Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, before the Pakistani Army launched the South Waziristan offensive.
The leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has agreed to withdraw his forces along with some allied Punjabi Taliban fighters from North Waziristan in an effort to prevent a Pakistani Army operation there.
Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in South Waziristan, agreed to leave North Waziristan after conducting talks with Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban leader in North Waziristan, according to a report in The News. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said the report is accurate and noted the shift of Taliban fighters.
“Almost 98 per cent of the Mehsud militants along with some Punjabi Taliban have left North Waziristan,” a source close to Bahadar told The News. “Before leaving, announcements were made from loudspeakers in mosques of various villages by the Mehsud Taliban to thank the tribespeople of North Waziristan for their cooperation and assistance to the displaced Mehsud militants.”
Hakeemullah and Waliur’s forces are said to have returned to the Shaktoi and Makeen regions in South Waziristan, where the military has claimed it has ousted the Taliban after an operation last fall.
“Most of them went to Shaktoi and Makeen in South Waziristan where they had their sanctuaries in the forest-covered mountains,” a Taliban official told The News. “In summer, militants can easily survive in the mountains but the security forces might face tough resistance there.” The Taliban had previously promised to wage a guerrilla war in South Waziristan in the spring; however, the Taliban campaign never materialized.
Hakeemullah and Waliur’s forces have left North Waziristan just as the Pakistani government has come under pressure by the US and Western countries to invade the Taliban-controlled tribal agency. North Waziristan is the home to top al Qaeda leaders as well as Bahadar and the Haqqani Network. Both Taliban groups provide shelter to al Qaeda and other Pakistani jihadist groups, and allow them to operate training camps and conduct attacks into Afghanistan.
The US has traced multiple terror plots back to North Waziristan. The latest plot, the failed Times Square car bombing, was carried out by a Pakistani-American who trained with Hakeemullah’s forces in North Waziristan. Hakeemullah and his deputy Qari Hussain Mehsud released tapes on the Internet that confirmed their involvement in the failed attack.
Hakeemullah’s withdrawal from North Waziristan took place as the Pakistani government and military have pressured Bahadar to eject Hakeemullah and the Punjabi Taliban, which includes members and factions of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. The Pakistani government has rebuffed Western calls for an operation in North Waziristan, as so-called ‘good Taliban’ groups such as the Haqqani Network and Bahadar’s group are based there. The ‘good Taliban’ do not advocate attacks against the Pakistani state yet openly support the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said the withdrawal of Hakeemullah from North Waziristan is a ruse to keep the ‘good Taliban’ intact.
“This so-called pullout is just the excuse the Pakistanis needed to call off a North Waziristan operation,” a senior military intelligence official said. “The timing could not be any better for the Pakistani military, who clearly engineered this, could it?”
“Make no mistake, the Pakistani government will now say it doesn’t have a reason to go into North Waziristan, that Hakeemullah and all of the bad guys have now fled, and we can deal with the remaining Taliban,” a senior intelligence official said. “We’ve heard this all before, in past peace deals [in North and South Waziristan], when the tribes claimed they ejected al Qaeda. But they never did.”
According to another official, Bahadar’s request for Hakeemullah to leave North Waziristan is an admission that Bahadar never intended to honor a peace agreement with the Pakistani military that was signed just prior to the invasion of the Mehsud tribal areas last fall. In that agreement, Bahadar promised he would not shelter fighters and leaders from South Waziristan, and agreed to keep his fighters from attacking Pakistani military forces in North Waziristan.
“Yet again, the Pakistanis have agreed to a farcical peace agreement that no one believed would be honored by the Taliban,” observed a military intelligence official who closely tracks the region. “Bahadar gave safe haven to Hakeemullah and company, and the Pakistani military was attacked in North Waziristan. The military’s response was to ignore the violations, because in the end they didn’t care if the agreement was honored or not. They [the Pakistani Army] just want to stay out of North Waziristan.”
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