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By Intikhab Amir
PESHAWAR – Internal rivalries, coupled with a prolonged leadership crisis since militant leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in August 2009, have diminished the influence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP) as a militant umbrella organisation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), analysts say.
Against that backdrop, about 130 major and minor militant groups, some of which have splintered off the TTP, operate in and from a 27,220-sq.-km. area of FATA, said Ashraf Ali, president of the FATA Research Centre, an Islamabad-based think tank dedicated to researching the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal regions.
The TTP has not been able to forge a united command ever since it lost its influential commander in an air strike in August 2009, he said.
“The TTP is plagued by a leadership crisis as neither its incumbent head Hakeemullah Mehsud – too immature to lead – nor Maulvi Faqir, a leading commander from Bajaur Agency, is in a position to keep it united,” Ali said.
A successful military strategy in South Waziristan, Bajaur, and Mohmand agencies broke the TTP’s backbone, and the organisation is losing ground, Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a former secretary of security for the FATA Secretariat, said.
“Nobody knows exactly how many militant groups exist these days,” Shah said, referring to the secession from the TTP.
TTP has a history of factionalism
The TTP resulted from bringing 40 militant groups together under one umbrella in 2007, Ali said.
“Baitullah,” he said, “was the linchpin in keeping the TTP together, as it was because of him that so many militant leaders agreed to form the TTP.”
After its creation, the organisation saw its influence grow as many small gangs that were active in FATA started joining its ranks, Mansoor Khan Mehsud, director of research at the FATA Research Centre, told Central Asia Online.
“It was the time when whoever in the tribal areas had 50 to 100 armed men working for him unconditionally joined the TTP,” Mansoor Mehsud said.
That situation, however, changed after the military pushed Mehsud’s militants into North Waziristan from their South Waziristan stronghold, Ali said. The tribal regions have since witnessed a fracturing of the TTP.
Taliban groups in FATA
After Baitullah’s death, reports of differences among Hakeemullah Mehsud, a more lethal militant leader; Wali-ur-Rehman, an important commander; and Maulvi Faqir, one of Baitullah’s deputies in Bajaur, surfaced, setting the stage for a confrontation that continues to this day, Ali said.
An early tussle over leadership between Hakeemullah and Wali-ur-Rehman soon after Baitullah’s death prompted militant groups from North Waziristan to break away from the TTP, Ali told Central Asia Online.
North Waziristan, said Ali, has a more fluid situation than do other FATA agencies. Maulvi Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a strong militant commander, calls the shots in Miranshah Tehsil. He enjoys the support of several commanders who run their own groups. These commanders include, among others, Khaliq Noor, Sadiq Noor, and commander Aaryana, Ali said.
Aaryana, Ali said, used to operate under Sadiq Noor’s command. But he and Sadiq Noor have parted ways.
“These groups are considered soft toward the Pakistan army as they are more focused to fight against coalition troops in Afghanistan in alliance with the Haqqani network,” Ali said.
Haleem Khan and Gud Abdul Rehman are other commanders associated with Bahadur, Mansoor Mehsud said.
“While they run their groups independently, at the same time they also work for Bahadur,” Mansoor Mehsud said, adding 15 to 20 groups are associated with Bahadur.
Mir Ali, a North Waziristan tehsil, serves as a bastion of anti-Pakistani military militants, including Hakeemullah’s fighters, and groups that operate as the Punjabi Taliban. The Punjabi Taliban include well-trained militants belonging to proscribed Pakistani militant groups, including the 313 Brigade (of lethal Kashmiri fighter Ilyas Kashimiri, who was killed in an air strike), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Aalmi, Lal Masjid Brigade, Sipah-e-Sahaba, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Mehsud said.
Commanders sympathetic to the Pakistani army are not restricted to North Waziristan Agency, FATA Research Centre data indicate. They have a distinct presence in Wana, South Waziristan’s headquarters.
Mullah Nazir, an Ahmadzai Wazir tribesman, leads a group that fought hard against Uzbek members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, pushing them out of South Waziristan into North Waziristan.
“Mullah Nazir’s group has a strong presence in the Wana sub-division, enjoying allegiance of some 14 small militant groups,” Mehsud said.
Bajaur Agency – a complex scenario
After Hakeemullah took over the TTP, he appointed Jamal-ud-Din, a commander previously associated with Maulvi Faqir, as the head of the Taliban in Bajaur Agency, silently sidelining the Maulvi who had been the TTP’s proclaimed deputy head under Baitullah, said Ali.
Now, the agency has three major groups and more than a dozen minor groups, although Ali said some of the groups have become dormant because of the military’s 2008-2009 operation.
Jamal-ud-Din (also known as Daadullah) and Burhanuddin are two major militant commanders associated with the TTP: both run groups in Bajaur and both oppose Maulvi Faqir, who is now based in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, where he also operates his radio station, Ali said.
Other groups exist, said Ali, adding they serve under different commanders, including Qari Zia-ur-Rehman (an Afghan national opposed to negotiations with the government), Maulvi Inayat-ur-Rehman, Dr. Ismail (a Bajaur Agency resident), Maulana Abdul (an old cleric who took charge after a madrassa head, Maulana Ismail, died in 2006 in an aerial attack that killed 83 people in a Chenai religious seminary) and Kaarwaan-e-Naimat Ullah.
Some of the minor groups – including those of Maulana Munir, Salaar Masood, Abdul Wahab and Maulana Abdul Hameed – Ali said, have been keeping a low profile.
“These groups previously operated in the peripheries, but for quite some time they have been holding a low profile,” said Ali. “Though they have become marginalised, they still hold a presence in the area.”
None of these groups, he adds, has been active after the military’s operation in Bajaur Agency in 2008. However, they keep resurfacing.
Khyber and Dara Adamkhel have their own groups
The dynamics of the militancy in Khyber Agency, Kurram Agency, and Dara Adamkhel, Ali said, differ from those in other FATA agencies.
Lashkar-e-Islam, led by Mangal Bagh, the strongest of all militant commanders in Khyber Agency, is busy with infighting in Tirah, Bara and other areas of the agency.
“Their fight draws motivation from their sectarian differences as they have nothing to do with the TTP,” Ali said.
However, Tariq Afridi, a strong militant commander from Dara Adamkhel, enjoys contacts with the TTP, though he is on his own, posing a major challenge to security forces in his area of influence. He once held 20 coal miners hostage for a year.
In Kurram Agency, an area rife with sectarian strife, Fazal-e-Saeed Haqqani has a strong presence in the Sunni parts of the agency. Once associated with the TTP, Ali said he parted ways with Hakeemullah in June 2010 shortly before the military launched a crackdown on the TTP in the area.
Orakzai Agency, once a strong TTP base, has presented problems for the organisation since Hakeemullah took control, Ali said.
Mullah Toofan, associated with the TTP, is a strong commander with vast influence under area of his command. However, he faces an equally strong challenge from an opposing group led by powerful commander Nabi Mullah, Ali said.