PESHAWAR, Aug 24: The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan on Saturday fired the head of the Punjabi Taliban for welcoming the government’s offer of peace talks.

The sacked leader, Asmatullah Muawiya, said the TTP had no authority to remove him.

The TTP’s recently-installed spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, told media that its central Shura, which met under its chief, Hakeemullah, took serious notice of Muawiya’s statement and decided that he had no relations with the umbrella organisation representing Pakistani militant groups.

Shahid said that the Shura had removed Muawiya and would soon name his successor to head the Punjabi Taliban. “He is respectable to us, but he has no relation with the TTP,” the spokesman said.

He further said that while the TTP did not appreciate the government’s threat of use of force, it would nonetheless mull over the peace talks offer and respond to it later.

Asmatullah Muawiya responded immediately, saying the TTP had no authority to remove him. He said that the Punjabi Taliban was an independent group and had its own Shura to decide matters.

The row between the two militant groups erupted after Thursday’s statement by the head of the Punjabi Taliban, welcoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “political maturity” by offering peace talks.

In a letter issued to local newspapers, Muawiya had asked the government to introduce Sharia laws and end its alliance with the United States.

Earlier, he had also praised the government for staying the execution of three militants, including his close associate Dr Usman, convicted and sentenced to death for his involvement in the attack on General Headquarters in Rawalpindi four years ago.

The statement had followed a threat to the government that execution of any militant would be regarded as a “declaration of war”.

But security officials familiar with the state of militancy in Pakistan said the row between the two militant groups would not change anything on the ground. “At the tactical level, there may not be any change”, the official said.

He said those claiming that the row reflected a rift within Pakistani militant groups did not know much about the situation on the ground. He said the Punjabi Taliban was an independent group that had a loose association with the TTP, but was not part of the umbrella organisation.

“Punjabi Taliban is an independent group that plans and operates independently. It will make no impact. It does not make any difference”, the official added.

Punjabi Taliban, a group of what the official described as “hardcore, well-trained, sophisticated one hundred and fifty to two hundred militants”, was heavily involved in operations inside Pakistan. “They are involved in classic operations, ala Al Qaeda,” the official said. “The matrix is, however, different.”

“The only reason they have had association with each other is because both the groups co-habit North Waziristan”, the official observed.

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