Militants target Afghan Taliban in series of attacks in Balochistan Province
QUETTA -- A recent wave of attacks against the Afghan Taliban in various parts of Balochistan Province has killed several leaders of the militant group.
A bomb on Friday (August 16) at a madrassa in Kuchlak, outside Quetta, killed the brother of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, according to sources in the Defence Ministry.
Two Taliban sources -- one in Quetta and one in Chaman -- also said he had been killed, according to AFP.
In a separate assassination on Saturday (August 17), militants killed Mullah Muhammad Azam Akhund, another key Taliban leader and a close ally of Haibatullah in Killi Qasim of Kuchlak, the ministry sources said.
Militants on Sunday (August 18) attacked a Taliban madrassa in the Gardi-Jungle area of Chaghi District, Balochistan, killing Taliban commander Mullah Mira Jan and wounding three others, the sources added.
Meanwhile, Taliban leaders are attempting to spin a damaging, ongoing investigation by Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency into the numerous businesses and investments in Pakistan suspected of belonging to the group's leaders.
"The Afghan Taliban are mainly using refugee areas for shelter," a senior intelligence official said on the condition of anonymity.
The Taliban had a strong presence in Balochistan's Pashtun-populated areas, including Chaman, Kuchlak, Pashin, Saranan, Pashtunabad and the Eastern Bypass area of Quetta, among others, he said.
"Our law enforcement agencies are actively working to eliminate anti-peace groups from the region. On our soil, the Afghan Taliban" are keeping a low profile and "they are using the cover of Afghan refugees to hide their identity," the official said.
Following the Kuchlak bombing, "large-scale scrutiny started in Balochistan to identify those madrassas that are not affiliated with the Wifaq ul Madaris Al-Arabia, a religious curriculum board of Pakistan," he added.
"Last year, a senior member of the Taliban's central shura, Mullah Kochie, was also assassinated in Kuchlak; however, that attack was not claimed by any group," the official added.
The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) is emerging as the main rival of the Afghan Taliban in the region, and in the past few months the majority of terrorist acts hitting the Taliban were claimed by ISIS, said the intelligence official.
There are also unconfirmed reports that elements within the Afghan Taliban group who are unhappy with activity of the top leadership are behind some of these attacks.
"The rising attacks on the Taliban could raise more concerns about the prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan," he added.
"These recent attacks on the Afghan Taliban appear to be part of an unusual strategy. I think the elements targeting Afghan Taliban leaders do not want the Afghan peace process to succeed," said Islamabad-based senior defence analyst Dr. Rashid Ahmed.
"There has been considerable progress in the ongoing negotiations between the Taliban and the US government; therefore, it looks like some rival Taliban factions are involved in efforts to disrupt this peace process," he said.
"The killing of key Afghan Taliban leaders in recent attacks is a big blow to the Taliban movement," he added.
"The attacks on the Afghan Taliban could have different reasons, but one main reason is their old enmity," said Nadeem Khan, a Quetta-based analyst on Afghan affairs, referring to feuds within the Taliban.
"In Afghanistan, the Taliban are very strong and inaccessible for their rivals, but in Pakistan they are not as secure," he said, adding that the attacks on the militants could also be a reaction to the group's recent terrorist acts in different parts of Afghanistan.
"In my opinion, the prevailing atmosphere of intense mistrust between the Pakistani and Afghan governments is a hurdle for regional peace. Both neighbouring countries must revisit their policies," Khan said.
"It is time for Pakistan to take strict action against those groups disturbing peace in both neighbouring countries," he said.
"For Pakistan, it must be a matter of deep concern that Afghan Taliban militants are running madrassas in Balochistan. It cannot be ruled out that those madrassas may also be used to recruit fighters," said Malik Abdul Wali, the central vice president of the Balochistan National Party.
"We cannot afford the war of external elements on our soil; therefore, our foreign policy needs to revisit the matter," he said. "Without the complete elimination of militant groups, the state cannot accomplish its goal of lasting peace in the country."
"The Afghan Taliban are using our soil for their strategic designs, and because of their presence, the lives of local residents are also under threat. In my judgment, no one should be allowed to run a madrassa for any foreign cause on our soil," Wali said.