ISLAMABAD: Space is finally shrinking for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to freely operate out of its bastion North Waziristan as the recent split in its ranks has helped the government win over the loyalties of South Waziristan-based Mehsud clan, which has been providing the most formidable foot soldiers for the umbrella organisation since its formation in 2007.
The TTP split is slowly and gradually tilting the power equation in Waziristan in favour of pro-government forces, with southern part being ruled by Mullah Nazir group, led these days by Salahuddin Ayubi. Hafiz Gul Bahadur, meanwhile, is holding the north despite his angry response to the recent military strikes in his area. But the tilt in power equation between pro- and anti-government forces in Waziristan was actually prompted by the fact that a major faction of the Mehsud tribe led by Khalid Mehsud, aka Khan Said Sajna, had recently walked out of the TTP, accusing its leaders of being involved in un-Islamic practices, like armed robberies, extortion, bombing of public places and promotion of sectarian violence and intolerant religious ideologies.
Local sources, however, said that the split was mainly caused by differences over leadership and control of financial resources of the umbrella organisation between two rival factions of the TTP. Observers believe that in the current situation conditions are ripe for the government to strike a peace deal with the Khan Said Sajna, a follower of Waliur Rehman, a slain deputy chief of TTP and staunch follower of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the JUI-F chief. “It is high time for the government to initiate talks with Sajna group. This would make things easier for the government, armed forces as well as the Mehsud tribe, which has suffered tremendously due to the ongoing conflict in the region,” says Saifullah Mehsud, executive director of FATA Research Centre in Islamabad.
“The JUI-F chief and tribal elders can broker a peace deal between the Sajna group and the government,” he added. But the Maulana could not be so easily won over after being completely ignored by the government in the stalled and shaky talks with the TTP. The inclusion of Maulana Samiul Haq, Fazlur Rehman’s archrival, in the talks kept the latter away from the government-backed talks process. Lately, with the recent near collapse of the talks process as a result of tit-for-tat military strikes on the Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman seems to be taking initiative on the issue.
His spokesperson, however, believes: “From the very beginning we received vibes that some militant groups, including Sajna, wanted to be engaged under a serious mechanism, yet government wasted much political space and time through phoney committees. Neutralising Waziristan will be a game changer if the government really wants to see the back of militancy,” said JUI spokesperson Jan Achakzai.
“We have never asked nor looking today for any role for JUI-F or party Chief Maulana Fazalur Rahman, to be part of talks, though, we are victim of what is going on in FATA, as our madrassas have been bombed; sitting and ex MNAs, leaders and workers killed, kidnapped or tortured. We still believe that working with genuine FATA jirga to genuinely and meaningfully engage for talks is the best mechanism,” Achakzai contended. Meanwhile, the people of North Waziristan, fearing a full-scale ground offensive, have been migrating to the bordering provinces of Afghanistan and settled parts of Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
While uncertainty has been prevalent in the troubled region for the last several years, the latest mass exodus was sparked by the recent aerial bombardment of militant hideouts by the military in which, according to official figures, about 80 militants were killed. So far, according to locals, up to 800 families, approximately more than 5,000 people, have crossed the border into Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces from different areas of North Waziristan and took shelter with their relatives and friendly tribesmen.
Frustrated over the unannounced frequent military actions, the displaced families were encouraged by some militant commanders and high profile tribal elders to migrate to Afghanistan. Several hundred Pakistanis, including civilians and militants, had taken refuge in Afghanistan’s border provinces of Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar to escape the early military operations in Malakand and other tribal regions. According to observers, the migration of tribal people to Afghanistan would create new challenges for Pakistan, who would use their sanctuaries across the Durand Line as a launch-pad to carry out attacks in Pakistan.
Similarly, nearly 12,000 people have entered into Bannu District, adjacent to North Waziristan, since May 22. The data reportedly available with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) revealed that a total of 748 families, 2,253 males, 3,177 females and 4,246 children up to the age of 16 years, left North Waziristan between May 22 and May 27. Unlike Pashtuns of settled districts, the displaced conservative tribesmen from North Waziristan prefer to stay with relatives or independently at their own in rented places rather than live in shanty government relief camps, which are yet to be set up by the government.
When the government launched a military operation in South Waziristan in October 2009, hardly 15 percent of displaced persons stayed at the relief camps set up by the government. Majority of tribesmen had migrated to the neighbouring North Waziristan and parts of KP, including Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar.
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