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February 25, 2014

Intra-TTP rifts snowballing; one led to Bhittani’s murder

World

AFP
February 25, 2014

ISLAMABAD: The mystery murder of Taliban commander Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani was the outcome of an intra-TTP rift, which is gradually turning into a bloody war, especially after the November 1, 2013 killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone attack.
According to highly-informed sources in the militant circles, Bhittani has been killed by Said Khan Sajna faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to avenge the deaths of three comrades of Sajna, who were shot dead in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan by Bhittani’s men last week. Bhittani, along with three of his aides, was killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car in the Dargah Mandi area of Ghulam Khan Tehsil in North Waziristan. Bhittani had served as the acting Ameer of TTP after Hakimullah Mehsud’s death and played a key role as the Ameer of the TTP’s supreme Shura in the appointment of Mullah Fazlullah as the new Ameer. He had narrowly escaped the January 20, 2013 air strikes by PAF fighter jets in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. Coming from the Khichi sub-tribe of Bhittani in South Waziristan, he was a close confidant of Hakimullah Mehsud and known for his ruthless tendency towards those taken prisoners by the TTP.
Bhittani had not only campaigned against Khalid Mehsud aka Said Khan Sajna’s candidature for the top slot but also paved the way for the selection of a non-Mehsud and non-Waziristani Mullah Fazlullah as the new TTP Ameer. Sajna’s close circles claim that during the very first meeting of the Taliban Shura to select the new Ameer, 43 of the 60 members had voted in his favour whereas 17 others voted against Sajna. But Bhittani had used his influence to defer a final decision for a few more days to ensure that all the members of the Shura were able to attend the meeting to select their new leader. Subsequently, Bhittani got himself appointed the interim Ameer to run the TTP affairs for the intervening period. In the final meeting of the supreme Shura, Bhittani had

openly opposed Sajna’s candidature along with Omar Khalid Khurasani and Sheharyar Mehsud alias Shahbaz.
After Hakimullah’s death, Sajna was the frontrunner because of his seniority in the TTP ranks and his influence among the various Mehsud tribes of South and North Waziristan. But after a deadlock on the choice of the new Ameer, Mullah Mohammad Omar had stepped in and backed Fazlullah to succeed Hakimullah. Bhittani, Khurasani and Sheharyar also backed the Mullah from Swat. Sajna was in fact the right hand man of TTPs former deputy Ameer Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in May 2013 in Waziristan. He was not only made the deputy Ameer of the TTP but was also appointed the Ameer of the South Waziristan chapter of the outfit. However, he was deposed a few months later by Hakimullah after he developed differences over the issue of holding peace talks with the government. Hakimullah was opposed to the talks while Sajna used to insist that the TTP must stop fighting against the state of Pakistan, which was also in the best interest of the Mehsuds.
Sajna and his associates have almost abandoned the TTP after being ignored by Fazlullah and his new team, which mostly consist of non-Mehsud and non-Waziristani commanders, except for Shaharyar Mehsud. Sajna’s close aides say 16 Mehsud tribes from North and South Waziristan consider him to be their legitimate commander and endorse whatever decisions he takes. They allege that acting under instructions from Fazlullah, Bhittani’s henchmen had killed several close associates of Sajna in recent months.
They add that the last such incident took place in the second week of February when three militants of the Sajna faction were shot dead in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The uncalled-for murders greatly angered Sajna, making him to conclude that enough was enough and the foes should be paid back in the same coin. Therefore, Bhittani and his three aides were shot dead on Monday by Sajna’s men to avenge the murders of their comrades.
Asmatullah Bhittani was among the 20 most-wanted TTP commanders. In 2009, the Pakistani government had placed bounty on his head for his involvement in terrorist activities directed against the security forces. He was initially affiliated with the Harkatul Mujahideen of Rawalpindi-based Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, but later joined the TTP under Baitullah Mehsud. He had played a key role in the October 2004 kidnapping of two Chinese engineers who were working on the Gomal Zam Dam project in South Waziristan. One of the Chinese engineers was killed and another was rescued in military action by Pakistan Army commandos.
However, his actual claim to fame was a grand operation he had spearheaded in December, 2011 to overrun a Frontier Corps fort in Tank district. Fifteen Frontier Corps (FC) troops were captured by his men during that raid. Although seven soldiers managed to escape from custody, the rest of eight were brutally tortured and murdered. The horrifically-mutilated bodies — with 40 bullet holes each and signs of torture — were recovered from North Waziristan subsequently.
A week after Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing, Asmatullah Bhittani had announced that the Pakistani Taliban would orchestrate a wave of revenge attacks against the government. “We will target security forces, government installations, political leaders and police.” He said the main target of the Taliban would be the security forces and government installations in the Punjab, adding that, “Pakistan is a slave of America. It is an American colony.”