Imtiaz Gul, from the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said: “The talks are over. I think that whatever the government wanted to achieve with talks has been achieved.”

Also affecting the peace talks will be a renewed military offensive against Taliban targets in the North Waziristan tribal area. On May 21, Pakistani fighter jets bombarded suspected Taliban hideouts in Miranshah, Mir Ali, Datta Khel and Ghulam Khan areas, killing at least 60 people.

Pakistan’s military said that the 60 were all “terrorists”, but Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify that information, as access to the area is restricted. Local residents told Al Jazeera that civilians were among the dead.

Following the airstrikes, there have been several gunfights and bomb attacks between security forces and TTP fighters in the tribal areas, resulting in the deaths of at least 12 security forces personnel and 19 Taliban fighters, military sources told Al Jazeera.

On May 19, TTP chief Fazlullah vowed to fight for the imposition of Islamic law across Pakistan “until martyrdom”, and called upon his groups’ fighters and suicide bombers to prepare for a war to the death.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim  

Source: Al Jazeera