Pakistani Taliban chief implements foreign agenda, say dissenters


Islamabad : Two militant leaders who broke away from Pakistan’s top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud have accused their former comrade of following a foreign agenda by waging an insurgency inside the Islamic state, media reports said Thursday.

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The open disagreement came two days after Pakistan’s armed forces announced they were preparing a decisive offensive against Mehsud and his network, which is centred around the South Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border.

Mehsud has been blamed for a string of terrorist attacks, including the suicide bombing that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. He admits attacks on government troops but denies targeting politicians.

“These people (Mehsud and his men) are working against Islam,” Qari Zainuddin, a prominent militant leader, was quoted as saying by The News daily.

Zainuddin alleged that Mehsud had links with India and Israel, two countries widely considered traditional enemies of Pakistan.

The Taliban dissenter supported the impending attack on his former comrade and warned Mehsud’s loyalists against infiltrating the lawless territory under his control.

However, Zainuddin supported giving a dominant role to Mehsud’s Pashtun tribesmen in the upcoming fighting to minimise civilian casualties.

Another defector, Turkistan Bittani, called the Taliban commander “an American agent”, arguing that Mehsud was never targeted in the dozens of US drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal region.

Missile strikes by pilotless aircraft, mostly operated by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), have killed hundreds of people and only a few suspected Al Qaeda operatives.

Bittani told the Geo News television channel that Mehsud was misleading local youth into carrying out terrorist attacks on mosques and religious scholars at the alleged instigation of Israel and India.

The News said one of Mehsud’s supporters in the Orakzai tribal district, Hafiz Saeed, rejected the accusations, claiming that “Zainuddin was playing into the hands of the government” by defaming the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation headed by Mehsud.

There has been discord between militant groups since 2007 when Mehsud formed the TTP following the death of then-Taliban commander Abdullah Mehsud during a raid.

Many believe the wedge between the militant hierarchy will benefit Pakistani troops in hunting down the Taliban chief.

Both Zainuddin and Bittani say they have thousands of fighters, but intelligence estimates put the figure at around 1,500. Mehsud, on the other hand, commands a 20,000-strong force of hard-core militants, including hundreds of suicide bombers.

Owais Ahmed Ghani, governor of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) which borders the troubled district, said last week that the military had been ordered to eliminate Mehsud who he described as “the root cause of all the evil”.