Tahir Ali

ISLAMABAD - A weeklong infighting that claimed dozens of lives from two warring factions of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) finally came to an end over the weekend after the intervention of TTP central leadership. The infighting remained indecisive as neither Commander Khan Saeed, famously known as Commander Sajna, nor Commander Shehryar’s men triumphed in ousting the opponent from the strategically important Mehsud-inhabited part of South Waziristan.

Commander Sajna unilaterally declared himself the head of TTP South Waziristan’s chapter straight after the death of Maulana Waliur Rehman during a US drone strike in May 2013. The decision without the consultation of central Shura had not only angered Shehryar Mehsud but also majority of central leadership in TTP. But then TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud asked the Mehsud tribesmen not to challenge Commander Sajna for the sake of TTP unity in South Waziristan. He also asked Shehryar Mehsud to shift to North Waziristan to avoid any confrontation with Sajna.

After the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in November last year, Shehryar Mehsud returned to the area. He was made caretaker TTP head just for a single day due to his close relation with Hakimullah Mehsud. It was the time when Shehryar Mehsud was expecting becoming the future head of TTP. But when central Shura appointed Maulana Fazlullah as the head of the banned outfit, Shehryar Mehsud started focusing over South Waziristan to challenge the authority of Sajna.

Since beginning, Shehryar and Sajna were at loggerhead with each other. The situation recently aggravated when Shehryar-linked militants tried to establish bases in an area where Sajna had sway since the very inception of TTP in 2007. “The infighting erupted when Taj Gul Markaz, a small training base run by Sajna at Bobar village near Shaktoi, came under attack by militants loyal to Shehryar,” a TTP-affiliated commander said on phone on condition of anonymity.

The base was named after a prominent TTP commander Taj Gul, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011 in Sararogha Tehsil of South Waziristan. “Shehryar Mehsud’ fighters tried to get possession of the Taj Gul Markaz but the Sajna men resisted for almost 24 hours which resulted in the killing of 11 of Shehryar’s fighters”. Instantly, the infighting extended to the others parts of South and North Waziristan and adjoining Tank area. “In Shawal area Shehryar Mehsud’ men captured the bases of Sajna group”, said the commander. In this way the weeklong infighting resulted in the killing of 43 people.

According to the Taliban sources Shehryar Mehsud enjoys the sympathies of TTP leadership outside South Waziristan but he is weak in his hometown. Laddah subdivision is the stronghold of TTP which is controlled by Commander Shamim who is loyal to Sajna.

The infighting remained for almost a week; the central leadership of TTP especially the political Shura of the outfit played a pivotal role to control the situation. The TTP leadership was not ready to confirm any such clashes inside the group. But finally Azam Tariq, a central leader of the TTP who is also a member of Taliban Political Shura issued a brief statement to various local and foreign media outlets including this scribe. It read: “There were disagreements over minor issues amongst our fellow Taliban; that led to some unpleasant incidents; but with the efforts of local elders and Shura members all the issues are now sorted out; but it’s totally baseless what the media is presenting,” he said via a recorded audio message.

Some sources in Taliban are of the view that the infighting had diverted the attention of TTP leadership from the ongoing peace process with the government to resolve the internal rift. But Maulana Omer Saiful Mujahir, head of the TTP’s official media wing, said in a written statement that the ongoing infighting is the internal matter of the militants and these clashes would not affect the ongoing peace process with the government. “The infighting has nothing to do with the peace process and ceasefire; the central Shura is looking into these matters under the instruction of Maulana Fazlullah; all the TTP-affiliated groups are bound to obey his decision”.

Despite the facts that the issue of infighting has been sorted out at the moment and both sides have agreed for the ceasefire, the tug of war to control South Waziristan will remain between commander Sajna and Shehryar Mehsud.

It was nothing else but the element of ‘egoism’ and “self projection” that caused bloody clashes between two militant commanders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) during the last week in South Waziristan.

Khan Saeed aka Commander Sajna and Shehryar Mehsud challenged each others’ strength and tried taking possessions of strategically important bases in Shaktoi, Shawal and some other places of South Waziristan. Both the commanders hail from prominent Shabikhail sub-clan of Mehsud tribe. This tribal affiliation led them to challenge each other’s supremacy in South Waziristan.

Below are brief profiles of both the

warring commanders:

Khan Saeed aka Sajna, in mid-thirties, is from a middle-class business family of the Shabikhail branch of the Mehsud tribe that live in Zangara village of Sararogha, a sub-division of South Waziristan. He is currently believed to be based in Laddah subdivision of the agency. Sajna remained closed to Mufti Waliur Rehman, the head of TTP in South Waziristan and it was the reason that he unilaterally announced himself as his successor when the latter was killed in a US drone strike last year.

After receiving primary education at local government school in South Waziristan, Khan Said went to Dera Ismail Khan and opened up a confectionary shop. The shop, Waziristan Halwa Centre, was situated at Bannu Bus Stand in the DI Khan city. Before joining ranks of Pakistani Taliban, commander Sajna has been an active member of Tableeghe Jamaat (TeJ). When Taliban emerged in South Waziristan under the leadership of their former founder and leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2004, Sajna joined them as a senior commander.

His fellow Taliban describes Sajna as having ebullient personality and always makes others laugh with his witty remarks. That’s why he was given the nom de Guerra “Sajna”. Before joining militancy, he used to regularly attend the annual congregations of TeJ at Raiwind (Lahore).

Apparently straightforward Sajna is a skillful fighter. He is known as well-versed strategist amongst the ranks of Taliban. He planned numerous attacks both in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. It was Sajna who planned Bannu jailbreak in April 2012 when more than 200 militants attacked the jail and freed 384 inmates including Adnan Rashid, an ex-employee of Pakistan Air Force who was on death row at the jail for his alleged involvement in an assassination attempt against Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf. Sajna is also believed to have orchestrated the DI Khan jailbreak in July 2013.

Commander Sajna also emerged as a leading contender for the leadership slot of TTP after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone.

Shehryar Mehsud, age 35, also represents Shabikhail sub-clan of Mehsud tribe. Until November 2013 he was keeping a low profile but he surfaced in the media when he was made a caretaker TTP head just for a single day after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud. Unlike majority of TTP leadership, he did not receive religious education at his early life. He has done his three years technical Education Diploma from Government Polytechnic College in Dera Ismail Khan. According to his college classmate he was an average student but an active unionist. “He did not sport a beard during college life but he would pray five times,” said a college colleague, adding that he also listened to music and was a fan of Sardar Ali Takkar, a renowned Pashtoon singer. “He was an egoist and stubborn person”. Shehryar Mehsud’s younger brother Ahmad Yaar Mehsud who was also a student of same technical institution passed away in an accident. After the death of his younger brother Shaheryar took on a religious posture.

After 9/11 attacks when homegrown Taliban emerged in South Waziristan, Shehryar Mehsud started visiting their camps. He was indoctrinated by some high-profile militants and thus he became a regular member of Taliban. He never looked back since then. He remained at different fronts both inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. When Waliur Rehman was leading TTP South Waziristan’s chapter, Shehryar Mehsud spent most of his time outside of the area. He was much closer to Hakimullah Mehsud — who did not interfere in the affairs of Waliur Rehman Mehsud – so Shehryar preferred to live outside of South Waziristan.

According to people who have met him, Shehryar Mehsud is a strongly built and aggressive. Originally Shehryar Mehsud supported ‘jihad’ both inside Pakistan and Afghanistan but at the moment he is obeying TTP central leadership regarding peace talks with the government.

–Tahir Ali is a freelance contributor