Is Hakeemullah ‘losing control’ of Pakistani Taliban?

This report from The Express Tribune claims that Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is “isolated” and “losing control” of the terror group. The reasons given are as follows:

While it is tempting to fall for such an optimistic report, if the recent past is any indication, then the report is wrong. First, there are some factual errors and problems with the report. As noted here, Fazal Saeed Utezai is not the overall leader of the Taliban in Kurram. Maulvi Noor Jamal, who is also known as Maulvi Toofan, leads the Taliban in Kurram. Fazal’s influence is clearly being inflated (by Fazal and his brother, who appear to be the primary drivers of the story). A week ago, Fazal commanded a couple of hundred fighters. Now, today, he commands more than a thousand.

Second, infighting between Taliban groups and the assassination of leaders is not at all uncommon. The fighting between the groups in Khyber and Arakzai mentioned in the article is commonplace in the tribal areas. With little effort, you can find instances of infighting within the Pakistani Taliban, even when it was at its height in power during the Swat takeover in 2008-2009. Hakeemullah’s forces have butted heads with Mullah Nazir’s troops in the past, but both still work together (Nazir shelters Hakeemullah’s forces as well as al Qaeda’s). The same goes for intra-Taliban assassinations. These actions are the outcome of the Taliban’s version of power politics.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, defections by Taliban groups from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan are also nothing new. For the perfect example of this, look no further than the now-defunct Abdullah Mehsud Group. This Taliban subgroup, which was based in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, was part of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (which at the time was led by Baitullah Mehsud) before it defected during the summer of 2009 and sought the support of the Pakistani military. The media gleefully held up the Abdullah Mehsud Group as a viable alternative to the Taliban; it was portrayed as a tribal resistance force akin to Iraq’s Awakening movement. And the power, influence, and size of the Abdullah Mehsud Group was also exaggerated (at one point, the media claimed the group had 3,000 fighters, when in fact it had several hundred).

But it was all downhill from there. On June 23, 2009, Zainuddin Mehsud, the leader of the Abdullah Mehsud Group, was assassinated. His brother Misabhuddin took control but was quickly ousted by Ikhlas Khan Mehsud, who was then replaced by Turkistan Bhittani. Bhittani’s forces were routed in large clashes with Baitullah, even though Bhittani received artillery and other support from the Pakistani military. In September 2009, Bhittani was disarmed by the military and went into hiding. The Abdullah Mehsud Group quickly faded from the scene.

Ironically enough, the Abdullah Mehsud Group was held up by the media as an “anti-Taliban” group, when it was anything but. This notion was supported by the Pakistani military, despite the fact that the leaders of the Abdullah Mehsud Group vowed to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and swore fealty to Mullah Omar, the leader of the overall Taliban movement. So, in fact, the Pakistani military attempted to bring the Abdullah Mehsud Group back into its fold, by making it “good Taliban.”

And that is very likely what is happening with Fazal Saeed Utezai’s faction in Kurram (note that Fazal said he still wants to kill NATO forces in Afghanistan and impose Sharia there and in Pakistan, he just opposes suicide attacks against Pakistani civilians and the military). Now Fazal’s group may not meet the same fate as the Abdullah Mehsud Group, and his defection from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan may weaken it, but it won’t weaken the overall Taliban movement.

What you are witnessing is a very cynical game by the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment to get wayward Taliban groups back into the fold.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Paul D says:

    Pakistan army/ISI want every militant group to go through Mullah Omar who they control/hide!

  • Charu says:

    Shades of the old Gulbuddin Hekmatyar strategy that the ISI tried before, with devastating consequences to the people of Afghanistan. Coupled with the recent report that we have intercepts indicating that they were directly involved in the murder of the journalist Saleem Shahzad, the ISI has to be one of the most depraved and inhumane intelligence agencies around; which is saying a lot! And no matter how their friends in the Pentagon wish to characterize it, the fact remains that the ISI is firmly under the toxic grip of the Pakistani army leadership.

  • Soccer says:

    The ISI and the Pak. army are the same thing. They are both interchangeably run by each other; army officer run the ISI, and ISI agents run some elements and aspects of the army. It’s how it’s always been.

  • Paul says:

    Is Hakeemullah Mehsud still alive as i have read in a book recently he died in a predator/reaper attack?
    If he is dead who is the current leader of TTP?

  • Soccer says:

    He never died. He was reported killed in a predator strike in January 2010, but he escaped it alive. He barely escaped, though.
    He then later appeared on propaganda tapes in 2010 and 2011 to prove to us that he was indeed alive.


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