At the end of June 2011, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)[1] experienced a major blow when senior commander Fazal Saeed Zaimusht defected from the group and formed his own organization, Tehrik-i-Taliban Islami Pakistan (TTIP).[2] Fazal Saeed revolted against the TTP leadership less than two months after the killing of Usama bin Ladin, marking the first split in the TTP since its formation in 2007. The rift is widely perceived as part of an effort by the Pakistani security establishment and the Haqqani network to court an important faction of the TTP: Fazal Saeed’s militia in Kurram Agency. Although the split may weaken the TTP, many analysts believe that it will strengthen the Haqqani network and the militant factions that are focused solely on fighting in Afghanistan—activities in which the Pakistani security establishment appears to have some involvement.

This article explains the importance of Fazal Saeed, and places his defection from the TTP in context with the interests of both the Haqqani network and the Pakistani security establishment.

The Role of Fazal Saeed
Fazal Saeed, 39-years-old, is from Uchat village in Central Kurram district.[3] He enjoys the support of hundreds of local tribesmen in Kurram Agency, which is located in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on the border with Afghanistan. Saeed joined the TTP when it was founded by Baitullah Mehsud in 2007.[4] Since then, he played an active role in the TTP on various levels, but he has been the group’s primary asset in Kurram.[5] He opposes Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, but is equally against attacks inside Pakistan. He supports fighting against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and shows allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Saeed’s support in Kurram extends beyond his involvement with the Taliban. Kurram is geographically separated between Sunni and Shi`a Muslims, and there have been historic hostilities between the two sects in Kurram. Tribesmen in Kurram rallied behind Saeed to create a united militia against rival Shi`a militias. The ongoing conflict between Sunni and Shi`a has displaced thousands of families from Upper and Lower Kurram. Leaders of both sides finally negotiated, and they signed the Murree Agreement in November 2008.[6] As part of the agreement, both sides agreed that the Pakistani government should remove armed outsiders and conduct an operation against militant forces in the agency. The agreement, however, was never implemented, exacerbating the conflict.

In February 2011, the Murree Agreement was revitalized after negotiations occurred in Islamabad. Saeed, who was leading the TTP in Kurram at the time of the February peace accord, welcomed the agreement during a news conference and pledged that his loyalists would take action against any side found to be violating the truce.[7] Various reports also suggest that the Haqqani network supported the peace agreement as well. A key element of the Haqqani family, Haji Ibrahim, for example, attended the February talks.[8]

Although the Peshawar-Tal-Parachinar roadway—a key route that Shi`a in Upper Kurram use to travel—was opened in February 2011 after more than three years of closure, the first violation of the peace agreement came on March 5 when militants killed four Shi`a traveling on the road. On March 13, armed militants killed 11 passengers in the Mamo Khwar area of Tal tehsil. On March 25, armed men attacked a convoy of passengers, killing 13 and abducting more than 25 Shi`a in Bhaggan village. These violations crippled the peace agreement only weeks after it went into effect.[9]

The violations are reportedly one reason why Fazal Saeed separated from the TTP. According to sources in the region, Fazal Saeed believed that the TTP had no interest in supporting the Sunni-Shi`a peace agreement in Kurram—a position to which he disagreed.[10] When explaining his reasons behind leaving the TTP, he said, “We abhor killing innocent people through suicide attacks and bomb blasts, attacks on our own army and destruction of social infrastructure.”[11] Fazal Saeed also apparently no longer wanted to pay the TTP a percentage of the funds he earns from imposing taxes on Kurram traders.

Saeed’s defection should have a positive effect for stability in Kurram, an outcome wanted by both the Haqqani network and the Pakistani security establishment. The Haqqani network seeks stability in Kurram so that it can increase its presence in the tribal agency. Kurram is viewed as a strategic territory for executing attacks inside Afghanistan. In addition to bordering Afghanistan, it also borders Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, Orakzai Agency, Khyber Agency, and Hangu District. Due to its location, it is considered coveted territory for militants in Waziristan to cross into Afghanistan to conduct attacks against U.S. and NATO troops. By providing the Shi`a with peace and stability in Kurram, the Haqqani network and other Afghanistan-focused militants will expect the Shi`a to allow Sunni militants to traverse their territory in Upper Kurram to access the agency’s northern border with Afghanistan.

The Role of the Pakistani State
The Pakistani security establishment has played an important role in developments in Kurram as well. Elements in Pakistan’s security establishment largely distinguish militants operating in the country between so-called “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.” The “good Taliban” are those fighters solely focused on attacking targets in neighboring Afghanistan. These militants use Pakistan as a safe haven where they are largely free from attacks by U.S. and NATO forces—although they remain the target of repeated drone strikes. Moreover, there are allegations by Western governments, journalists, and analysts that Pakistan’s security establishment provides some support to these fighters to maintain political influence in Afghanistan. The best example of the so-called “good Taliban” is the Haqqani network.

The “bad Taliban,” on the other hand, are those fighters that see the Pakistani state as an enemy, and regularly target Pakistani forces and interests. These fighters may be involved in executing attacks in Afghanistan, but they also seek to destabilize the Pakistani government due to its counterterrorism support to the United States, among other motives. The best example of the “bad Taliban” are those fighters associated with the TTP.

For Pakistan’s security establishment, launching operations against the “good Taliban” is likely seen as counterproductive and against the country’s interests. If it were to execute attacks against the Haqqani network, for example, it would turn those fighters against it, thus strengthening the ranks of the “bad Taliban” and fighters intent on attacking the Pakistani state. Moreover, by supporting the “good Taliban,” the Pakistani security establishment increases its ability to influence developments in neighboring Afghanistan, especially after the eventual departure of international troops.

This explains why the Pakistani security establishment has been reluctant to launch a military operation against Haqqani fighters in North Waziristan Agency. Analysts believe that both the Pakistani security establishment and the Haqqanis are seeking peace in Kurram to provide another safe haven for Haqqani fighters, where they can further establish their presence and continue cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.[12] Convincing the TTP’s Kurram asset, Fazal Saeed, to defect is key to this possible strategy. For Pakistan, a strong Haqqani network with access to all the key areas of Afghanistan would provide its security establishment with sizeable influence in any future government in Kabul.

As evidence of this strategy, Pakistan recently launched a counterterrorism operation in Kurram Agency. Yet the operation has not targeted Fazal Saeed or his militia in Kurram. Additionally, many Pakistani analysts believe that one of the motives behind the Kurram operation is to help provide cover to Haqqani assets. As stated by Mohammad Taqi in the Daily Times,

“A side benefit of the chaos created in the Kurram Agency is that it would be a lot easier to hide the jihadists in the midst of the internally displaced people (IDP), making the thugs a difficult target for precision drone attacks. Also, the establishment’s focus has been to ‘reorient’ the TTP completely towards Afghanistan. The breaking away from the TTP of the crook from Uchat village, Fazl-e-Saeed Zaimusht (who now interestingly writes Haqqani after his name) is the first step in the establishment’s attempt to regain full control over all its jihadist proxies.”[13]

A number of displaced families who are living in the newly-established IDP camp in New Durrani area of Sadda town complained that the same militants who used to terrorize them are now living with them inside the camp.[14] “The terrorists who used to impose taxes on us are living among us in the camp and getting more facilities than us,” said one of the IDPs.[15] Moreover, due to the IDPs, it would be difficult for the United States to avoid collateral damage if it were to escalate drone strikes over Kurram.

Fazal Saeed’s declaration on June 27 of establishing the TTIP is a serious blow to the TTP. The rift could encourage rebellion among other TTP factions.[16] This becomes especially relevant considering that Hakimullah Mehsud has not been seen on the ground or in the media during the past several months. Therefore, while Saeed’s decision may increase stability in Pakistan, it could have the opposite effect in Afghanistan. Stability in Kurram may allow the Haqqani network and other Afghanistan-focused fighters more territory to recruit and train, as well as provide them with more territory to access Afghanistan. It will also make it more difficult to convince the Pakistani security establishment to focus its resources on defeating militias that have no interest in attacking Pakistani interests—but only targets in neighboring Afghanistan.

Daud Khattak is Senior Editor with RFE/RL’s Mashaal Radio in Prague, Czech Republic. Besides working in Afghanistan as Editor at Pajhwok Afghan News from 2005-2008, Mr. Khattak worked with Pakistani English daily newspapers covering the situation in KP and FATA. He also worked for Sunday Times London and contributed articles to the Christian Science Monitor. In 2010, his paper on the situation in Swat, “The Battle for Pakistan: Swat Valley,” was published by the New America Foundation.

[1] The TTP is an umbrella of a dozen militant organizations in the Pakistani tribal areas. The organization was formed in December 2007 with Baitullah Mehsud as its head. Baitullah was killed in a drone strike in 2009.

[2] “Taliban Commander Fazal Saeed Leaves TTP,” Dawn, June 27, 2011.

[3] Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Rebel TTP Commander Claims his Group is Getting Offers of Support,” The News International, June 30, 2011.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Farhat Taj, “A Report From Kurram,” Daily Times, January 1, 2011.

[7]  “Taliban Welcome Kurram Truce,” Dawn, February 8, 2011.

[8] A key tribal elder, who attended the talks in Islamabad, confirmed to the author that Haji Ibrahim, brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, attended the meetings and urged the two sides to sign the peace accord.

[9]  “Militants Kill 8, Kidnap Dozens in Kurram Ambush,” Express Tribune, March 25, 2011.

[10] A key elder, who joined all the peace talks, told this to the author in an interview.

[11] Hussain Afzal, “Kurram Commander Quits TTP over Suicide Attacks,” Dawn, June 28, 2011.

[12] Hasan Khan, “No Peace in Kurram,” Dawn, April 6, 2007.

[13] Mohammad Taqi, “The Sham Operation in Kurram,” Daily Times, July 7, 2011.

[14] Personal interviews, IDPs and their family members living in Peshawar and in the camp, via telephone, June/July 2011.

[15] Ibid.

[16] The faction led by Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur Agency, for example, invites closer scrutiny. Faqir Muhammad was the deputy of former TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud. Upon Baitullah’s death, Faqir declared himself as the new “acting chief” of the TTP. He adopted a meaningful silence, however, after Hakimullah Mehsud was named as the new, permanent TTP leader.

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