ISLAMABAD - The defection of Commander Sajna, who leads one of the strongest factions of the Pakistani Taliban in the porous Waziristan region, from TTP, is not only a major blow to the outfit but the Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban would have also to clarify its position regarding the serious allegations leveled against his men.
Those charges were leveled by Azam Tariq, a former spokesman for TTP and currently a member of the Taliban political committee, which oversees peace talks with the Pakistani Government, in a press conference at an undisclosed location somewhere in North Waziristan.
Azam Tariq alleged that the current leadership of TTP is controlled by 'conspirators'. Maulana Fazlullah will have to state his position clearly as to whether his close aides really work as conspirators, thus not only destabilizing the country but also the group itself, and answer as to why such people are close to him.
There are also some issues of sectarian beliefs. According to reports, late Mufti Waliur Rehman and his successor Commander Sajna are diehard followers of the Deobandi school of thought while militants loyal to the slain TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah are under the influence of the Panj Pir school of thought. Since long there was a sort of cold war between the Deobandi and Panj Pir groups. Although Panj Pir is an offshoot of the main Deobandi school of thought, the followers of the former are more rigid than the main Deobandi when it comes to eradicate bidaat (innovation in religion) like 'visiting shrines' etc. Maulana Fazlullah and his deputy Sheikh Khalid Haqqani are loyal to the Panj Pir movement. Hence Maulana Fazlullah and his men need to clarify their position as to whether they are Deobandi or Panjpiri. Is there really any tussle between Panj Pir and Deoband?
Azam Tariq said that under the current system of TTP, extortion was very common amongst the Taliban. They did not spare even seminaries and Khanqah (place for spiritual practice) and got extortion money from these places of religious education and worship. Extortion has become a matter of day-to-day life in different parts of the country, especially in Peshawar. So people are saying: Maulana Fazlullah, please clarify your position on whether your men are involved in extortion or not.
The Taliban of South Waziristan say that they were against bomb blasts in public places and the killing of innocent people. Thousands of common civilians have been killed during explosions in public places all around the country. Such attacks are usually claimed in the name of the Taliban. The Maulana Fazlullah group needs to clarify its position as everyone asks why are they targeting public places.
The Commander Sajna Group alleges the presence of contract killers in the ranks of the TTP. It was a common perception in Pakistan that many killers and kidnappers have been mixed in with the militants. Apparently they look like militants but actually they are killers. Now the allegations are not being leveled by 'moderate and enlightened' people of society but by one of the powerful factions. Are you really harboring killers within your group?"
All militant factions termed Mullah Omar, the reclusive Taliban leader, as their supreme leader. During the recent infighting, the Afghan Taliban remained unsuccessful in solving the issue of leadership between Commander Sajna and Shehriar Mehsud, the representative of Maulana Fazlullah. According to the Sajna Group, Maulana Fazlullah's men have not only disobeyed the Afghan Taliban but were also misusing their names. Now some rank and file militants are asking as to how could Maulana Fazlullah turn down the order of Mullah Omar-led Taliban.
While using the name of Pakistan Taliban, the current leadership is being used as puppet by the intelligence agencies. 'Some hidden' hands are using them for their vested interests. It is a stance of the Government that the Taliban are getting support from the enemies of the state. Such serious allegations have put the TTP in trouble and even many of their sympathizers and supporters are raising the same question after the revelations by Azam Tariq.
The TTP central leadership unnecessarily interferes in the affairs of non-local militant groups like al-Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban. A question arises in the mind of the common people whether the Arabs, Central Asians, Chinese and Punjabi and other non-local militants are "guests" or are they leading lives in captivity?
When contacted a close aid of Maualana Fazlullah for his version over Azam Tariq's allegations, he said on the condition of anonymity, "Look, Azam Tariq and his Amir Khalid Mehsud alias Sajna have been a part of TTP for years, but when the TTP central Shura rejected Sajna as new TTP head after the demise of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in November 2013, he started alleging that TTP was raising extortion money, killing innocent people, was being backed by foreign agencies etc". He further said that the group would soon clarify its position by issuing a formal statement.
The same source also referred to an interview given by the TTP former deputy chief Waliur Rehman Mehsud in 2012, when he had himself proudly revealed that his faction primarily consisted of Mehsud Taliban, the majority of whom are currently led by Sajna, and had been raising extortion money in Pakistan's financial hub, Karachi to fund TTP operational and logistic expenses.
Recently Commander Sajna killed dozens of fighters affiliated with his main rival Commander Shehriar Mehsud in a move to grab the Mehsud Taliban leadership in Waziristan.
To sum up, the division manifests itself as a power struggle between the Commander Sajna-led Mehsud Taliban and the rest of TTP and has nothing to do with TTP's involvement in criminal activities or ideological differences.
(The writer is a freelance contributor)