ISLAMABAD: A previously little-known TTP-linked jehadi group - Ansarul Mujahideen — which largely consists of Uzbek fighters, has claimed responsibility for the September 1 bombing of a military convoy in North Waziristan, which not only killed nine Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers but also diminished the chances of talks between the government and the Taliban.
According to Abu Baseer, the Ansarul Mujahideen spokesman, the attack was meant to avenge the August 30 American drone strike in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan that killed four members of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which is also known as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al-Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al-Qaeda’s external operations network. It was the first US strike in the tribal belt of Pakistan in more than a month, killing four fighters of TIP/ETIM that seeks to establish an independent Muslim state of East Turkistan and operates from sanctuaries in North Waziristan. The group, which is largely dominated by the Uighurs, claims that the Chinese are a colonial force in the Muslim majority Xinjiang province [bordering Pakistan] of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) which many Uighurs prefer to call East Turkistan.
According to Abu Baseer, the Ansarul Mujahideen had been set up to react to US drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan and to make life difficult for the United States and its friends. “Our group is very clear about its mission - with each drone attack in the Waziristan region, we will respond with a fidayeen attack in Pakistan”.
The September 1 terrorist attack targeting of an FC convoy had taken place in the Boya area of North Waziristan. The paramilitary troops were traveling from the Data Khel area, a known al-Qaeda haven, to Miramshah when their convoy was hit by a remotely-detonated IED.
While claiming responsibility for the attack, Abu Baseer further said: “In response to the US drone strikes, we are planning to extend our attacks outside the settled areas as we believe that the Pakistan government is responsible for the drone attacks by facilitating the Americans”.
The American drone strikes have killed dozens of most wanted terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban, Turkistan Islamic Party, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Punjabi Taliban, and other non-aligned Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network, Mullah Nazir Group, and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group.
Ansarul Muhajideen, which was formed early this year, has attacked Pakistani troops in North Waziristan in the past also. In January this year, the group claimed credit for a roadside bombing attack on a military convoy in North Waziristan that killed 14 soldiers.
Then in July, Ansarul Mujahideen claimed credit for a double suicide attack in Parachinar in the Kurram tribal agency that killed 57 people. The outfit said the attack was carried out to avenge the Shia involvement in the Syrian civil war. A few days later, the Ansar released a video, showing Uzbek women and children getting military training at a camp in North Waziristan.
In fact, the Pakistani Taliban and the Uzbek militants have long been collaborating with each other to conduct joint terrorist strikes in the tribal areas, ostensibly targeting the security forces. Before the September 1 remote-controlled bomb attack in Mir Ali, which killed nine FC Jawans, the Uzbek Jihadis had claimed credit for the January 13, 2013 remote-controlled bomb attack in North Waziristan, which had killed 17 soldiers of the Pakistan Army. The attack was carried out a couple of days after Hakeemullah Mehsud had offered peace talks to the PPP government. The Taliban withdrew their offer to the newly-installed Sharif government in early June, a day after a US drone killed their deputy chief, commander Waliur Rehman Mehsud.
However, despite knowing well that North Waziristan has become a hub of al-Qaeda-linked foreign groups, the Pakistani establishment refuses to take on either Hafiz Gul Bahadar or the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, because they are considered “good Taliban” for not carrying out terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
As the new government had decided last month to carry out executions of the condemned terrorists, the Tehrik-e-Taliban and the Ansarul Mujahideen had threatened on August 15, 2013 to target two high-profile politicians from the Punjab in case commander Aqeel alias Dr Usman and his associates are hanged in Faisalabad jail on August 23. The Ansarul Mujahideen spokesman Abu Baseer had threatened that they would carry out a new sting operation of suicide attacks if the convicted Jihadis were sent to the gallows.
The PML-N government subsequently deferred the scheduled executions of Dr Usman and his associates. However, the September 1 killing of nine FC Jawans has established the contention of the Khaki circles that the Taliban were never sincere in holding peace talks and that they only want to use another peace deal to regroup and strengthen them. The establishment circles do agree with the government contention that attaining peace through talks should be the first priority, but they insist at the same time that there should be no dialogue with the Taliban unless they lay down their arms and accept the supremacy of the state of Pakistan.
On the other hand, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has already made it clear that the TTP-govt talks should be preceded by a truce. “A ceasefire could be one of the topics on the talks’ agenda”. The TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, in a video released early this year, had taken the same position by stating: “We are willing to negotiate with the government but would not disarm”.