The leadership struggle between different factions within the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has finally led to a split within the group that possibly spells its end as a relatively unified fighting force. In a statement released on Wednesday, spokespersons for the Khan Said Sajna faction confirmed their group was no longer a part of the TTP after two months of heavy fighting between factions reportedly left at least 50 militants dead. The Said Sajna faction has been engaged in running battles against the Shehryar Mehsud faction for leadership of the South Waziristan (SWA) region, though deeper fault-lines in the movement are appearing. The friction developed around elevation of the non-Mehsud Mullah Fazlullah to the militants’ leadership ahead of Khan Said Sajna, now using the name Khaled Mehsud. Reportedly, Khaled Mehsud was passed over for leadership in favour of Fazlullah after Hakeemullah Mehsud died in a drone strike in December last year. Fazlullah was a compromise candidate chosen by the militants’ central council precisely to prevent a split within their ranks when several contenders from within the Mehsud clan put themselves forward for the position. However the choice was contentious and though initially unchallenged, Fazlullah’s reportedly autocratic tendencies and controversial decisions led to several factions declaring their opposition to his leadership. Reports say one of those decisions was unilaterally appointing Shehryar Mehsud head of operations in SWA ahead of Khaled without first consulting the militants’ central council. The council overturned the decision but a rift was created between Fazlullah and Khaled that continued to grow when negotiations with the government began. In March reports of infighting emerged with the Sajna faction executing a number of ruthless attacks on Shehryar Mehsud’s followers in SWA.
The declaration of a formal split will be a blow to the unified command of the militants, if any such structure remains intact. Khaled Mehsud’s group was one of the largest and best organised of the militant factions that comprised the Pakistani Taliban. His departure signals a split within the Mehsud tribe itself, which historically formed the backbone of the militant movement. In a statement, the Sajna spokesperson said the group was parting ways with the main body of the militant organisation because of ideological and strategic differences. He said that the Sajna faction believes the militant organisation is being used by ‘vested interests’ who promote extortion and kidnappings in order to enrich themselves while not staying the course of ‘jihad’ to establish an ostensibly Islamic state. The statement further accused the TTP leadership of criminality and labelled attacks on public places as ‘haram’. While much of this is true, the statement itself is clearly a post facto justification to appear noble to the public since no such concern for life was exhibited in the last seven years when terrorists were massacring civilians in public spaces around the country. Reports say that Khaled Mehsud’s faction has a softer stance about negotiating with the government and believes that the militants should focus their activities in Afghanistan, while Fazlullah opposed negotiating with Pakistan. One could say this is the only success the government’s negotiation strategy has achieved, albeit unintentionally. Negotiations seem like a dubious prospect since the militants now have no central body capable of negotiating for the group as a whole. Any overtures will have to come from the leaders of individual groups themselves. The government then should plan to keep the door open for groups that are willing to lay down their arms while continuing to fight those that oppose the state. So far the government has stuck to a policy of retaliation. Revenge is not a strategy. Militant attacks have frustrated the armed forces, which are stuck behind a policy of neither fighting nor effectively negotiating. The infighting and the accusations the terrorists are throwing at each other have also shown their true face. Political differences have overcome the fanatical religious and ideological ties that bound the terrorist group and show categorically that religion is a cloak over the group’s true motivations. Public opinion has turned decisively against the militants. What is needed now is a comprehensive strategy to end the terrorist threat in the tribal areas while the time is right. *