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Imam’s killing shows Taliban infighting, analysts say
Killing predicted to mean further bloodshed in Taliban ranks
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR -- The January 23 slaying of abducted former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) official Sultan Amir Tarar – aka Col. Imam and the Godfather of the Taliban – has revealed friction among factions of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), according to military analysts.
“Col. Imam, was kidnapped by unknown Asian Tigers, led by Usman Punjabi, but was later seized by another militant commander, Sabir Mehsud, whose group attacked Punjabi and killed five of his men,” former ISI chief Gen. (Ret.) Hamid Gul told Central Asia Online. Sabir was later killed by TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud’s militants, Gul said.
Gul predicted Imam's death will lead to further bloodshed inside the Taliban.
“The differences among the Taliban’s factions are much wider than expected because of the murder of the high-profile military official who was considered very close to the Taliban,” said Brig. (Ret.) Mehmood Shah, a former security secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Imam vanished March 25 between Kohat and North Waziristan, along with another former ISI official, Khalid Khawaja, and a British journalist of Pakistani origin, Asad Qureshi.
At one time, it was reported that Punjabi had captured them, infuriating the TTP. Reportedly to avenge Imam’s kidnapping, the TTP killed Punjabi and five associates in August 2010 in a clash on the North Waziristan-South Waziristan border, Gul said.
Khawaja was killed in North Waziristan April 30. Qureshi was freed in September after his family paid a ransom, Shah said.
Imam's death unexpected
“It was never thought that Imam would get killed by the Taliban because of his role in training the jihadist outfits in Afghanistan to fight against Russians in the 1980s,” Shah told Central Asia Online.
About 30 Taliban groups in North Waziristan are actively involved in the militancy, said a Waziristan-based journalist who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals by the Taliban. “They don’t care for one another, but they are trying to terrify the people and establish their own writ over certain areas,” he said.
Several TTP chapters exist in all seven tribal agencies and in settled parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and all of them act independently, Shah said, describing them as mainly criminals out to make money rather than jihadists.
“It is crystal clear that huge differences in the TTP had led to Imam’s murder because one group wanted to teach a lesson to another,” he said.
“Imam’s killing is a signal that there are wide gaps in the agendas of the Taliban factions in FATA,” concurred Zaid Hamid, a military analyst. “His death would not go to waste and his killers will pay a massive penalty,” Hamid said.
Imam's slaying angers Taliban
The Taliban expressed grief and anger. “We are extremely unhappy over the tragic killing of Imam, who was a true Muslim,” said a source close to a North Waziristan Taliban faction led by Maulvi Nazir.
The Taliban will avenge Imam’s killing because he (Imam) strengthened jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan and, in the Taliban's view, served Islam, sources said.
A high-level meeting took place in North Waziristan a day after Imam’s slaying to fix responsibility for it. The Asian Tigers killed Imam somewhere else but brought his body to Miranshah to make it look like the TTP killed him, sources in Miranshah claimed.
Internecine animosity in the Taliban is nothing new. In late 2008, one jihadist group, Lashkar Taiba, killed 30 members of another jihadist group, the banned Jamatu Dawa, in Mohmand Agency.
“Later, TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud, now dead, also intervened and sought explanation from the TTP’s Mohmand chapter for (those killings),” Shah recalled. “But he plainly was told by the Mohmand Taliban that they didn't come under him and therefore weren’t bound to explain (the killings) to him.”
In yet more violence between insurgents, about 50 people were killed when the Lashkar Islami (LI) and the TTP clashed in Khyber Agency last June because the TTP had abducted an LI member.
“Several groups in every area under Taliban control have been pursuing different agendas. Some are killing pro-government people; others are involved in kidnapping for ransom,” said Jawad Ali, a political scientist at the Government Degree College Mardan, KP.
Ali agreed that the Punjabi Taliban had reason to want Imam dead. “Imam had sympathies with the Afghan Taliban, which enraged a TTP faction called Asian Tigers,” Jawad said.
By demanding ransom in exchange for Imam's body, his killers have increased the potential for bloodshed, Gul said.
“We have long been saying the Taliban are groups of looters, plunderers and killers whose only agenda was to kill people for the sake of getting money,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a spokesman for the KP government, told Central Asia Online. “The people have now awakened.”