'Good' Taliban orders 'bad' Taliban out of their area
Tension prevails in South Waziristan, after a jirga (assembly of elders) of the dominant Wazir tribe set December 5 as a deadline for Mehsud tribesmen, who live as refugees, to vacate the area. But the Mehsuds are in no mood to yield. Tahir Ali reports
The jirga rook the decision in wake of the November 29 suicide attack over at Wana bazaar that left seven persons dead, and injured Mullah Nazir, a senior commander of the Taliban.
The jirga had asked the Mehsud tribesmen -- who live in Wazir dominated areas as internally displaced persons following the massive military operation by the Pakistan army against the TTP in 2009 -- to vacate their area, or be forcefully ousted. Nazir had continued to offer the TTP and other terror groups a safe haven in the area until now.
The Wazir and Mehsud tribes are known to have decades-old fueds. They are divided even when it comes to militancy -- the Mehsuds are affiliated to the Hakimullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a hardcore (or 'bad') group, while the Wazir Taliban are united under the leadership of Mullah Nazir (Wazir), a 'good' Taliban who never attack Pakistani installations or security forces.
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Image: Armed tribesmen stand guard during a traditional tribal assembly in Sararogoha, about 80 km northeast of Wana, the main town of the South Waziristan tribal region
Photographs: Kamran Wazir/Reuters
Mehsuds: Smaller, but dominant
South Waziristan is broadly divided into two parts -- Mehsud-built and Wazir-built. While Mehsud is the largest tribe with 60 per cent of them living in areas such as Sarokai, Kaniguram, Makin, Shakatoi and Sararogha, the Waziris make up for 35 per cent and are dominant in Wana, the headquarters of the agency and its surroundings.
The rest is comprised of the Urmar, Suleimankhail, Dotani and Betanni tribes. Even though the Mehsuds are a larger tribe, the Wazirs are dominant as they control almost all the businesses in the area.
As far as the ideology is concerned, Mullah Nazir and Hakimullah Mehsud are not very different, but differences surfaced because of their decades-long feuds.
In March 2007, Mullah Nazir led militiamen belonging to the Ahmadzai tribe to oust the Uzbek militants from Wana and its surroundings. The fighting left 160 foreign militants dead, and the remaining, including local sympathisers were forced to leave the area.
Much to the anger of Mullah Nazir, Baitullah Mehsud (slain head of the TTP) not only warmly welcomed the Uzbeks, but also supported them later to attack the Wazir Taliban offices in Shakai and Wana areas, resulting in the deaths of some key men.
Hakimullah Mehsud, the present leader, has also maintained good relations with the Uzbeks.
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Image: Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud (left) is seen with his arm around Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud during a news conference in South Waziristan in this May 24, 2008 photo
The last straw?
In August 2010, Maulvi Noor Muhammad Wazir, a leading cleric and a former parliamentarian who always spoke against Mullah Nazir was killed, when a suicide bomber blew himself up while the Maulvi was delivering a sermon at Wana Bazaar.
The Maulvi's killing fuelled the Wazir tribesmen's anger against the TTP and the Uzbeks; and the recent attack on Mullah Nazir was reason enough for them to ask the Mehsuds to leave the area.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, the central spokesperson of the TTP, told rediff.com, "The TTP is not responsible for the attack on Mullah Nazir. We consider him as a jihadist commander and we can't even imagine attacking him. It is a ploy by our enemies who want clashes among the Taliban groups."
He added, "Ousting the poor Mehsud tribesmen is sheer injustice. The Wazir elders should review their decision, or may result in tribal clashes in the area."
Commenting on the issue, journalist Ihsan Tipu Mehsud said, "The decision by the jirga to forcefully evacuate the displaced families of the Mehsud tribe from Wana in the wake of a so-called attack on Mullah Nazir is an iniquitous act and extremely deplorable. They have already suffered immensely and this decision would further infuriate them."
Another tribal elder Qasim Mehsud told rediff.com, "It is against the Pashtun culture to oust people who have taken shelter; if Wazir call themselves Pashtun they should take back their decision. Otherwise a new chapter of clashes between Mehsud and Wazir tribesmen will emerge."
Image: Mullah Nazir of the Wazir tribe reads his statement during a news conference in Wana
Photographs: Alamgir Bitani/Reuters