Amid a countrywide campaign against terrorist groups, at least four factions of Taliban militants are strengthening their influence in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing Mehsud elders and threatening traders for extortion, locals say.
“The groups, otherwise split and apparently having different agendas, demonstrate remarkable coordination when it comes to dealing with local traders, businessmen or big farmers to raise funds,” said a local elder who fled the area after he became a victim of their extortion. He was a farmer in the Draband Chongi area of Ladah tehsil.
They had demanded Rs 20 million from him for ‘Zakat’, but he declined. Then, “over two dozen militants stormed my house at dawn one day and forced us to pay Rs 8 million”, he said. His men put up a fight and killed one of the militants belonging to the Hakimullah faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The group is led by ‘Ehsanullah Warghoom Kay’ and Sherpao Mehsud.
On Tuesday, unidentified men killed the head of the local peace committee in Tank, also named Sherpao Mehsud. According to the police, two other volunteers of the anti-TTP peace committee were hurt in the gun attack in Kot Said Badshah area of Gomal.
“The militants have killed over 70 percent of Mehsud elders,” a local elder said.
A social activist running an NGO in Dera Ismail Khan was abducted from the Raghzae area of Kotkaye Speenkai locality in South Waziristan. He was freed after he paid Rs 30 million to militants of the Abdullah Mehsud group – a faction that also provides operational services to the Molvi Nazir group, which does not have access to Dera Ismail Khan.
“The militants have killed over 70 percent of Mehsud elders”
“Everyone who they believe supports the Khan Said aka Sajna group faces the wrath of the Hakimullah Mehsud faction. They did not even spare Maulana Merajuddin, a former JUI-F lawmaker from South Waziristan, for his alleged support to the Sajna group,” said the local elder.
They do not have direct influence in the area, he said, but acquired the services of the Turkestan Bhittani group to scan the internally displaced persons (IDP) from North Waziristan for pro-Sajna elders, a local resident said.
Locals say the Turkestan Bhittani faction is very strong in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, despite its leader’s surrender to the security forces. Its fighters can be seen traveling in their double-cabin vehicles, said a local, and they also have influence in the Frontier Region Tank and Frontier Region Jandullah.
“No Jirgas of the Mehsud and Bhittani tribes can be held in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan before the prior approval of the Abdullah Mehsud and Bhittani groups,” he said. “The group killed Noor Wali, a Qazi of Sajna group in Waziristan, after he held a Jirga without their permission.”
The Luni tehsil of Dera Ismail Khan is in control of the Malang Gandapur group, locals say, which consists of militants from the prominent Mian Khel and Gandapur tribes of the area. The group emerged in 2014, and is in contact with the Fazlullah group of Tehreek-e-Taliban.
Saifur Rehman, a police stationhouse officer in Luni, killed Salim Shah, a commander of the group, in an encounter on December 14 last year. An officer said the police soon received a threat: “If you kill one of us, we will kill two of you.”
Two days after the message, militants of the Malang Gandapur group, led by Commander Amin Jan, attacked the house of the SHO, killing his brother Fakhar Usman and another man, and wounding one other.
Then, the police arrested three commanders of the Malang group – Abu Bakar, Umar Altaf and Abdur Rehman – from the forests of Luni after fierce fighting. The militants responded with an attack on a superintendent of police, which he survived. On 14th January, they attacked the house of ASI Qaiser Jehan, killing two of his brothers and a passerby. On January 15, four cops, including a sub-inspector, were injured in an attack on a police van in Dera Mastan area of the Dera Ismail Khan.
Besides terrorist attacks, abduction for ransom, and extortion, these groups also provide operational services to anti-Shia groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a police source said. They also let other outfits keep abducted men in the area.
A handbill distributed in the area distances itself from some of the militants. “Some elements posing as TTP and threatening the people living in Tank and Gomal areas are not associated with the movement,” it said, “and local residents should complain on the given telephone numbers,”
“Militancy in DI Khan is not a new phenomenon; the Taliban have left strong footprint in the area in the recent times,” said a resident of the Luni tehsil who has recently moved to Islamabad. Over 240 militants were set free by the terrorists in the DI Khan jailbreak on July 30, 2013.
“Taliban have developed different identities over time,” said a journalist from the troubled district. “As the security forces have broken the backbone of Mehsud militants, Gandapur, Mian Khel, Marwat, Saraiki and Baloch militants are emerging DI Khan.”
The writer is a freelance journalist