Mullah Fazlullah is the new emir of the Mehsud faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). He is an unexpected choice, but no one seems to have adverted to it. Many have said Fazlullah is more cruel than his predecessor Hakimullah Mehsud. I am not sure how one can decide that. He might be more anti-Pakistan is all I can say. But his selection is extremely surprising.
For a Pashtun clan to accept a leader from another is unusual in itself, but this isn’t all. Fazlullah is a Yousafzai and the TTP faction he is leading consists almost entirely of Mehsuds. In the hierarchy of Pashtun clans, Yousafzais are considered far superior than Mehsuds. For the Mehsuds to accept someone from a superior clan as their leader is even more unusual.
[quote]Of all the Pashtun factions of the TTP, the one Mullah Omar is least inclined to consider patronizing is Fazlullah’s[/quote]
And there is more. All factions of the TTP acknowledge Mullah Omar as their emir. Mullah Omar, however, has frequently distanced himself from the TTP and expressed his opposition to the group’s rivalry towards the Pakistani state. It might also be worth recalling that Mullah Omar’s efforts to persuade this faction to release Sultan Amir Tarar, known by his pseudonym Colonel Imam, met with failure. Of all the Pashtun factions of the TTP, the one Mullah Omar is least inclined to consider patronizing is Fazlullah’s.
Since his ouster from Swat in 2009, Fazlullah has been in the Afghan province of Kunar, ostensibly hosted by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But Hekmatyar is the only declared rival of Mullah Omar from among the survivors of the anti-Soviet war. His following has been reduced to a mere 1,500, and he survives courtesy the Afghan National Army.
For the record, Kunar, where Hekmatyar is based and where all TTP escapees to Afghanistan find succor, has never been targeted by drone strikes, except twice in quick succession in August last year. These strikes took place in response to Pakistan’s outcry following the massacre at Salala. The US claimed to have killed Mullah Dadullah, the number two to Maulvi Faqir, who led the Mohmand faction of the TTP until his capture this year.
We now have a jigsaw puzzle in which none of the pieces fit. Are we missing something? Could the US have gained substantial influence over the Mehsud TTP? If this is a possibility, then the pieces begin to fit – the killing of Mullah Nazir in a drone attack late last year, Maulvi Faqir’s capture, Latif Mehsud’s capture, which led the US drone attack that killed Hakimullah, and the appointment of Fazlullah as his successor.
Fazlullah is staunchly anti-Pakistan, but far more malleable when it comes to his commitment to the Al Qaeda worldview. He is also certainly far more acceptable to the Karzai regime in Afghanistan and, if the TTP has been ‘persuaded’, is likely to be far more acceptable to the US.
The recent killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani in Islamabad and the first ever drone strike in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to target Haqqani militants also appear to fit this puzzle.
While the US has long been urging Pakistan to launch a military operation in North Waziristan to target the Wazir faction of the TTP, which hosts the Haqqanis, Pakistan has resisted the move. The Haqqanis belong to the Zadran tribe in Afghanistan, which is considered the parent tribe of the Wazirs in Pakistan.
On the other hand, despite being neighbors, there is little love lost between the Mehsud and the Wazir, even less between Fazlullah and the Wazirs and the Haqqanis. With Hakimullah’s death, has the Mehsud TTP begun providing information to the US against the Wazirs and the Haqqanis?
If yes, it would be fair to conclude that the Wazirs and the Haqqanis are aware of the truth and hold no grudge against the Pakistani state.
If Pakistan is a party to this deal between the Mehsud TTP and the US, that may have its own ramifications. But if it is not, Pakistan might have lost its ace of spades in Afghanistan.