TTP flip-flop on new leader signals major internal divisions

Muhammad Ahil


A Pakistani journalist watches a video of former TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah in Peshawar July 23, 2010. [A. Majeed/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)'s reversal on its own new commander highlights the group's internal divisions and its inevitable destruction following the death of Mullah Fazlullah, observers say.

The group suffered a major blow June 14, when TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah was killed in an air strike in Marawara District of Kunar Province, Afghanistan, where he had been hiding since 2009.

The TTP initially announced that Umar Rehman, a TTP naib emir (deputy) and close aide of Fazlullah, would succeed him.

However, days later on June 23, TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani confirmed Fazlullah's death and said the group's shura council had elected Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud to replace him. He refused to comment on Rehman.


Unidentified Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants are shown in a 2014 photo. The TTP is reeling after it lost yet another commander -- to an air strike in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, June 14. [Junaidrao/Flickr]

Feuding amok

The confusion over the leadership is indicative of divisions between tribal and non-tribal factions of the TTP, which members of the Mehsud clan based in Waziristan founded.

Both Fazlullah and Rehman are from Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a factor that has split the tribally oriented TTP for years.

The announcement of both Rehman and Mehsud as leader is just one example of the Swat-Mehsud rift within the TTP.

The TTP has perpetually feuded over leadership after air strikes killed its past commanders, including Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain Ahmad Mehsud.

Fazlullah himself competed for the top spot against Khan Saeed Mehsud, also known as Sajna or Khalid Mehsud, after the death of his predecessor Hakimullah.

End of TTP?

With many of the TTP's factions either destroyed or defecting, the only major groups that remain are the Swat and Mehsud factions. The division means that the TTP is no longer an operational group, analysts say.

The TTP cannot even agree on an emir, former Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand told Pakistan Forward. "It is over for the group. They are no longer a force that can threaten Pakistani state."

The group's pivot from Rehman to Noor Wali Mehsud demolishes its credibility, he said.

The militants "are unable to muster financial or human support whether the leader is Rehman or Wali -- they cannot be reunited, and a power struggle will be a death blow to the TTP," Mohmand said.

"The TTP can no longer carry out very dangerous attacks, and the death of Fazllullah undoubtedly means [the TTP's] end," Lt. Gen. (ret.) Amjad Shoaib, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Pakistan Forward. "The fight to pick a new commander ... is a serious blow to them."

"It is a natural death for the TTP and for its threat to Pakistan," he said.

Declining operations

The TTP lacks the strength it had under Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud because Noor Wali Mehsud has to lead from deep inside Afghanistan, said Nasir Dawar, a tribal journalist based in Peshawar.

"The TTP lost power under Fazlullah's Swat faction, though that faction still holds the deputy emir position," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that any intended TTP revival under the Mehsud faction will take a long time.

"The appointment of Noor Wali Mehsud means that the TTP operational base will shift to Paktia, Paktika or Khost in Afghanistan, where the Mehsud faction is hiding," said Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a Peshawar-based security analyst and former security secretary for the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

"Meanwhile, the Swat faction is hiding in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, both of which border Pakistan, allowing it to strike inside Pakistan," he told Pakistan Forward. "But if the command centre changes, operational activity will decline."

"The Mehsud and Swat [factions] were never on good terms ... the fight over the top slot will split them further," he said.

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