The fugitive ameer of the Afghan Taliban Mulla Mohammad Omar is greatly influencing the decision making process of the Pakistani Taliban ever since the appointment of Mullah Fazlullah as the new ameer of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
According to well-informed sources in the security establishment, ever since the death of Hakimullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah’s elevation as his successor, the Pakistani Taliban are largely toeing Mulla Omar’s line while taking major policy decisions, including that of initiating peace talks with the Pakistan government.
The sources say despite the death of Hakimullah, Mulla Omar had persuaded Fazlullah to hold peace talks with Islamabad, primarily to prevent a Pakistani military action in the Waziristan region before the withdrawal of the US-led allied forces from Afghanistan.
The ameer of the Afghan Taliban was of the view that instead of wasting their energies in battling with the Pakistan Army, the Taliban on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border should better prepare themselves for a decisive battle in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal for the revival of the Taliban Emirates of Afghanistan.
Mulla Omar had been influencing the Pakistani Taliban in the past as well by using his influence over the TTP to help broker numerous peace deals with the Taliban in the tribal belt. The authority of Mulla Omar, who has been in the hiding ever since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, extends beyond the Pak-Afghan border as the Pakistani Taliban also consider him as their supreme leader, being their Ameerul Momineen, just like the Afghan Taliban.
The influence Mulla Omar exercises on the Pakistani Taliban can be gauged from the fact that the selection of Fazlullah as the TTP ameer could not have been possible without his backing. Fazlullah became the first non-Mehsud and non-Waziristani ameer of Pakistani Taliban when Mulla Omar stepped in to avoid a possible split within the TTP and named Fazlullah as the man for the job.
Like Hakimullah Mehsud, his successor also owes allegiance to Mulla Omar. But he is considered more close to Mulla Omar than any other TTP leader because he is already working in tandem with the Afghan Taliban while operating from Afghanistan. Mullah Fazlullah took shelter in Kunar province of Afghanistan after the Pakistan Army had launched a military operation in Swat in 2009 that forced him and his private army to flee. He subsequently regrouped in Afghanistan to establish his strongholds in Nuristan and Kunar provinces, only to become the central ameer of TTP, thus becoming a greater threat for the Pakistani state.
The current level of relationship between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban was well-described by TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid on October 6, 2013 in these words: “The Afghan Taliban are not only financially supporting the Pakistani Taliban in their war with Islamabad but they are also providing them sanctuary in Afghanistan.”
The disclosure, which Shahid had made in an interview with a small group of reporters who were invited to a compound in Waziristan, was very meaningful because Pakistan has long been accused of pursuing a policy of differentiating between the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban respectively. “The Afghan Taliban are our jehadi brothers. In the beginning, we were helping them. But now they are strong enough to support us financially,” said Shahidullah while conceding that Fazlullah is being given shelter in the Kunar province by the Afghan Taliban.
As a matter of fact, the origins of the Pakistani Taliban are closely tied to the Afghan Taliban. During the Afghan jehad against Russia, thousands of militants from Pakistan spilled across the border in Afghanistan to help the CIA drive out the occupation forces, and history repeated itself following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan. By 2002, there were enough militants in the Pak-Afghan border belt which had prompted the government to order military actions to restore the writ of the state. Subsequent operations forced the militants in the tribal areas to join together and become a mainstream Taliban force of their own which was given a formal shape in December 2007 as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
The founding ameer of the TTP Baitullah Mehsud attempted to paint his terrorist group as a jehadi movement which was under Mulla Mohammad Omar’s Afghan Taliban. Every jehadi organisation that wanted to become a part of the TTP had to take an oath of allegiance to the enforcement of Shariah and loyalty to Mulla Mohammad Omar. By doing so, he actually wanted to get more legitimacy and further portray his struggle as legitimate and Afghanistan-focused. Analysts say Baitullah knew that operating as an anti-Pakistan outfit openly aiming to target the Pakistani state would quickly generate widespread opposition, and therefore he used the TTP’s ideological, ethnic and political ties with the Afghan Taliban to stress upon a natural cohesion between their operations and goals.
Those in Pakistani intelligence establishment who still back peace talks with the TTP argue that after the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan later this year, the Afghan Taliban would stage a comeback in Kabul, or at least, they would control the parts of Afghanistan that border Pakistan. Therefore, they insist that Islamabad should continue to appease them, instead of making them angrier at Pakistan than they presently are for betraying them after the 9/11 attacks and Musharraf’s decision to join hands with the US.
“That is the best policy to prepare for the American withdrawal in 2014 because the Afghan Taliban are not going to abandon the Pakistani Taliban as both have a common Ameerul Momineen. Thus, the withdrawal of troops will not only make the Afghan Taliban stronger, it will also strengthen the TTP which will encourage it to challenge the Pakistani state with a new vigour,” said an intelligence official requesting anonymity.
But a senior official in the country’s security establishment, who also wanted to remain anonymous, voiced his opposition to any further talks with TTP, saying: “The Afghan Taliban had backed and will continue to back the Pakistani Taliban in future especially when they will impose an open war on the state to capture the whole of the Waziristan region to convert it into the Taliban Emirates of Waziristan on the pattern of the Taliban Emirates of Afghanistan. And mind one thing, the ultimate agenda of Pakistani Taliban will be to extend their area of influence and eventually capture the entire Pakistan, as had been done by the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan.”
“Therefore, instead of indulging in peace talks with terrorists, the Pakistan Army should launch a massive operation in Waziristan which is the only way to uproot Taliban and their jehadi infrastructure and re-establish the lost writ of the state,” the security official added.