Plot to divide the Taliban foiled
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Along with the Taliban's ongoing progress in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda
has strengthened its position in Pakistan's tribal areas, reinforced by a
steady stream of new recruits from other countries and an expansion of its
networks among local tribes.
The situation reached a point where the Pakistani security agencies, in
connivance with the Saudi establishment, felt they had to act. They hatched a
plot to establish a proxy network in a newly formed Taliban group that rivals
the anti-state al-Qaeda franchise of Baitullah Mehsud's Pakistan
Al-Qaeda was wise to the ploy, though, and the proxies were last
Friday wiped out before they could even gain a toehold.
A senior Pakistani militant affiliated with al-Qaeda's setup told Asia Times
Online on condition of anonymity, "Pakistan and the Saudi establishment tried
to create a conspiracy, taking advantage of some tribal feuds between Taliban
commanders coming from [tribal] Wazir and Mehsud backgrounds, and planted their
proxy network to hijack the whole Taliban movement.
"But on Friday there was a clash in Mohmand Agency in which Taliban commanders
close to Baitullah Mehsud terminated the leadership [of the proxies], including
Shah Khalid, the local leader of the pro-government Taliban. The move to hijack
the Taliban movement vanished into smoke," the militant said.
At least 15 people, including Khalid, the chief of a militant outfit known as
the "Shah group", and his deputy, Qari Abdullah, were killed in the fighting.
(State-run PTV, however, reported that Khalid had been killed after
surrendering to militants loyal to Mehsud.)
Khalid's group had previously been involved only in fighting United States-led
forces in Afghanistan and was not interested in local Pakistani affairs. But it
recently became a part of a newly formed group headed by North Waziristan's
Wazir tribal commander, Gul Bahadur, to rival al-Qaeda's franchise - Mehsud's
The roots of the group's formation were originally the result of ethnic
differences between the Wazir tribe and the Mehsud tribe, but Pakistani
security agencies took full advantage of the situation and encouraged known
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) contacts in the Taliban, such as Haji Nazir
from South Waziristan and Haji Namdar from the Khyber Agency, beside Khalid
from Mohmand Agency, to be a part of this new Shah group.
Mehsud is now on the offensive, all too aware of the establishment's schemes to
undermine him and al-Qaeda.
Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan has tried to drive
al-Qaeda from the seat of the ideological throne of the Afghan resistance
against Western armies by encouraging local Afghan commanders to structure the
resistance on tribal lines.
In the broader picture, Pakistan envisaged this would improve the chances of
reconciliation between the tribal movement and the Western armies, and the
tribals would eventually be tolerated as the rulers of Afghanistan. Pakistan's
connections would in the process remain intact in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda
would be alienated.
The story of the current infighting in the Taliban starts in the labyrinth of
the regional war theater with the emergence of one Aminullah Peshawari, a
well-respected Salafi academic whose influence spread from the Pakistani city
of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the tribal areas of Mohmand
and Bajaur to the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan.
Aminullah was a known anti-establishment figure and used to meet Osama bin
Laden, but he was neither a militant nor operated any militant group. He was a
credible anti-American voice in the region.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the defeat of the Taliban, the US
Federal Bureau of Investigation started operations in Pakistan against
al-Qaeda's sympathizers. The Pakistani security apparatus was aware that it had
to play its cards very cleverly in its newfound role as a partner in the "war
on terror". Pakistani officials thus approached Aminullah and warned him of
possible arrest and of being sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo
The noose was tightened so much that the respected Salafi academic was left
with no choice but to blindly follow the footsteps of the Pakistani security
agencies, which were desperate that he announce his support for the
Laskhar-i-Taiba's commander in Mohmand Agency, Shah Khalid.
Previously, Khalid's group had been banned from operating inside Afghanistan
because of his closeness with the Pakistani security agencies. Aminullah's
support allowed Khalid to operate in the region freely. Both Aminullah and
Khalid were now on the payroll of the ISI and Saudi intelligence.
Aminullah moved around with armed guards and a string of four-wheel drive
vehicles in the city of Peshawar. The same protocol was given to Khalid. These
sort of allowances and the money helped their networks thrive and they boasted
of several successful operations in Afghanistan.
This month, North Waziristan's Gul Bahadur made public his differences with
Baitullah Mehsud and summoned a meeting at which he (Gul) was appointed as the
chief of Pakistani Taliban. Khalid emerged as one of Gul's main followers.
Other local Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders, however, suspected that Khalid had
links to the state apparatus. A respected Taliban deputy commander in Nooristan
province in Afghanistan and Kunar province's Mufti Yousuf advised Khalid to
submit to the local discipline of the Taliban instead of operating a separate
jihadi network. The advice went unheeded. As a result, tension mounted between
Khalid and Omar Khalid, alias Abdul Wali, the regional commander installed by
As for Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, the al-Qaeda
franchise, did not want to challenge him as he is a grandson of the legendary
anti-British resistance fighter, Faqir of Ipi, and they were not sure he was an
However, Baitullah Mehsud suspected a few ISI-backed Taliban commanders in the
Pakistani tribal areas would aim to take advantage of his and Gul Bahadur's
differences, and Shah Khalid was one of them, in addition to Haji Nazeer of
South Waziristan and Haji Namdar of Khyber Agency.
So the decision was taken to confront the pure proxies of the ISI, Khalid being
the first. He was advised by Omar Khalid to leave the area at once. Khalid
agreed, and one of his comrades, Haji Namdar from Khyber Agency, provided him
with a base in the agency. But last Tuesday, one of Khalid's men killed a
deputy of Omar Khalid's group.
This situation in the most important strategic backyard of the Taliban, which
guarantees them access to Nooristan and Kunar provinces across the border, was
of major concern to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who also wanted to clarify just
who the ISI's contacts were.
Mullah Omar assigned two of the Taliban's most respected regional commanders to
intervene. They were Ustad Yasir of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar
and Pakistan's Khyber Agency, and Qari Ziaur Rahman of the Afghan provinces of
Nooristan and Kunar and the Pakistani agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur.
These commanders arrived in Mohmand Agency on Friday, but on that day the
Taliban's local commander had already begun fighting Khalid, conclusively
beating him and capturing his network's arsenal and assets.
As a follow up, Mullah Omar's delegates, including Ustad Yasir and Qari Ziaur
Rahman, issued a strict warning that such intra-Taliban bloodletting was not
acceptable and that in the future all fighters would work under one umbrella
with no stand-alone activities tolerated. This is a clear message to the rivals
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government has tried to play the killing of Khalid and
his fellow jihadis to its advantage. The bodies were taken to Peshawar in a
procession arranged by various Salafi organizations. The highest political
figure of a Salafi political party to have received direct patronage from
Riyadh, Allama Sajid Mir, attended prayers in Peshawar and held a press
conference in which he maintained that the majority of the Taliban were
deviants, terminology generally used by the Saudi religious apparatus against
The Pakistani national press played up the incident under banner headlines of
discord among the supporters of the Afghan battle against coalition forces.
Baitullah Mehsud hit back by announcing a deadline for NWFP's secular and
liberal government, which signed a peace deal with the Taliban, to resign
within five days or face the consequences. But at the same time the Taliban
resumed operations in NWFP - a clear aggressive gesture against the state's
The Taliban and al-Qaeda have come out of this sideshow in the tribal areas as
strong as ever, and more recruits keep pouring in.
The Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan is viewed by global militants as a part
of the promised battles of Khurasan (ancient Khurasan comprising mostly
Afghanistan, the Pakistani tribal areas and parts of Iran), hinted at in the
Prophet Mohammad's sayings concerning the End of Time battles.
It is believed the militants of Khurasan will eventually win this battle and
then go to the Middle East (the Land of Two Rivers is said to be Iraq and
Syria) to support the armies of the promised Mehdi to fight against the
anti-Christ in Palestine. Based on this theory, jihadi websites are calling on
Muslims to support the Afghan jihad instead of going to Iraq.
But the revival of al-Qaeda in the Pakistan region will provide a new lifeline
for the Iraqi resistance as newly trained fighters from Afghanistan can go to
Iraq when fighting slows in the winter months in Afghanistan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]