ISLAMABAD/MIRANSHAH: At least 19 militants were killed in two separate incidents of bombing and gunfight in the restive tribal areas Friday, local security officials said, the latest clashes in almost a week of infighting between rival Taliban factions.
A total of 62 people have been killed in the violence which erupted on Sunday between supporters of commander Khan Said Sajna and followers of the late Hakimullah Mehsud group in troubled North Waziristan. Both factions are part of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella group, which has been waging a bloody seven-year insurgency against the state. Six militants were killed when their vehicle was blown up with a remote control bomb in the Shawal area (45 kilometres west of Miranshah) of the restless tribal belt.
In another separate incident in Shawal town, 10 insurgents were killed in clashes when members of the Sajna group came under rocket attack in their car, a local intelligence official told AFP. Militant sources also confirmed the clash and casualties. The feud began after Sajna, a senior commander, was rejected for the TTP leadership following the killing of then-leader Mehsud last November, militants say. The TTP has long been riven by infighting. Sajna had been seen as a strong candidate to become TTP chief following Mehsud’s death.
But the movement’s ruling council at the last minute elected Mullah Fazlullah, who hails from Swat and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. Separately, Sher Amanullah, a commander of the Haqqani militant network, was killed along with two others when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle near the town of Datta Khel, intelligence and militant sources said. Amanullah is said to be a close associate of Mullah Sangeen Zadran, who was blacklisted as a terrorist by the United Nations and United States and was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in September last year.
The government began negotiations through intermediaries with the TTP in February to try to end its insurgency. The militant group has demanded the release of what they call “non-combatant” prisoners and the establishment of a “peace zone” from which security forces would be barred. A bomb attack at a market in Islamabad on Wednesday killed 24 people, though the TTP denied responsibility.
The infighting between factions of Mehsud clan started last Sunday in Shaktoi area of South Waziristan and gradually spread to other adjacent areas. Local residents said that sporadic skirmishes continued on Friday between the opposing groups in Mehsud-dominated areas of Lower Shaktoi, Upper Shaktoi and Bobar adjacent to North Waziristan. According to local sources, the rivalry between Taliban factions represented by local leaders, Sheheryar Mehsud and Khan Said Sajna, has become so intense that TTP’s central command was forced to involve Afghan Taliban leaders to settle the enmity.
Though some Taliban as well as independent observers link the internal strife between supporters of Sajna and Sheheryar with their differences over peace talks with the government but well-placed sources told Daily Times that real friction among them revolves around the operational, financial and logistical control of the umbrella organisation. Since the formation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan by its slain founder Baitullah Mehsud in 2007, the financial control of the organisation remained with members of the Mehsud clan.
The preliminary struggle between Sajna and Sheharyar groups surfaced with the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah’s successor, last November in a US drone strike, with both vying for TTP’s top position and control over its resources. As their local comrades failed to resolve the animosity, the Afghan Taliban leaders had to intervene and appointed Mullah Fazlullah, aka Mullah Radio, as TTP’s chief. However, Fazlullah’s abode in Afghanistan has made him a symbolic head of TTP while the real control of its resources remained with Mehsuds. “The ongoing struggle between Sajna and Sheharyar is only for control of TTP’s resources and nothing else,” said a source familiar with the ongoing developments in the area.
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