Bajaur Taliban leader Faqir Mohammed (pictured) is rumored to have been replaced by Maulana Mohammad Jamal.
A suicide bomber killed 17 Pakistanis during an attack on a checkpoint in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of Bajaur.
The attack took place at a bazaar in the agency’s main town of Khar. The suicide bomber detonated his vest as paramilitary soldiers confronted him at the checkpoint. Three soldiers and 14 civilians were killed in the blast, and more than 40 Pakistanis were wounded. Several buildings were destroyed.
The suicide attack occurred as the Pakistani military has been attacking the Taliban in Bajaur. Pakistani Air Force fighter-bombers and Army attack helicopters have targeted Taliban strongholds in the Mamond region in Bajaur since Wednesday. The military claimed that more than 50 Taliban fighters and two soldiers have been killed in the strikes, including seven today.
The Mamond region in Bajaur is a notorious stronghold for the Taliban and Faqir Mohammed, the chief of the Bajaur Taliban. Although the military has conducted several operations there, it has failed to eject the Taliban. In March 2009, the military claimed the Taliban had “lost” in Bajaur and the neighboring tribal agency of Mohmand after a six-month-long operation.
In Bajaur, as elsewhere in the tribal areas and greater northwest, the Taliban have attacked pro-government leaders and government facilities. In particular, the Taliban have targeted tribal leaders who have raised lashkars, or militias, to fight alongside the military. Since Jan. 1 this year, the Taliban have killed eight pro-government tribal leaders and have kidnapped two others. Between October and December 2009, the Taliban killed six pro-government tribal leaders. The Taliban have also bombed four schools and a medical clinic since Jan. 1.
The recent clashes in Bajaur occur as there are reports of a leadership struggle within the Taliban ranks. According to Dawn, Faqir Mohammad, the leader of the Bajaur Taliban and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, has been replaced by Maulana Mohammad Jamal.
“Sources said that the local Taliban shura had asked Faqir Mohammad to resign but he refused to do so,” Dawn reported. “The shura held a meeting on Wednesday and appointed Maulana Jamal as the new chief and Burhanuddin his deputy.”
The Taliban were reportedly upset after Faqir ordered his forces not to oppose a military advance into Mamond, against the wishes of the shura. Faqir’s followers denied he was replaced, while Jamal’s followers say Faqir stepped down.
Al Qaeda is active in the Bajaur tribal agency. The terror group is also known to shelter in the Mamond region there. In January 2006, the US targeted a meeting of senior al Qaeda leaders in the town of Damadola in Mamond. Ayman al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, and several other senior al Qaeda leaders were thought to be meeting there.
The Mamond region in Bajaur has also served as a safe haven for the Swat chapter of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Shah Doran, the deputy to notorious Swat Taliban commander Mullah Fazlullah, recently died of died of complications from cancer in the Mamond region. The Pakistani military had previously claimed that Doran was killed in June during the military operation in Swat.