Split and fight

Split and fight

With a major faction under the leadership of Khalid Mehsud breaking away, the Tehereek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has suffered a crippling blow.

Since its founding in 2007, the TTP posed an enormous challenge to the Pakistani state.

Successive Pakistani governments and the military were at a loss, even at loggerheads with each other over how to deal with the TTP. US drone strikes in the tribal heartlands did undermine the TTP’s capacity.

Besides its founder leader Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud, hundreds of fighters were eliminated in the drone attacks. Still it remained a force to reckon with.

This may have changed with the recent split. The breakaway faction consists of the powerful Mehsuds, a tribe that has given the TTP most of its leaders and foot soldiers.

Indeed, it is said that around 75 per cent of the TTP’s fighters belong to the Mehsud tribe. Their exit will leave the TTP weaker.

However, the split in the TTP, even if it results in the rump’s demise, is hardly reason for Pakistan to celebrate.

Khalid Mehsud has announced the formation of his own group called Tehrik Taliban South Waziristan. This could complicate the government’s efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict.

For one, which of the two, the rump TTP or Mehsud's group, will the government negotiate with?

It is possible that neither Fazlullah nor Mehsud will want to talk to the government as they will be anxious to outdo each other in their hawkishness.

Thus prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s peace talks, which have sputtered along for some months now, may grind to a halt.

Rather than taking sides in the fratricidal fighting, his government should sit back for a while and allow the dust to settle down before reviving the talks process.

Where the al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban and other outfits stand in the Fazlullah-Mehsud rift is unclear at the moment as is the impact of the TTP’s split on the insurgency in Afghanistan.

A major realignment of these armed outfits is on the cards.  What is certain, however, is a sharp spurt in violence. Fighting between the TTP’s factions, which has escalated in recent weeks, will continue.

Besides, both Fazlullah and Mehsud could step up attacks against the Pakistani state and the people as they seek to assert their power and presence.