The Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) militant organisation based in the Khyber tribal region is facing a serious threat to its sway from an erstwhile allied tribe.
Zakhakhel tribe turned against the LeI, led by the notorious Mangal Bagh Afridi, after the killing of a kinsman – Maulana Hashim – two weeks ago, source told The Express Tribune.
Maulana Hashim was associated with the Maulana Fazlur Rehman led Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F). He was also a classmate of Mehboobul Haq, chief of the Ansarul Islam (AI) militant outfit, arch-rival of the LeI. Hashim and Haq had studied together at a madrassa in the Zargari area of Hangu district.
According to sources, Maulana Hashim was abducted from the Tabai area of Bazaar Valley in the Landikotal sub-division of Khyber Agency by Commander Khan, a lieutenant of Bagh, on March 20. The cleric was later killed by his captors.
The abduction and subsequent killing enraged Zakhakhel tribesmen, who were until then strong supporters of Bagh. “They had asked Mangal Bagh to punish the killers, hand over commander Khan to them and release LeI dissident commander Guncha Gul, who has been in Bagh’s custody for the last two months,” a source told The Express Tribune.
Bagh rejected their demands and Zakhakhel tribesmen rose in revolt against him under the command of three senior LeI commanders – Shireen, Toti and Munshi, the source added.
The Zakhakhel tribe revolt has put Bagh in a dangerous situation. Not only has he lost his powerful supporters and a stronghold, the situation has also left him besieged in his hideout in Tirah Valley.
The Gogrina area in Bazaar Valley, which is inhabited by Zakhakhel tribesmen, was considered a LeI stronghold. And the only road leading to Tirah Valley also passes through Bazaar Valley. Other uncharted tracks have already been sealed by the paramilitary Frontier Corps.
Sources told The Express Tribune that Bagh is currently holed up in the Sepah clan area of Tirah Valley. He belongs to the Sepah, a sub-clan of Afridi tribe which inhabits the Spindrand, Sandana and Nangrosa areas in lower Tirah.
Upper Tirah, also known as Maidan, is controlled by LeI rival Ansarul Islam (AI). And the area borders Kurram and Orakzai agencies in the west and south-west and Afghanistan in the north.
The Afridis are divided into eight sub-clans – Akakhel, Kamarkhel, Qambarkhel, Malik Dinkhel, Kukikhel, Zakhakhel, Sepah and Adamkhel. Apart from Adamkhel, all other clans live in Khyber Agency. And barring Kukikhel and Zakhakhel, all clans are centered in the Bara sub-division. But they have relations in Tirah.
This makes the situation more complex. The LeI controls most of these areas except for the Qambakhel region, which is under the sway of Amr bil-Maroof wa Nahi Anil-Munkir (Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vices), a self-styled vigilante squad. However, most of their kinsmen in Tirah live in the areas controlled by Ansarul Islam. Amr Bil Maroof also has pockets of influence in Lower Tirah.
The Afridi sub-clans have been bearing the brunt of this schism as they are forced to fight each other on behalf of either LeI or AI – which have been at loggerheads since 2005.
These new developments, coupled with infighting in his group, will loosen Bagh’s grip in the area as some of his top commanders, including Ghuncha Gul, have also deserted him around eight months ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2011.
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