Analysis: Why Bahadur is so vexed

Updated June 01, 2014

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—File Photo
—File Photo

EVEN if a split within the Tehreek-i-Taliban signalled a success of the Pakistani state’s carrot-and-stick policy — and indeed an opportunity to wean away pro-peace elements from hardliners in the Taliban ranks — a new challenge emerged on Friday.

After weeks of a ‘surgical’ military operation in North Waziristan Agency reportedly aimed at crushing foreign militants, the ‘pro-state’ Hafiz Gul Bahadur, commander of the Taliban in NWA (Shura Mujahideen), said he was revoking the peace treaty he had signed with the Pakistani government in 2008.

In a pamphlet distributed in North Waziristan on Friday, he cited the military operation as a violation of the peace treaty. The pamphlet said Bahadur was preparing to fight the military operation and asked locals to move to safe areas by June 10.

Bahadur, reportedly associated with the Haqqani group and leading his own group of the Taliban in NWA distinct from the TTP, has long been a “survivalist”. Even though he has favoured peace accords allowing military movement and interference in his stronghold, the Friday announcement is seen “as a culmination of frustration and doubts” on Bahadur’s part.

According to security analysts, Bahadur may see his status as a key asset to the security establishment threatened by the military operation, especially the new government and military leadership who were not there when he signed the last peace treaty in 2008.

“Bahadur’s announcement couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time,” says Rustam Shah Mohmand, security analyst and member of the dormant government committee for peace talks with the Taliban. “With the Sajna group disassociating itself from the TTP, he could have mediated between him and the government for peace. The pamphlet shows he’s fed up with the government for not honouring the peace treaty. Perhaps he feels he’s not being consulted on the military operation, that it may affect his faction despite the treaty, that the authorities might take him on. The government should move quickly to placate him in order to reach out to Sajna.”

Seen from Bahadur’s perspective, says Amir Rana, Director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, the military strikes send out the message that perhaps the old equation he has had with the state holds no more. This is especially relevant now that there is new political and military leadership in place.

“He would want to keep the peace deal intact and the pamphlet is a pressure tactic because even as the military goes for surgical strikes to root out foreign elements, it will have implications for his faction,” says Rana.

And that may well be what makes the situation sticky. While Bahadur has been one of the “good Taliban”, reportedly pro-peace and pro-government, he is known to have provided sanctuaries to foreign militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Al Qaeda — as established by the military’s “selected” targeting of foreign militants.

“Bahadur has a peace accord with the government but what about the foreign militants in North Waziristan Agency?” says Zia ur Rehman, a freelance journalist and researcher who covers militancy. “We know for sure that no one can step inside the agency without a nod from Bahadur. For all we know, the military’s surgical strikes that Bahadur sees as violation of the accord may herald a wider operation to weed out foreign militants.”

While the rifts in the TTP may have thrown up the opportunity to isolate the pro-state, pro-peace elements from the hardliners and target them for peace talks, they have also created an opening whereby “bad Taliban” can be turned into “good Taliban” — a divide-and-rule policy that the state has been pursuing aggressively.

In this context, Sajna’s disavowal of the TTP’s violence against the state and rejection of the anti-state leadership of Mullah Fazlullah is significant. The split, say analysts, provides an opportunity to the government and the military to win over militant leaders like Sajna — whose group has a strong disruptive presence in Karachi. Security analysts see that in the coming days, Khan Said aka Sajna will be propped up to ally with pro-state groups. This, in turn, may cause others to feel redundant, creating insecurities that the incentives and influence they enjoyed would go to others.

However, analysts also see the present situation as one where the Pakistani state would continue to create cleavages, playing one group against the other to maintain the status quo, to keep militant “militias” embroiled in conflict till the time other powers in the region — India, Iran, Afghanistan (with Nato and the US) — reveal their cards after the American withdrawal from the region.

“The Fata insurgency is not one supported by people,” says Khadim Hussain, author of The Militant Discourse. “In North and South Waziristan people have been displaced. This policy of divide and rule wouldn’t work as it hasn’t in Sri Lanka, Britain and Tajikistan. At the heart of the matter is our foreign policy, privatisation of Jihad and freedom for militants to move around. It has to be tackled by taking the political government on board.”

On May 28, a Jirga of elders in Mirali, led by Haji Sher Mohammad, grandson and hereditary successor of Faqir of Ippi — who led an insurgency against the British in Waziristan in the 1930s and the ’40s — demanded that the government stop the military strikes and hold dialogue with the tribesmen to restore law and order. The first of its kind in nearly a decade, the Jirga’s aim was to, “establish peace in the country in general and in Waziristan in particular”.

The successor of Faqir of Ippi has considerable influence over the tribes, especially the Turi Khel tribe spread all over Waziristan. Some of Bahadur’s commanders participated in the Jirga, even called to invite media to the gathering. A journalist in North Waziristan who didn’t want to be named said that Bahadur may have perceived this as a threat — a conspiracy to create a rift in the Shura Mujahideen of North Waziristan that he leads like the one in the TTP.

Analysts are of the view that the Jirga headed by the grandson of Faqir of Ippi is the first step towards a future dispensation where Khan Said aka Sajna would join the local Jirga of Haji Sher Mohammad. Haji Sher Mohammad also held another Jirga on May 31 to reassure a frightened population anticipating fighting after Bahadur’s pamphlet not to leave the agency. The Jirga said there would be no fighting against the military and that it would resolve the issue of Bahadur’s call to arms against the military in its own way.

“Khan Said aka Sajna, who is acceptable to Mehsud tribes as a leader, and the grandson of Faqir of Ippi may be the future allies and that may lead to the sidelining of Bahadur,” says Hussain.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2014