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By Intikhab Amir
PESHAWAR – As reports of the January 12 death of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud continue to circulate, experts say rivalries among the TTP factions are irreconcilable, but are manageable for their handlers – al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban – who are using the situation to their advantage, according to those experts.
On January 15 reports emerged of the death of Hakimullah during an aerial strike in the Dattakhel area of South Waziristan. An anonymous senior intelligence official has confirmed Hakimullah’s death to Central Asia Online, while the TTP continues to deny the reports.
“Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban … deal with the factions separately and maintain strong contacts with them to their own benefit,” Dr. Ijaz Khan, chairman of the International Relations Department at the University of Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.
Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, former secretary of security for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Mansur Khan Mehsud, director of research at the Islamabad-based FATA Research Centre, shared similar views.
“Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network enjoy greater influence over TTP factions, as they can bring them to the negotiating table in an effort to establish a workable relationship, but basic differences between rival factions (will) persist even then,” Shah told Central Asia Online.
Nature of differences
Despite difference between the factions, Mehsud said rivalries – like the ones between Hakimullah Mehsud’s faction and Wali-ur-Rehman, TTP’s deputy chief – are not serious enough that “they are running to cut each other’s throat.”
The big stumbling block for them, Mansur Khan Mehsud said, is that they don’t trust each other.
Khan partly attributes the Hakimullah-Rehman rivalry to tribalism. Both men, he said, were from the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, but they belong to different sub-clans.
Among the different factions, Khan said Hakimullah pursued a policy of attacking the Pakistani military, whereas Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan have peace agreements with the army.
“But all of them have close liaisons with al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban,” Khan said.
An internal power struggle has contributed to factions within the TTP breaking off from the umbrella group, Khan said.
For example, Commander Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur Agency, who was deputy chief of TTP until Baitullah Mehsud’s death in August 2009, split off because he wanted to lead the TTP, Khan said.
Differences between Nabi Mulla and Toofan Mulla in Orakzai Agency turned serious last year when their fighters skirmished, Mehsud said. “Since then they have been exercising restraint after senior TTP leaders intervened,” Mehsud said.
Khyber Agency’s TTP, according to Mehsud, is weak because of enmity between Mangal Bagh, who is of the Deoband school of thought and leads the Lashkar-e-Islam faction, and Dara Adamkhel’s Tariq Afridi, a deputy chief of TTP who belongs to the more conservative and radical Wahhabi school of Islamic thought.
However, successful military operations have weakened the militants in Khyber Agency more than infighting has, said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain.
“They have become so weak that the militants’ 10 separate attempts to carry out acts of sabotage in Peshawar were successfully thwarted by the provincial police,” Hussain told Central Asia Online.
History of tensions
Since the TTP formed in 2007, it has been a “weak alliance” of militant organisations.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of bedridden Taliban commander Jallaluddin Haqqani, has tried to keep the groups together. He used his influence in 2007 to make Pakistani militant groups form a shura (council), Shah said.
“At that time, Hafiz Gul Bahadur did not want to work in subordination to Baitullah, but he (Bahadur) was compensated as his four representatives were made members of the shura, in comparison with two representatives of Baitullah,” Shah said.
Sirajuddin Haqqani also intervened to reconcile Hakimullah and Wali-ur-Rehman after Baitullah’s death and persuaded Mullah Nazir to patch things up with Uzbek fighters after the two groups fought for supremacy in Wana, Mehsud said.
Sirajuddin Haqqani also played a role in restraining Fazal-e-Saeed Haqqani, a key past commander of the TTP in Kurram Agency, from adopting a hard-line position against Hakimullah.
“When Fazal-e-Saeed started creating problems for Hakimullah Mehsud in Kurram Agency, it was Sirrajuddin Haqqani who managed to scale down tension between the two,” said Mehsud.
TTP expected to maintain a presence in FATA
Splinter groups fight against each other at times but also support each against their common enemy, the government, Khan said.
The TTP, despite internal rivalries and deep-rooted factionalism, seems poised to maintain a strong presence in FATA for many years to come, according to experts.
Funding from outside sources, like al-Qaeda, and motivations based on religion will keep the group intact in its present form, Khan added.
The fear of personal losses as a result of infighting has kept tensions between rival groups in check.
“They don’t want to take their differences to a point of no return as they realise that infighting would weaken them,” Mehsud said.