Pakistan Taliban commanders "at each other's throats"

January 3, 2012 - 16:43
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militants have held a series of meetings aimed at containing what could soon be open warfare between the two most powerful Pakistani Taliban leaders, militant sources have said.

Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and his deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman, were at each other's throats, the sources said.

"You will soon hear that one of them has eliminated the other, though hectic efforts are going on by other commanders and common friends to resolve differences between the two," one TTP commander said.

Any division within the TTP could hinder the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda's struggle in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies, making it more difficult to recruit young fighters and disrupting safe havens in Pakistan used by the Afghan militants.

Despite multiple reports of the Rehman-Mehsud split, Rehman told Reuters on Tuesday there was no problem between the two.

"There are no differences between us," Rehman said.

The TTP, formed in 2007, is an umbrella group of various Pakistani militant factions operating in Pakistan's unruly northwestern tribal areas along the porous border with Afghanistan.

It has long struggled with its choice of targets. Some factions are at war with the Pakistani state while others concentrate on the fight against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

There has been a noticeable decrease in militant attacks in Pakistan, but there continue to be random acts of violence across the country.

Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban commanders are asking the TTP to provide more men for the fight in Afghanistan and are looking to smooth over the dispute between Mehsud and Rehman.

Long-standing feuds

Taliban sources said Rehman had ordered his fighters to kill Mehsud because of his increasing closeness with Al-Qaeda and its Arab contingent.

Mehsud's former deputy has also alleged the TTP chief received money from Pakistan's arch-rival, India, to kill a former Pakistan spy agency official acting as a mediator between the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan insurgents and the Pakistani government.

The reported enmity between Mehsud and Rehman is not the only conflict within the TTP ranks.

Mehsud has a long-standing feud with militant commanders Maulvi Nazeer in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, both of whom have non-aggression agreements with the Pakistani military.

Mehsud's men have also fought with the militia under the control of Fazal Saeed Haqqani, the former TTP head in the Kurram tribal region. He has accused Mehsud of killing his commanders and innocent people and kidnapping for ransom.

Haqqani, who is close to the militant Afghan Haqqani network, broke away from the TTP last year.

A pamphlet distributed by militants in North Waziristan this week announced the formation of a council to try to resolve the conflicts.

"All jihadi forces have jointly, on the recommendation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, formed a five-member commission which will be known as the Shura Muraqba," the pamphlet said, using the term by which the Afghan Taliban describe themselves.

"The Shura Muraqba will be working to resolve differences and problems between mujahideen."

It said that any mujahideen -- or holy warriors -- found to have committed an "unlawful" killing or kidnapping would be punished under Islamic law. It is likely any attack on a fellow mujahideen commander would be considered "unlawful."

"All mujahideen should respect the decisions of the council that has been set up," a senior commander of the Haqqani faction in Kurram said.

"If people continue to do as they like, the situation will not improve. Things will instead get much worse."