Haji Turkistan Bhittani.
Turkistan Bhittani, the government-backed Taliban leader in the Abdullah Mehsud Group who has battled with Baitullah Mehsud’s forces, surrendered to the Pakistani government, according to reports from Dawn and The News. The Abdullah Mehsud Group is considered “pro-government” as it does not advocate attacks against Pakistan, yet its leaders still support fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan and have sworn fealty to Mullah Omar. Bhittani claims he turned himself in after his fighters were systematically disarmed by the military. Bhittani is quoted as follows in The News:
“Over 150 of our men have been arrested and their weapons seized by security forces during the last couple of days. I am flabbergasted that I and my men have been used by security forces against the anti-government militant group of Baitullah Mehsud for a long time that resulted in considerable decrease of terror activities across the country, but now they are arresting my associates just for displaying arms,” Bhittani told the media before surrendering to security forces in Tank.
Dawn reported that Bhittani lashed out at the government for double-crossing him.
He alleged that military first “used us against Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud Now they are disarming my people.”
He claimed that the army had provided Rs500,000 to him to raise a Lashkar against Taliban militants. He said he would not put down his personal weapons.
Military sources told The News that Bhittani’s claims were exaggerated and that an estimated 50 of his men were detained “for violating the ban on carrying weapons in bazaars” as the government is seeking to enforce its writ.
There appears to be much more to this story than is currently being reported. This year, Bhittani and the other leaders of the Abdullah Mehsud Group (which is named after the Taliban commander who was released by the US from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility) became the Pakistani government’s go-to locals to battle then-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Bhittani and his allies claimed they had thousands of fighters, and battled with Baitullah’s forces in South Waziristan and Swat. While Bhittani has claimed success, Baitullah’s forces routed Bhittani’s fighters in several large clashes. A senior US intelligence official described the battles to me as “one sided.”
Just when you would think the Pakistani government would need the support of Bhittani and the Abdullah Mehsud Group to take on or at the least contain and roll back the South Waziristan Taliban (now led by Waliur Rehman Mehsud after Baitullah’s death), the military has turned on him, or at the best, has deemed him irrelevant.
A few days ago, the chief military spokesman said the military has been given the go ahead to launch an operation in South Waziristan. The prior operation, launched in mid-June, fizzled out after the US airstrike killed Baitullah. There are reports the Pakistani government has begun forming lashkars (tribal militias) to support the operations. Yet Bhittani is insulted and sidelined.
Bhittani’s actions provide further evidence that he has weakened to the point of being irrelevant. He seems to have suffered such a setback that he is now in fear of being targeted by the Taliban. In fact, The News alludes to the fact that Bhittani may be seeking sanctuary with the Pakistani military. “He was still there with security authorities and reluctant to go back to his hometown,” The News reported. A short report at Geo News seems to support this, as Bhittani is described as being in “protective custody”
Also, according to a previous report at Dawn (which has since been overwritten by the current report at the link above), there were claims that Bhittani had actually had attempted to negotiate a peace agreement with the South Waziristan Taliban, but failed, “which was perhaps the main reason behind disarming the group.”
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