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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On August 26, 2014, a group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ‘commanders’ broke away from the parent organization led by Maulana Fazlullah and formed a new outfit called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA, Assembly of Freedom). The announcement was made through a video release. JuA includes TTP factions from the tribal areas – Bajaur, Khyber, Mohmand, and Orakzai Agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); and Charsadda, Peshawar, and Swat Districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The new group is led by Maulana Qasim Omar Khorasani, while Ehsanullah Ehsan has been appointed as its ‘spokesman’. Ehsanullah Ehsan was spokesperson for TTP, but was suspended from the outfit on July 9, 2013, for ‘divisive acts’. A pamphlet distributed by militants in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) of FATA claimed that "he [Ehsanullah Ehsan] has made comments that have raised the danger of divisions between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban".

The new outfit’s shura (executive council) includes ‘commanders’ Maulana Abdullah (Bajaur Agency), Qari Ismail (Khyber Agency), Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid al Khorasani (Mohmand Agency), Mansoor Nazim Shura and Maulana Haider (Orakzai Agency), Qari Shakil Haqqani (Charsadda District), Mufti Misbah (Peshawar District), and Maulana Yasin (Swat District). 

While announcing the split, Maulana Qasim Omar Khorasani claimed, "The leadership of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan [TTP] is a victim of narrow, personal objectives. A separate group was announced after the efforts to keep TTP united ended in failure.” The man mainly responsible for the split was Abdul Wali, the chief of the Mohmand Agency unit of the TTP, who had vehemently opposed Fazlullah’s growing closeness with the Nawaz Sharif Government and the process for peace-talks with the Government, which eventually collapsed. 

Earlier, on February 9, 2014, in reaction to Maulana Fazlullah’s decision to initiate talks with the Pakistan Government, Maulana Qasim Omar Khorasani had formed a new outfit called Ahrar-ul-Hind (AuH, Freedom of India). The talks between the Government and the TTP which began on January 29, 2014, proved inconclusive and collapsed on February 17, 2014. The AuH ‘spokesperson’, Asad Mansour, had claimed, on February 11, 2014,

Some of our leaders have become prey to compromises and have agreed to conduct dialogue only to get the tribal areas liberated. It is very clear that Shariah can never be attained through talks. Even if the Government makes a concession, it will only be limited to the tribal areas. In the past, we used to participate in jihad [Holy war] from the platform of Tehrik-e-Taliban. But from now onwards, we will carry out attacks independently. The Mujahideen associated with the TTP are our brothers, but if they opt for a ceasefire with the Government, we shall not be bound by their agreement, nor are we willing to accept such a ceasefire.

Indeed, AuH took responsibility for the suicide attack at the Islamabad Court on March 3, 2014, that killed 11 persons, including a Judge Rafaqat Awan.

Meanwhile, realizing its weakening position in the aftermath of the formation of the JuA,   the TTP on expelled the ‘chief’ of its Mohmand Agency chapter, Abdul Wali, September 4, 2014. Wali had joined JuA’s shura (executive council). TTP ‘spokesperson’ Shahidullah Shahid declared, “The TTP leadership, after approval by the honourable ameer [Maulana Fazlullah], has removed ‘commander’ Abdul Wali, alias Omar Khalid Khorasani, as the chief of Mohmand Agency unit and also cancelled his basic membership... Khorasani has been removed because of his interference in affairs of the Afghan Taliban and his contacts with the mysterious groups – AuH and Junud-e-Khorasan." Shahid further claimed that the news of Khorasani and Ehsan joining these two groups was an attempt to create a rift between the ranks of the Taliban. No information is available about the activities of Junud-e-Khorasan (Soldiers of Khorasan).

Refuting TTP’s allegation, Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed that Omar Khalid Khurasani travelled to Darra Adamkhel and South Waziristan to resolve disputes between TTP factions and ‘commanders’. He denied his organization’s links with Junud-e-Khorasan. He, however, admitted that AuH had merged with the JuA.

Moreover, in a long charge-sheet against the TTP leadership, Ehsan claimed, “It was lack of leadership quality that TTP had been involved in bloody clashes that have taken lives of known Mujahideen. The leadership had no policy to deal with this situation.” He disclosed that nearly 200 Taliban from the Mehsud tribe had lost their lives as a result of internal fighting. Talking about a specific case, he claimed that the Taliban had killed the TTP Rawalpindi ‘chief commander’ Nadeem Abbas alias Enteqami, but his killers had not yet been tried in their ‘Islamic court’. This is the first time that a TTP-linked group has acknowledged the death of Nadeem Abbas, who escaped from police custody in Peshawar on August 12, 2011, and was reportedly involved in several acts of terrorism. Ehsan added, further, “It is still a mystery as to who has killed the members of central council Asmatullah Shaheen Bittani and Tariq Afridi.”

Significantly, TTP’s decision to initiate peace talks had divided the group, and TTP factions had already started fighting each other. Between April 6 and May 8, 2014, at least 80 terrorists were killed and an unspecified number were injured (the actual figures are likely to be higher, as reportage from the areas of conflict is severely restricted) as two TTP factions, one led by Shehryar Mehsud, the TTP ‘chief’ in South Waziristan Agency (SWA), and another led by Khan Saeed alias Sajna, clashed in the Shawal area of NWA. The rival factions had accused each other of grabbing power in order to control South Waziristan’s Mehsud tribal area. While infighting within TTP in Waziristan Agency had considerably affected its organisational strength, the activities of the Mohmand Agency chapter ‘chief’, Omar Khalid al Khorasani, were further weakening the leadership.

While TTP was engaged in peace-talks, the Omar Khalid al Khorasani group executed 23 Frontier Corps (FC) personnel on February 16, 2014. The FC personnel had been abducted on June 14, 2010, from the Shoonkri Post of Mohmand Agency. Omar Khorasani declared that the kidnapped FC personnel were killed as 'revenge', because the Government was continuously killing TTP cadres in different parts of the country, including Karachi (the provincial capital of Sindh), Peshawar (the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, KP) and the Swabi District in KP. He declared that, if the Government did not stop killing the TTP supporters, TTP would also continue to kill SF personnel.  

Fissures in TTP have been developing for a long time. Formed in 2007 with the objective of uniting small terrorist factions against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Forces in Afghanistan, and to wage a defensive jihad against Pakistani Forces in the wake of the Lal Masjid Operation by the Army, TTP had been facing an organizational crisis since the killing of its founding 'supreme leader', Baitullah Meshud, in a US drone attack in SWA on August 5, 2009. Baitullah Mehsud’s clansman and deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud (killed in a US drone attack in Dandy Darpa Khel area of NWA on November 1, 2013), was appointed unanimously as the successor, but his authority was challenged by Baitullah Mehsud’s ‘spokesman’, Waliur Rehman Mehsud (killed in a US drone attack in Chashma area of Miranshah in NWA on May 29, 2013), who was made TTP’s ‘deputy chief’ after a brief power struggle. Khan Saeed alias Sajna now heads the Waliur Rehman group.

The rift deepened further when the TTP shura appointed Maulana Fazlullah as the ‘chief’ of the outfit  after Baitullah Mehsud. Significantly, Fazlullah belongs to the Babukarkhel clan of the Yusufzai tribe from Swat District, while most of the TTP cadres are drawn from the Mehsud tribe, and are opposed to him. Moreover, Fazlullah operates out of Afghanistan and the TTP local ‘commanders’ in Pakistan have been angered by this, arguing that they do not want to operate under people from across the border. Pakistani Analyst Zia-ur-Rehman, quoting an unnamed official working in the SWA political administration, wrote on June 6, 2014, “Mehsud militants were not ready to accept a non-Mehsud Fazlullah as their new leader since day one”. Interestingly, however, all these groups reiterate their allegiance to Afghan Taliban ‘chief’ Mullah Mohammad Omar. They consider the defunct 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' as their headquarters and Omar as the Ameer ul Momineen (Commander of the Faithful).

TTP has currently split into three groups – the Fazlullah faction, the Said Khan Sajna faction and the Maulana Khurasani faction. More or less, all the erstwhile TTP allies have joined or pledged allegiance to one or other of these three groups. According to reports, over 50 per cent of senior ‘commanders’ of the Fazlullah-led TTP from the Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram Agencies of FATA, and from Swat and Charsadda District of KP, have already joined the JuA.

Amidst the ongoing and orchestrated political drama in Islambad, the strengthening of the ‘anti-establishment faction’ of the TTP is an ominous sign for Pakistan. The country has recorded 47,534 fatalities, including 26,266 terrorists, 16,525 civilians and 4,743 SF personnel since the TTP's formation. The current year alone has seen 3,349 fatalities, including 1,730 terrorists, 1,211 civilians and 408 SF personnel. Indeed, Omar Khalid al Khorasani had asserted, on March 20, 2012, “The Taliban seek to topple the Pakistan Government, impose Shariah, seize Pakistani nuclear weapons and wage jihad until the Caliphate is established across the world.” The progressive destabilization of Pakistani state institutions and the consolidation of increasingly radicalized forces in the country can only be bad news for the region at large.

[Source: SATP]

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