At least five people were killed and many more injured in an explosion in the Khyber tribal region as Mangal Bagh Afridi, the notorious commander of Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) militant group, sought help from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in his fight against his rivals.
This comes a day after a group of Afghan Taliban threatened to join Bagh’s rivals to avenge the beheading of Maulana Muhammad Hashim, a respected cleric from Zakhakhel clan of the Afridi tribe. Hundreds of thousands of Zakhakehl tribesmen, the erstwhile allies of LeI, turned on Bagh following Maulana Hashim’s abduction and subsequent execution by LeI fighters last month.
Lashkar’s arch-rival Ansarul Islam (AI), headed by Mehboobul Haq, has also sided with the Zakhakhels and launched attacks on Bagh’s fighters holed up in Tirah Valley.
The Lashkar chief appealed to the TTP for help to fight his many enemies. And sources told The Express Tribune that some Taliban insurgents have already reached the area to fight alongside Bagh’s loyalists.
The explosion took place when AI fighters stopped Taliban insurgents from raising their emblem in an area, which is under the control of Zakhakhel tribesmen.
The exact nature of the blast was not known, but tribal sources said that the explosion was caused by a hand grenade hurled by AI fighters. Five Taliban were killed and 10 wounded in the attack.
Ansar fighters also apprehended three Taliban who were sneaking into the Pir Mela area in Khyber Agency from the neighbouring Orakzai tribal region.
Meanwhile bloody clashes continued between the loyalists of LeI and AI for the seventh consecutive day on Tuesday.
Local sources told The Express Tribune that eight people were killed and many more injured as both sides were using heavy weapons in the fighting.
Some other sources said that the Taliban moved into Khyber Agency to mediate a truce between LeI and Zakhakhel tribesmen.
But negotiations broke down after LeI turned down the demands put forward by the Zakhakhel tribe.
The Zakhakhels are demanding that the LeI hand over three persons, including dissident commander Ghuncha Gul and commander Khan, who is blamed for the beheading of Maulana Hashim.
“They are also demanding that the LeI should also guarantee that it will not operate in the Zakhakhel area again,” a tribal source told The Express Tribune.
Local residents fear that the fighting would escalate as the Taliban have jumped into the fray. Sources said that another TTP faction, led by commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, was also likely to come to the help AI, which is ideologically close to its beliefs.
“There will be bloodshed if Taliban factions join the fight,” a source said. “The repercussions will be catastrophic for the entire tribal belt.”
Though the LeI has been weakened after suffering heavy casualties, its fighters are regrouping to put up a stiff resistance against their enemy in the areas on both sides of the Bara river.
Meanwhile, official sources said that Pakistan Army was not conducting any operation in Khyber Agency.
“The army has nothing to do with the infighting of tribesmen,” a source told The Express Tribune by phone from Rawalpindi. “It’s purely a war between two rival groups.”
With additional reporting by Manzoor Ali
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2011.