January 16, 2021
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Can Pakistan Divide Taliban?

There are indications that there is potential rift between Pashtuns fighting for self-rule and Al Qaeda led terrorists aspiring for global jihad. Why not encourage it?

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Can Pakistan Divide Taliban?

There is continued alarm and opposition by India to the agreement between the Pakistan government and the Taliban in Swat. External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterated that no deal with the murderous Taliban could be tolerated. Cannot such criticism wait till events unfold, at least until the ten-day ceasefire expires? Evidence suggests that Pakistan is attempting to divide the local Taliban from the Al Qaeda-led terrorists.

The Americans widened the scope of bombing raids to target some training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud who dominates Waziristan. This was at the same time as the ceasefire with Maulana Fazlullah was being attempted through his mentor and father-in-law, Maulana Sufi Mohammed. The third force in the Pakistani Taliban is led by Mullah Nazir.

The Mehsuds are the largest tribe accounting for 60 per cent of the Pashtun population in FATA. Mullah Nazir leads the Wazirs tribe which is about 35 per cent. The Wazirs are richer and have been the traditional rulers in the past. Nazir also controls the Punjabi Taliban, consisting of Punjabi speaking Pashtuns settled in the Punjab for generations. The Pakistan government is reputed to have backed Nazir as a counterweight to Baitullah. But right now Baitullah Mehsud has the most powerful and well armed force. Wazirs and Mehsuds have always been rivals but they openly clashed in March 2007 when Wazirs led by Mullah Nazir rose against foreign militants, mostly from central Asian origin, and ousted them from Waziristan’s capital, Wana. All three, Fazlullah, Baitullah and Nazir view each other with suspicion. All acknowledge loyalty to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. But Fazlullah is reckoned to be closer to Mullah Omar who heads the Afghan Taliban while Mehsud is reportedly loyal to Al Qaeda’s number two and effective commander, Ayman al Zawahiri.

In the tortuous intrigues of terrorist factions it becomes difficult to fathom who is allied with whom. Do Zawahiri and Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden’s father-in-law, see eye to eye? Credible reports suggest that Mullah Omar is trying to make peace with the Americans through Saudi Royals, and has even presented a 7-point peace plan. If so, this would hardly be approved by Zawahiri. On the other hand Zawahiri had launched attacks on Chinese engineers in Pakistan through Baitullah’s brother, Hakimullah Mehsud. That suggests that the Mehsuds are loyal to Zardari who has visions of creating legendary Khorasan, comprising Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan and Iran, as the launching pad for global jihad. 

There are indications therefore that there is potential rift between Pashtuns fighting for self-rule and Al Qaeda led terrorists aspiring for global jihad. If Pakistan is trying to separate the two, should it not be encouraged?

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