As the US prepares to get their feet off Afghan soil, the war theatre in Pakistan headed towards surprising twists with the Haqqani network seeking relocation to new strategic positions and the homegrown Taliban facing their first serious fracture in what appeared to be separate but coordinated manoeuvres.
A Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander of the Shia-dominated Kurram tribal region on Monday announced his separation from the main group in protest against bombings of mosques and civilians.
Fazl Saeed was appointed by TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud as the group’s leader for Kurram – one of seven tribal regions located at the centre of Pakistan’s border badlands with direct access to Haqqani’s stronghold of North Waziristan and Afghanistan.
Although Fazl told a media conference in Kurram his move was a result of a chronic disagreement with the TTP main leadership’s policies, it appeared to be supplementing Haqqani’s quest to seek new sanctuaries in the region from where penetration into Afghanistan is easier than from anywhere else.
Saeed, who commands an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 militants, said he was founding a new organisation called Tehreek-i-Taliban Islami.
It was unclear what inspired this ‘change of heart’ but some locals said he might have done this to avert Pakistani military plans to launch an operation in central Kurram. However, there is no confirmation.
The move came after several years of efforts by the Pakistani security establishment as well as the Haqqani network’s elders to broker a truce between warring Sunni – backed by the TTP – and Shia tribes.
A peace agreement was finally reached early this year but the TTP continued to kill and kidnap Shias to sabotage the deal, earning rage from Sirajuddin Haqqani who once warned Hakimullah against such attempts.
Locals, who frequently travel to the area, said that some of Haqqani’s men had already been shifted to lower parts of Kurram which have been relatively peaceful over the years.
With the TTP main leader turning against the group, there won’t be any challenge for the Haqqani network to get a firm foothold in Kurram.
A couple of strikes last week by US-operated predators inside Kurram – for the first time during the five-year drone campaign – appeared to be suggesting that the Haqqanis might have been planning to take over the region for their fresh offensive in Afghanistan.
In recent months, there has been increasing American pressure on the Pakistani military to go all out against the network that policymakers in Washington term the “deadliest on the planet earth”.
The Pakistani security apparatus has so far been resisting the pressure but insiders have said the situation has almost reached its boiling point with Americans saying they are running out of patience.
Recent reports suggested the plan to move parts of the Haqqani network to Kurram and Afghanistan might have been a strategic move before the Pakistani military goes into North Waziristan for an eyewash sort of operation.
There is popular opinion in Pakistan that the country’s security establishment would never abandon the network of Afghan militants who have been standing firm with it all the way since jihad in the war-torn country started in the early ‘80s.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2011.