ISLAMABAD: In a disturbing development for the Pakistani security establishment, the fugitive ameer of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Commander Hakimullah Mehsud has finally resolved his differences with an important Taliban commander, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad who was sacked by him as the deputy TTP ameer in March 2012, ostensibly for holding peace talks with the Pakistan government.
The fugitive ameer of the Swat chapter of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah, who now operates from Afghanistan, is believed to have played a key role in the reunion of the two TTP leaders.
Faqir’s hasty removal was regarded as the beginning of a major split within the ranks of the Taliban, amidst reports that the aggrieved commander might launch his own faction of the TTP. But Hakimullah’s wily move to resolve his differences with Faqir, with the help of Mullah Fazlullah, shows that the deadly jehadi conglomerate is still capable of managing internal conflicts and reconciling them.
Militant circles have confirmed that Faqir Mohammed has formally returned to the TTP folds after almost a year, as a result of the efforts made by Hakimullah. Faqir, who is considered close to al-Qaeda ameer Dr Ayman al Zawahiri, has appeared in a videotape with Maulvi Abu Bakar, the new ameer of the TTP in Bajaur Agency, along with four other commanders - Sheikh Osama, Maulana Abdullah, Brother Ahmad and Qari Zahid.
Produced by the Taliban’s Umar Studio, the videotape was released on January 22 on the Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum, which is a pro-al-Qaeda and pro-Taliban website. The video begins with an interviewer asking Faqir if the differences among the militants in Bajaur have been resolved, and if Abu Bakar is the new leader of the TTP in the Bajaur Agency. Faqir responds, “Yes, there were differences among the militants of Bajaur. But they have been resolved after Hakimullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah (Malala fame) sent a powerful and sovereign delegation to us.”
Faqir then confirmed that Abu Bakar is the new ameer of the Bajaur Agency after the death of Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a US air strike in the Afghan province of Kunar in August 2012. Dadullah took over the command of the TTP in Bajaur after a long-running dispute with Maulvi Faqir led to the latter’s dismissal in March 2012.
Faqir Mohammad was accused by his boss - Hakimullah - of not fighting hard enough against the Pakistani security forces and negotiating a peace deal with the government without approval from the top leadership. Well-placed tribal sources in the tribal region say since Hakimullah had himself offered conditional ceasefire to the government only last month to pave the way for peace talks he was morally bound to mend fences with Faqir who had been sacked for initiating talks with the government without the consent of the TTP tops brass.
While Hakimullah had simply had rejected interior minister Rehman Malik’s November 2011 offer of peace talks Maulvi Faqir had taken an entirely opposite position, which led to rumours that the TTP leadership has declared a ceasefire with the government to pave the way for peace talks.
The Pakistan government’s offer of peace talks to the TTP was made in accordance with a resolution adopted jointly at an All Parties Conference (APC) on October 18, 2011, which endorsed talks with the Pakistani Taliban. The conference was presided over by the then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and attended by all the key political parties. Reacting to the peace offer on October 3, 2011, without waiting for his ameer’s reaction to the offer, Faqir had welcomed the government’s initiative and set two preconditions for talks: one, the government should reconsider its ties with the US and, two, it should enforce Islamic Shariah in Pakistan.
On the other hand, Hakeemullah had vigorously rejected the same in a belated reaction on November 7, 2011, declaring that the war with the state of Pakistan will continue, as it was siding with the forces of the infidel. “We are all loyal soldiers of Mullah Omar. He is our leader, guide and ameer. The services and sacrifices made by Tehrik-e-Taliban for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have been proven over time and our association with them will only continue to strengthen”, said Hakeemullah in a special message, following media reports that the TTP has declared a ceasefire with the government in support of peace talks.
The TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had subsequently issued a statement: “The TTP Shura met with its central ameer Hakeemullah Mehsud in the chair. It felt that the organisation no more required the role of Maulvi Faqir Mohammad as deputy ameer. From today, he will be considered a common fighter and will no longer enjoy the status of TTP deputy ameer.” Faqir was removed despite his close association with Zawahiri who frequented Bajaur to meet his wife and children. However, the latest videotape showing Maulvi Faqir and Abu Bakar indicates that the TTP is far from defeated and no more rife with leadership disputes, as had been frequently claimed by interior minister Rehman Malik.