There is the possibility of making too much of news reports that Fazal Saeed — the commander of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Kurram — and his men have split from the group and decided to go it alone. Saeed’s main point of contention was the spate of suicide bombings that the TTP have carried out, which explicitly targeted civilians. He feels they are morally unjustified as Islam forbids targeting Muslim civilians. But Saeed hasn’t given up the fight altogether. He says he will continue to work to establish sharia in Pakistan and fight the US in Afghanistan. Anything that weakens the TTP should be welcomed, but losing one commander will not have an appreciable impact on the TTP’s operations. The government should look at this as an opportunity to try and ferment further splits — an enemy divided will make a far easier opponent.
The split is also not all that surprising when you consider that Kurram is the only one of the seven tribal agencies that has a Shia majority population. One of the defining features of the militant groups that combined to form the TTP is that they are anti-Shia. Fazal Saeed, by associating with the TTP, would have found it harder to maintain his popularity and recruit supporters in Kurram, given that the TTP is a Sunni movement — expecting his split to be replicated in the other Sunni-majority tribal agencies is unrealistic.
The best way to engineer a permanent split in the Taliban is by dividing the top leadership. After former TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack, there was a period of uncertainty before the new leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, was announced. This is the most opportune moment to sow seeds of rivalry, hatred and suspicion among those leaders hoping to become the new chief. For that, though, the government and the military need good intelligence, particularly in the form of informants and double agents within the TTP. Until they manage that, Fazal Saeed’s split will be little more than a one-off with no lasting consequences.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2011.