A new bloc of the Pakistani Taliban has vowed to carry on the movement’s campaign of bombings and shootings, in the militants’ first video message since a major army assault on their strongholds.
Senior commanders announced the creation of a new hardline grouping within the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but insisted they were not splitting from the movement.
The Pakistani military has been waging a major assault on TTP bases in North Waziristan tribal area since mid-June and says it has crippled the militants’ command and control structure.
The video, posted online, showed around two dozen Taliban cadres in an undisclosed location, announcing the creation of the new Jamaat-ul-Ahrar group, to be headed by Maulana Qasim Khorasani.
A written statement at the end of the footage vowed to “continue our armed struggle for the enforcement of Islamic Sharia”.
“There were divisions and factions inside the movement and several commanders had broken their ways. This situation compelled us to from a new group,” Qari Shakil Ahmad Haqqani, a senior Taliban commander, said.
The TTP, a loose coalition of different militant outfits, was riven by infighting in the months leading up to the military operation.
In May a faction of the Mehsud tribe cut ties with the TTP. The Mehsuds were widely seen as the most important group in the TTP and their loss was regarded as a major blow.
The militants insisted the latest move was not a split.
“Let me make it very clear that we have not broken our ways from TTP,” Omar Khalid, who will head the new group’s intelligence wing, said.
“We want to provide such a platform through which we can continue our jihad in Pakistan.”
A Taliban commander on Wednesday confirmed the new group to a foreign news agency but said it was not clear whether it would work against the TTP’s official leader Maulana Fazlullah or support him.
– ‘Dent in the core’ –
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar groups a number of TTP factions who rejected talks early this year aimed at reaching a peace deal with the government.
The talks ultimately proved fruitless.
Khorasani was the head of a dissident group Ahrar-ul-Hind, which claimed several attacks during the talks process including one in an Islamabad court complex in March which killed 12 people, the first such strike in the capital since 2011.
There was no mention in the video of Maulana Fazlullah, the official leader of the TTP believed to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan, hinting at a possible weakening of his power base in the movement.
“This is a sign of the shift away from Maulana Fazlullah,” author and analyst Imtiaz Gul told the news agency.
“It is a further dent in their core.”
Saifullah Mehsud, an analyst at the Islamabad-based FATA research centre said that while it was not clear that the new group was against Fazlullah, their failure to mention him was significant.
“They did not say that Maulana Fazlullah was part of this group, so as long as they don’t say it… I would say that Fazlullah remains separate from them,” he said.