PESHAWAR: Unexpected elevation of Mullah Fazlullah to the position of chief of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is likely to change things in the country’s troubled northwestern region.
The selection of Mullah Fazlullah and deputy Sheikh Khalid Haqqani by 17-member Supreme Council has shifted the command of TTP from Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan Agency to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Despite the shifting of command from Fata to a settled area of the province, Waziristan would remain to be the centre of gravity and main sanctuary of militants, which many observers believe has made the situation more complex.
The new fugitive commander of TTP, who belongs to Swat valley, has been reportedly sitting somewhere in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, while Khalid Haqqani belongs to Swabi district.
The command of the TTP Supreme Council has already gone to Asmatullah Shaheen, who belongs to Bhittani tribe in Frontier Region Jandola.
This unforeseen announcement stunned some media experts, who favoured Commander Said Khan Sajna as replacement of Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack in Dandy Derpakhel area of North Waziristan Agency on November 1.
The killing of Hakimullah and shifting of leadership from tribal area to the settled area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has confused Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who had been manoeuvering for peace talks between the government and the Taliban through a tribal jirga for the last one and a half years, said one leader of JUI-F. “Certainly, the situation has totally changed, which has disturbed Maulana,” he said.
JUI-F central spokesman Jan Achakzai said the new situation had raised so many questions and process of talks has been stalled.
“The new leader of TTP is in Afghanistan and now the question is how to start peace talks,” he said.
Another factor, according to the JUI-F spokesman, was that Commander Sajna was ready for negotiations, while the new leadership has refused to come to the table for talks.
“This is a transitional period and we will be waiting because you can’t go to Afghanistan for talks,” he maintained.
South Waziristan Agency is the birthplace of TTP which was established in 2007 and despite the fact that TTP is a conglomerate of several militant outfits across the country, its command always rested with Mehsuds. Baitullah Mehsud, founder of TTP had nominated Hakimullah as his successor before his assassination in drone strike in August 2009.
Hakimullah reportedly had tipped Latifullah Mehsud who was arrested in Afghanistan as the next chief of TTP. Security forces captured bastion of TTP in Mehsud territory in 2009 which forced its leadership to shift and set up sanctuaries in adjacent North Waziristan, but Mehsud did not give up command. Every act of terrorism including bank robbery, kidnapping for ransom, suicide attack, and bomb blast happening across the country is attributed to Waziristan-based TTP, which is charged with harbouring militants both locals and foreigners. The reason is that its leadership belongs to the troubled territory.
Now, dynamics of TTP militancy have changed with the appointment of Fazlullah. For the first time, TTP would be controlled by non-Mehsud from across the border.
Fazlullah is sitting in Afghanistan while his deputy chief belongs to Swabi district. This new development will trigger blame game between Islamabad and Kabul.
Fazlullah who had claimed killing of Maj-Gen Sanaullah Niazi in Upper Dir on September 15 and also owned cross border attacks on security forces in Malakand Division is wanted to Pakistani government. The government had announced Rs 5 millions head money on Fazlullah.
Security analyst Brig (r) Mahmood Shah accused Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) of patronising Mullah Fazlullah.
“Afghan government claims that Pakistan is supporting insurgency in Afghanistan so Kabul is supporting Pakistani Taliban,” he said, but as whole the situation was in favour of Pakistan.
But, Brig (r) Shah said, shifting of leadership from Mehsud to Fazlullah would certainly weaken TTP and this is an opportunity for the government to take advantage of the vacuum.
“By nature, Mehsuds don’t listen to anybody. They don’t accept authority of outsiders and therefore, it would be very difficult for Fazlullah to control Mehsuds in TTP from across the border,” he opined, “This is a major setback for the outlawed organisation.”
Sources said TTP in South Waziristan had divided in several groups and Commander Sajna had differences with Hakimullah.
They said supporters of Hakimullah and Waliur Rehman had recently clashed in Karachi.
“Waliur Rehman group is stronger than Hakimullah group and his people expelled Hakimullah men from Karachi,” said one analyst.
Former information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said personally Fazlullah was very rough and tough compared to any other person in the present hierarchy of TTP.
“He (Fazlullah) even doesn’t listen, but the plus point in the shifting of leadership from tribal belt to the settled area is that elements in the Fazlullah group are little bit flexible and know political intrigues. But the negative side of it is that the chief of TTP is outside Pakistan and it would be difficult to contact him easily for negotiations,” he said.
Mr Hussain said Fazlullah was in Afghanistan, but he still had strong network in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.