Tali-Qaeda Reader

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan: The Mehsud Breakaway

10 Jun, 2014    ·   4503

Riffath Khaji analyses the reasons for the split in the ranks of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and writes about the potential implications of the same

Riffath Khaji
Riffath Khaji
Research Intern
On 28 May, 2014, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Wali-ur-Rehman faction led by Khan Said, also known as Sajna, announced its separation from the TTP, alleging that the current Mullah Fazlullah-led TTP is bombing public places using fake names to avoid responsibility. Sajna was a strong contender for the TTP’s leadership after its former chief Hakimullah Medsud was killed in a US drone attack in November 2013. The post was handed over to Mullah Fazlullah of the Swati Taliban. Sajna was a key ally of former Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, who originally led the breakaway group and who was killed in a US drone strike in May 2013.

Why did the Split Take Place?
The TTP split into two factions after major group based in South Waziristan quit the TTP and accused its leadership of having fallen into invisible hands and turning the TTP into an organisation providing safety to criminals. Sajna’s spokesperson Azam Tariq said “We announce separation from the TTP leadership which has deviated from its path.” It accused the TTP leadership of indulging in robberies, killing for money, extortion and kidnapping for ransom with the help of a group of conspirators, and said all these actions are considered as un-Islamic.

The spokesman said the split too place because the TTP under Fazlullah had become a den for extortionists, and that it carried out blasts in mosques. This assertion, however, does not hold much sincerity. This is because the TTP has a long history of carrying out blasts inside mosques, and their principal source of income is extortion. Prima facie, it appears to be a case of infighting for leadership roles.

Primarily, the split appears to have been a result of tribal infighting for the leadership of the TTP. The TTP has traditionally been a group of tribesmen from the Mehsud clan, and Fazlullah is the first non-Mehsud tribesman to have assumed leadership of the group. Prior to joining the TTP, Fazlullah used to lead his own militant organization called the Tehrik-i-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM). He was never inclined to any negotiation and used to carry our ruthlessly violent attacks.

The military's role in this split is unclear. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, the TTP never took commands from the Pakistani military. Their primary targets are the military and law-enforcing agencies. Time and gain, the TTP attacked military posts, taking some officials as captives, and subsequently, killing them brutally. The government’s failed attempt at negotiations with the TTP is also among the key reasons for the ongoing civil-military tension in Pakistan.

What are the Potential Implications?
It is yet to be seen how the splinter groups act in the coming days. There is a likelihood of Fazlullah regrouping the cadres of his former organization, the TNSM. His seat of power was Swat valley, where he is believed to command the loyalty of many of his followers.  Now, both the splinter groups might try to assert their existence and relevance by carrying out more attacks.

The military might try to take the advantage of the ongoing infighting and mount serious offensives to cause damage to the groups. The government might try to engage in negotiations with Sajna’s group that appears eager to hold talks. The consent of military to such negotiations is very less. 

According to the Pak Tribune, following the aforementioned split, 13 militants were killed in a bombing and gun-fighting in North Waziristan last week. 56 people have been killed in the violence that erupted on 1 June between Sajna’s supporters and those of the late Hakimullah Mehsud group in North Waziristan.

The Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud group is likely to emerge stronger after the division because it enjoys the support of both the Punjabi Taliban, and al-Qaeda. This breakaway may end the centrality of the TTP and lead to further disintegration. However, the government has not commented on the split and it is yet to be seen as to how this would affect the government’s peace initiative.