Militant Commander Defects From TTP To Join HGB Group

Militant Commander Defects From TTP To Join HGB Group
A senior commander of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mukhlis Yar Mehsud, has formally parted ways with the TTP and joined another militant organisation, the Hafiz Gul Bahadar (HGB) group, according to sources familiar with the development. This is seen as a serious blow to the TTP, which has officially denied that Mukhlis Mehsud left their group.

The Hafiz Gul Bahadar group, also called the HGB network, was considered an ally of the Pakistan Army and dubbed the 'good Taliban' until Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in North Waziristan, which forced thousands to flee to Afghanistan. Currently, the HGB group’s influence is concentrated in North Waziristan, but this latest development demonstrates that the group is trying to expand into South Waziristan as well.

If authenticated, this development could have a serious impact on Pakistan's national security. Mukhlis Mehsud has reportedly been appointed as the HGB commander for South Waziristan, especially for regions where the Mehsud tribe is dominant.

Mehsud has left the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, with nearly 300 fighters loyal to him, all of whom have become part of 'Taliban group' of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur militant organisation, sources familiar with the development told The Friday Times (TFT).

Who is Mukhlis Mehsud?

Mukhlis Mehsud was a close ally of former TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, and parted ways with the banned group after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike - and replaced by Mullah Fazlullah - in November 2013. He is reported to have functioned independently and also as having been part of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Daesh franchise operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

In July 2020, Mukhlis Mehsud rejoined the TTP along with fighters from the 'Hakeemullah Mehsud' group, and pledged allegiance to the current TTP emir, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud.

In a statement on July 10, the TTP said that Mukhlis Yar Mehsud, former wali or shadow governor for Kohat and currently TTP intelligence chief for D.I. Khan, and Sher Zaman alias 'Maulavi Mukhlis Mehsud', incharge of TTP's south zone fedayeen or suicide bomber units, were still part of the organisation and loyal to its current emir.

However, the TTP statement conceded that an ISKP militant named Mukhlis Mehsud may have been the person who joined HGB group, as one such fighter had been arrested by the Afghan Taliban in a raid.

In its statement, the TTP urged militants and journalists to not pay heed to "rumours" of defection and factionalism as they only served to demoralise TTP fighters.

TTP splintering into factions again?

This latest development shows that the TTP is losing control over the various factions and militant commanders it had attracted back to its fold over the past few years.

Previously, the TTP splintered because of differences over operational appointments, and the fact that a non-Mehsud (Mullah Fazlullah) had been made chief or emir of the TTP. Now, the TTP is facing pressure from its rank and file for having contacts with the Pakistani government through the Afghan Taliban.

Restlessness in Khorasani faction

The 'Khorasani group' or members of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) faction are also reportedly distancing themselves from the main TTP, but have yet to publicly announce an end to their association with the group, according to well-informed sources.

Since the mysterious killing of Omar Khalid Khorasani in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province last August, serious differences have emerged between fighters of the 'Khorasani group' and the TTP's central shura or decision-making body.

The continued bombing of their hideouts in Kunar by suspected Pakistani operatives is said to be the reason for these differences, which have been simmering for nearly a year.

Sources asserted that TTP fighters of the 'Khorasani group' were also not adhering to the decisions taken by TTP's leadership in the last couple of months.

Relocating TTP inside Afghanistan

It has been reported that factions or groups of TTP may contemplate joining Daesh, also referred to as ISKP, if the Afghan Taliban force them to relocate or shift away from the border with Pakistan.

TTP fighters residing near the Pakistan border with their families and tribes are also facing pressure to shift their residences away from the border areas. The Afghan Taliban have repeatedly assured Pakistan that they will relocate TTP further away from the border with Pakistan. However, the TTP instructed its fighters to stay put, and await orders from the TTP shura before relocating to any other place.

According to an agreement between Kabul and Islamabad, TTP militants would be shifted to other parts of Afghanistan away from the Pakistan border. Amir Khan Muttaqi, acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, agreed to this in his recent visit to Islamabad.

Currently, thousands of Pakistani Taliban and their families are living in Khost, Paktia and Kunar provinces in eastern Afghanistan. Pakistan is accusing them of terrorist attacks on the Pak-Afghan border and inside Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas. Many of these families went to Afghanistan in 2014 when the Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb.