3 Tal­iban leaders unite against U.S. in Pak­istan

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY RAZA QAZI AND SARA A. CARTER

PE­SHAWAR, Pak­istan | Three ma­jor Pak­istani Tal­iban com­man­ders have joined forces, a de­vel­op­ment that poses a sig­nif­i­cant threat to Pak­istan’s sta­bil­ity and could ham­per U.S. ef­forts to flush out al Qaeda from a safe haven in the coun­try’s law­less bor­der­lands.

Peo­ple based in North and South Waziris­tan along Pak­istan’s bor­der with Afghanistan told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the top Pak­istani Tal­iban com­man­der, Bait­ul­lah Mehsud, and two ri­val Tal­iban chiefs, Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur and Maulvi Nazeer, met at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion re­cently and set­tled their dif­fer­ences to unite against U.S. and Pak­istani gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions in the re­gion.

U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cials con­firmed the ac­count. They, like the Pak­ista­nis, re­quested anonymity be­cause of the na­ture of their work.

The uni­fi­ca­tion ap­pears, in part, to re­flect U.S. suc­cess in killing al Qaeda and other mil­i­tant leaders in Pak­istan with at­tacks by un­manned air­craft. But the con­se­quence is that it will be eas­ier for Tal­iban fight­ers in south­ern and east­ern Afghanistan to cross into Pak­istan and elude U.S.-led forces, said an Afghan of­fi­cial who also spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

“This cer­tainly will place a strain on NATO ef­forts and Afghanistan’s abil­ity to gain con­trol of the bor­der re­gion,” the Afghan of­fi­cial said. “This changes ev­ery­thing.”

The new Tal­iban al­liance an­nounced al­le­giance to Afghan Tal­iban chief­tain Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar as their “supreme leader” in the fight against U.S.-led forces, the Afghan of­fi­cial said.

Afghan Tal­iban com­man­der Si­ra­jud­din Haqqani, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion has mounted nu­mer­ous at­tacks on U.S. and al­lied se­cu­rity forces, ap­par­ently in­flu­enced the Pak­istani Tal­iban to unite in re­sponse to stepped-up U.S. at­tacks on Tal­iban and al Qaeda mil­i­tants in Pak­istan.

The Pak­ista­nis, who asked not to be named to pro­tect them­selves from Tal­iban reprisals, said the uni­fied group is call­ing it­self the Shura-e-It­te­hadul Mu­ja­hedeen (Coun­cil of United Holy War­riors).

Mr. Haqqani has at­tempted for years to unify Pak­istani Tal­iban or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Last month, Pak­istan’s civil­ian gov­ern­ment agreed to a truce with a Tal­iban fac­tion in the Swat Val­ley ad­join­ing the tribal ar­eas. Un­der the agree­ment, the Tal­iban can im­ple­ment Is­lamic law in the area, once a re­sort des­ti­na­tion for sec­u­lar Pak­ista­nis.

A U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial said Pak­istani gov­ern­ment “action on the ground to this point has not been enough” to quell the Tal­iban in­flu­ence.

“It’s hard to over­state the com­plex­ity of the chal­lenge Pak­istan faces from th­ese groups,” said the of­fi­cial, who asked not to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of his work.

Ter­ror­ism spe­cial­ists in Pe­shawar said the Tal­iban fac­tions are con­sol­i­dat­ing to deal with in­ten­si­fied and on­go­ing U.S. mis­sile strikes that have killed nu­mer­ous mil­i­tants over the past seven months.

Gul Mar­jan Wazir, an an­a­lyst from the Uni­ver­sity of Pe­shawar, who is orig­i­nally from the Wana area in South Waziris­tan, said the three com­man­ders first con­sid- ered unit­ing af­ter the U.S. be­gan at­tacks by drone air­craft in 2008. The strikes hit an ex­trem­ist train­ing fa­cil­ity con­trolled by the Sh­bikhel tribe, a sub-tribe of Mr. Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Tal­iban, which is es­ti­mated to have about 10,000 fight­ers.

Known as TTP, the or­ga­ni­za­tion formed in 2007 and is an um­brella for mil­i­tants from var­i­ous Pak­istan tribal agen­cies and some parts of the North West Fron­tier Prov­ince.

Al Qaeda No. 2 Ay­man al-Zawahri re­port­edly has been seen at Mehsud train­ing camps in South Waziris­tan.

An­other mil­i­tant com­man­der, Maulvi Nazeer, was in­jured in a U.S. drone strike in Oc­to­ber in Dhog vil­lage near Wana.

Ashraf Ali, a se­nior re­searcher and writer on the Tal­iban, also un­der­lined the im­por­tance of the uni­fi­ca­tion deal. He sug­gested that rogue el­e­ments of Pak­istan’s In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence agency may have aided Mr. Haqqani in bridg­ing dif­fer­ences among the mil­i­tants.

“There could be rea­sons to be­lieve that some el­e­ments within the Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence net­works might have se­cretly helped Tal­iban groups to re­move their dif­fer­ences,” Mr. Ali said. “By do­ing so, ei­ther Pak­istan may want to pres­sur­ize the U.S. to stop drone at­tacks or to jus­tify th­ese strikes do­mes­ti­cally and by telling the world that Tal­iban are mend- ing fences and be­com­ing a threat to Pak­istani state.”

A Pak­istani of­fi­cial in Wash­ing­ton de­nied in­volve­ment by mem­bers of his coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice to­ward uni­fy­ing the Tal­iban. He asked not to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the is­sue.

Mr. Gul Ba­hadur, from North Waziris­tan, and Mr. Nazeer were once con­sid­ered to be sup­port­ers of the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment, which gave them weapons to op­pose Mr. Mehsud.

Nu­mer­ous bloody clashes en­sued, pri­mar­ily over Mr. Mehsud’s de­ci­sion to har­bor Uzbek mil­i­tants.

Sara A. Carter re­ported from Wash­ing­ton.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A tanker is badly dam­aged by a re­mote-con­trolled bomb planted along­side a road in the Pak­istani tribal area of Khy­ber in Landi Ko­tal on Feb. 21. A lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial says a re­mote-con­trolled bomb planted along­side a road ex­ploded near Landi Ko­tal, which tar­geted a NATO sup­ply truck, killing a by­stander and wound­ing two oth­ers.

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