ISLAMABAD: The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has suffered a major setback following the arrest of Latif Mehsud, a close confidant and driver-cum bodyguard of the fugitive TTP Ameer commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, by the US troops inside Afghanistan.
Latif was made the deputy Ameer of the TTP only recently by Hakeemullah while replacing Khan Said alias Sajna, a close adviser to commander Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the former deputy Ameer of the TTP who was killed in a US drone attack in May this year.
According to well-informed sources in the establishment, Latif Mehsud was arrested by the American troops from the Logar province of Afghanistan on October 5, 2013. He is learnt to have travelled to Afghanistan to hold talks with Afghan intelligence officials to discuss swapping Afghan prisoners for money. Latif was elevated as the deputy Ameer of the TTP after Hakeemullah Mehsud developed serious differences with his second-in-command — the 36-year-old Khan Said alias Sajna.
In the wake of Waliur Rehman’s death in a US drone attack in Waziristan on May 29, 2013, Sajna was not only appointed Hakeemullah’s No 2 but also made the commander of the South Waziristan chapter of the TTP, a position which was being held by Waliur Rehman.
A resident of the Shobikhel area of South Waziristan, Sajna was a close aide and a long-time personal assistant of Waliur Rehman. Like many other Taliban commanders, Sajna too has been involved in fighting against the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan.
But Hakeemullah had replaced Said Khan with Latif Mehsud in August this year, following differences with him over numerous issues, the most important being the matter of peace talks with the government and mishandling of the TTP coffers. While Sajna had a leaning for peace talks with the government just like Waliur Rehman, Hakeemullah is under the influence of those who believe in bloodshed instead of peace.
Subsequently, Latif was not only made the deputy Ameer of the TTP but was also appointed commander of the terrorist outfit in Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan which also serves as headquarters of the Hakeemullah-led Taliban.
However, while refusing to relinquish his position as the deputy Ameer of the terrorist outfit, Sajna had stepped up his efforts to put together a parallel set-up of his own loyalists within the TTP in South Waziristan. While Sajna maintained that the key slot of the TTP’s deputy Ameer should not have been given to a driver and that too without consultation, Hakeemullah had justified his decision, saying he too had been the driver of TTP’s founding Ameer Baitullah Mehsud before being elevated as the TTP Ameer.
Having served Hakeemullah Mehsud [first as his bodyguard and then as his driver], Latif Mehsud had quickly risen through the TTP ranks in recent years to emerge as the right-hand man of the fugitive TTP Ameer. The importance Latif had achieved in the TTP ranks in recent months can be gauged from the fact that he had not only become a top commander in the terror outfit, but was also acting as a mediator between cells of the Taliban fighters along the Pak-Afghan border and his boss — Hakeemullah Mehsud. Therefore, the arrest of Latif is not only a setback for the TTP but is also a personal loss of Hakeemullah Mehsud.
According to the establishment sources, Latif had actually travelled to Afghanistan on the instructions of Hakeemullah Mehsud following months of persuasion by operatives of Afghanistan’s key intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), in a bid to recruit him as an interlocutor for peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and Karzai administration.
Having received their guest (Latif Mehsud), the Afghan officials were reportedly en route to an NDS facility to hold talks with him when an American military contingent stopped the Afghan convoy. Latif was arrested and taken to Bagram Air Base for interrogation where the US military continues to hold 50-plus non-Afghan combatants.
In fact, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid had stated on October 6, 2013, that the Afghan Taliban are financially supporting the Pakistani Taliban at war with Islamabad and providing sanctuary for them in Afghanistan.
The disclosure, which the spokesman made in an interview with a small group of reporters, was meaningful because Pakistan has long been accused of pursuing a policy of differentiating between the Afghan and the Pakistan Taliban as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants.
“The Afghan Taliban are our jehadi brothers. In the beginning, we were helping them, but now they are strong enough and are now supporting us financially,” said Shahidullah.
Meanwhile, Latif Mehsud’s arrest has come as good news for Khan Said Sajna faction of the TTP which is on quite good terms with Hafiz Gul Buhadar, the pro-government “good Taliban leader” who rules the roost in North Waziristan.
Although, Hakeemullah continues to control his fighters in the TTP despite being in hiding for quite some time now, Sajna has not only strengthened his clout in the jehadi circles of South Waziristan but has also managed to garner the support of all the 12 Mehsud tribal chiefs of North Waziristan.
The tribal chiefs who have pledged to support Khan Said alias Sajna had actually migrated from South Waziristan several years ago to avoid a military operation there.