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Taliban infighting, firing of spokesman to deepen rifts, analysts say
Recent border clashes will give security forces an opportunity to crack down on militants, analysts predict.
By Zahir Shah
PESHAWAR – The June 26 clashes between rival militant groups and the June 25 sacking of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan will result in deeper rifts among the already feuding militants, analysts say.
On June 26, hundreds of fighters from rival militant groups attacked TTP bases in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, Afghanistan, Dawn reported. The fighting caused an unknown number of casualties.
The attackers came from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Ansar-ul-Islam (AI), the "Mohmand force" and other local groups allegedly backed by the Afghan Taliban, Taliban sources told Dawn. Hundreds of militants attacked TTP positions in Shongrai and the bordering village of Jarobi Darra, Mukarram Khurasani, spokesman for Omar Khalid, the TTP Mohmand Agency chapter commander, told Central Asia Online. Khurasani accused LeT commander Haji Abdul Rahim of leading the attacks, but LeT denied that assertion.
The beleaguered TTP has even asked supreme Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Omar to persuade those factions to stop attacking it, Dawn reported.
Rival militant groups are determined to avenge past TTP abuses against them and civilians, security analysts say. For example, in January, fighting erupted between the TTP and AI in Khyber Agency after the TTP moved into AI territory in Bagh-Maidan, seizing an AI-used building.
Ihsan firing illustrates TTP fissure
Meanwhile, the Ihsan firing proves a lack of co-ordination between the TTP central command and Ihsan, who regularly issued statements without clearing them first with his "leaders." The underlying gap lies between the central TTP and the Mohmand Taliban, North Waziristan Agency-based tribal journalist Nasir Khan Dawar said, explaining that Ihsan – whose real name is Sajjad Mohmand – remains loyal to his close associate, TTP Mohmand Agency commander Khalid.
"The Qari Shakeel group of the Mohmand Taliban already had split with [central TTP commander] Hakimullah Mehsud and was operating separately, so these new developments will widen the rifts," Dawar said.
Both the central TTP and the Mohmand Agency TTP came under attack in the June 26 battles.
Such internecine fighting was always likely, former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan and tribal affairs specialist Rustam Shah Mohmand told Central Asia Online.
"The [terrorist] infighting is natural," he said. "But in the absence of any authority in this belt, they are trying to exploit the situation. They need to be dealt with properly."
The militant groups are fighting for territory and resources, Mohmand said, predicting the conflict would produce definite winners and losers.
An opportunity for government forces
As the terrorists fight among themselves, the Afghan and Pakistani governments have the opportunity to compound the terrorists' woes, some say.
Those governments could launch a "massive strike" on the divided factions, Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies in Islamabad, said.
The TTP, largely driven into inactivity by continued Pakistani military pressure, would suffer dearly under such attacks given the current situation with rival militants, he said.
"It's a good chance for the governments to ... get rid of them once and for all," Dawar agreed, calling for Afghan and Pakistani troops to "sandwich" the TTP.
As militants turn their guns on each other, they no longer are allowing other militant groups to cross the Pakistani-Afghan border freely, Dr. A. Z. Hilali, chairman of the University of Peshawar political science department, said. That lull in militants' movement will give security forces a window of opportunity to hunt them down, he added.
Civilians have suffered the consequences of the infighting, but they appear relieved at the prospect of permanently getting rid of the feuding groups, Dawar said.
But with the squabbling, "The civilian population will have the added advantage of living freely, which has become impossible in the militants' presence or with their mass movements every other day," Hilali said.