Chinks in the TTP armour
By S. M. Hali
The negotiations between the government-appointed emissaries and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have hit the doldrums. The main reason for the breakdown is not the cessation of the ceasefire or the resumption of targeted attacks by the government in response to the assaults by the TTP. It has been widely reported that infighting has broken out amongst the ranks of the TTP. After the elimination of the erstwhile TTP leader, Hakimullah Mehsud through a drone strike on November 1, 2013, power struggle to replace him erupted. The TTP Majlis-e-Shura (Central Advisory Council) appointed Mullah Fazlullah, a non Mehsud. The main contender to replace Hakimullah was Commander Khan Said, euphemistically called Sajna, claiming himself as being the most suitable candidate to run the militant organization comprising as many as 43 different militant outfits. Sajna, in mid-thirties, is from a middle-class business family of the Shabikhail branch of the Mehsud tribe that live in Zangara village of Sararogha, a sub-division of South Waziristan. He is currently believed to be based in Laddah subdivision of the agency. Sajna is considered to be a strategist and fierce fighter and is credited to be responsible for planning numerous attacks both in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. Reportedly, Sajna planned the Bannu jailbreak in April 2012 in which more than 200 militants attacked the jail and freed 384 inmates including Adnan Rashid, a former employee of Pakistan Air Force who was on death row at the jail for his alleged involvement in an assassination attempt against General Pervez Musharraf. Sajna is also believed to have orchestrated the DI Khan jailbreak in July 2013.
Sajna’s main contender is Shehryar Mehsud, also thirty five years of age, who represents Shabikhail sub-clan of Mehsud tribe. Until November 2013 he was keeping a low profile but he surfaced in the media when he was made a caretaker TTP head just for a single day after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud. Sajna appointed himself as the head of TTP South Waziristan Chapter, after the death of the TTP second in command Maulana Wali ur Rehman Mehsud through a drone strike, on May 29, 2013, a position occupied by Wali ur Rehman. This unilateral decision without the consultation of central Shura had not only angered Shehryar Mehsud but also majority of central leadership in TTP. But then TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud asked the Mehsud tribesmen not to challenge Commander Sajna for the sake of TTP unity in South Waziristan. He also asked Shehryar Mehsud to shift to North Waziristan to avoid any confrontation with Sajna.
After the elimination of Hakimullah Mehsud, Shehryar Mehsud, being a strong contestant for the TTP leadership, was disappointed with the decision marginalizing him. Currently, Shehryar’s focus is on challenging the authority of Sajna in South Waziristan. The feud between the two Mehsuds took an ugly turn when an armed skirmish erupted with Taj Gul Markaz, a small training base run by Sajna at Bobar village near Shaktoi, coming under attack by militants loyal to Shehryar to establish bases in an area where Sajna had sway since the very inception of TTP in 2007. Sajna retaliated with full force and in almost twenty four hours of raging battle, eleven of Shehryar’s fighters were killed. Instantly, the infighting extended to the others parts of South and North Waziristan and adjoining Tank area. In Shawal area Shehryar Mehsud’s men captured the bases of Sajna group; thus the weeklong infighting resulted in the killing of 43 people.
Against the backdrop of internal strife among the TTP ranks, it has been learnt that Sajna is planning to eliminate Maulvi Fazlullah – the disputed chief of TTP who has taken refuge in Afghanistan after escaping the dragnet to ensnare him by Pakistan Army in November 2009. Sajna is known to be making desperate attempts to exploit the differences between the various factions of TTP and bring them under his umbrella but to get them to swear allegiance to himself; Mullah Fazlullah has to be slain.
While Sajna’s battle with Shehryar Mehsud rages on, other tribal elders have tried to broker peace lest the focus on the peace talks is lost. Initially they were not willing to admit the severe infighting but later issued statements that the central Shura has managed to iron out the differences which anyway are an internal matter of the TTP.
That is the dilemma that the government is facing in its peace talks, as to who would be responsible for enforcing the agreement if any is reached between the government and the TTP. With the chinks in their armour, now clearly visible, the TTP is exposed to be a motley crowd, unable to hold peace in its own ranks. With reports of Sajna planning his coup d’état, the situation will become murkier and peace a distant dream.