ISLAMABAD: The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is on the verge of a major split following its ameer Hakeemullah Mehsud’s decision to surreptitiously elevate Latif Mehsud, his close confidant and driver-cum bodyguard, as his No 2 in the terror outfit.
The slot of TTP’s deputy ameer was earlier filled up by the 36-year-old Khan Said alias Sajna, a close aide of Commander Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the former deputy ameer of Hakeemullah, after his death in a US drone attack on May 29, 2013. Khan Said was also appointed the commander of the South Waziristan chapter of the TTP, a position which was being held by Waliur Rehman.
However, according to well-informed sources in the militant circles, Hakeemullah has finally replaced Said Khan with Latif Mehsud in the wake of rising differences with him over numerous issues, the most important being the matter of talks with the PML-N government and mishandling of the TTP coffers.
Latif Mehsud has not only been made the deputy ameer of the TTP but he has also been appointed commander of the TTP in Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan as well as the headquarters of the Hakeemullah-led Taliban.
On the other hand, Khan Said has refused to relinquish his position as deputy ameer of the TTP and has stepped up his efforts to build up a parallel set- up of his Taliban militia in South Waziristan.
While Sajna maintains that the key slot of the TTP’s deputy ameer should not have been given to a driver and that too without consultation, Hakeemullah justifies his decision saying he too had been the driver of the TTP’s founding ameer Baitullah Mehsud before being elevated as the ameer of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Earlier, Hakeemullah had fired the ameer of the Punjabi Taliban, Asmatullah Muavia for unilaterally welcoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s offer of peace talks. But Muavia too had refused to relinquish his position, saying the Punjabi Taliban have their own Shura or decision making body and the TTP’s central Shura was not authorized to expel him.
According to informed sources, Khan Said Sajna has not only strengthened his clout in the Jihadi circles of South Waziristan but has also managed to win the support of all the 12 Mehsud tribal chiefs in North Waziristan.
The tribal chiefs who have pledged to support Khan Said alias Sajna had actually migrated from the South Waziristan Agency several years ago to avoid a military operation there. Khan Said is believed to be on very good terms with Hafiz Gul Buhadar, the pro-government “good Taliban leader” who rules the roost in the North Waziristan Agency which is often described by terrorism experts as the country’s black hole which is growing bigger and more frightening with each passing day.
On the other hand, despite his falling health, Hakeemullah Mehsud not only continues to control his own loyalists and fighters in the TTP, he is also commanding several other subsidiary groups of Tehrik-e-Taliban including the Jundul Hafsa, Jundullah, Asian Tigers and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami. Well-informed sources in the security circles say the TTP had been cracking before the death of Waliur Rehman who had developed serious differences with Hakeemullah Mehsud over policy issues.
They reminded that shortly before Wali was killed in a drone attack, the then TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had refuted reports of a rift among their ranks, saying Hakeemullah Mehsud was not being replaced by Waliur Rehman as the new TTP chief.
However, the first major indication of the cracks within the TTP ranks came when Wali was hunted down by a drone and his close aides alleged that the informer on whose tip their leader was killed was from the Hakeemullah group. The intra-TTP split did not come to an end with Wali’s killing and it rather widened with the passage of time.
Before being killed, Wali was virtually commanding the TTP with Sajna’s assistance due to the ailment oof Hakeemullah. Hence, Sajna’ close aides say the TTP chief should not have taken a unilateral decision while appointing the new deputy ameer of the Taliban. The sources say while Sajna had a leaning for peace talks with the government just like Waliur Rehman, Hakeemullah Mehsud is under the influence of those hardcore terrorists who believe in bloodshed instead of peace.
Born in the Kotkai village of South Waziristan in 1980, Hakeemullah’s appointment as the TTP chief wasn’t without controversy.
When Baitullah died in a drone attack, TTP leaders met to choose his successor. There were competing claims to inherit Baitullah’s mantle, sparking speculation that Hakeemullah, who had initially served Baitullah as a bodyguard and then as his trusted driver, had died in a gun battle between rival camps. Weeks later, the government circles confirmed the news, only to be embarrassed by Hakeemullah’s emergence in a press conference. Since then, Pakistan hasn’t known peace. While Hakeemullah has pushed the war with the Pakistani state, some other TTP leaders like Sajna want the battle to be confined against the US-led Allied Forces in Afghanistan.
Sajna, which means friend in the Punjabi and Urdu languages, was nominated as the deputy ameer of the TTP on May 30, 2013 by six militant leaders belonging to his group. Sajna was not present at the meeting since he was reported to be in Afghanistan the day Waliur Rehman was killed. A resident of the Shobikhel area of South Waziristan, he was a close confidant and a longtime 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. He has no basic education, conventional or religious, but he is battle-hardened and is considered to be a pragmatic operative.
Sajna is believed to have been involved in the May 22, 2011 fidayeen attack on the PNS Mehran base which is the headquarter of Pakistan Navy’s Naval Air Arm and the most populous Pakistani military installation, which is located near the PAF’s Faisal Air Force Base of Karachi. In the course of the assault, 15 attackers had killed 18 military personnel and wounded 16 others.