A LONG-rumoured and much-encouraged — both by the military before and the PML-N government now — split in the TTP appears to have come to pass. A chunk of the so-called pro-state, pro-peace Mehsud fighters in the TTP has rejected the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah, the emir of the TTP, in a move that could have significant ramifications for internal security and foreign policy in the weeks and months ahead. To begin with, the so-called Sajna faction of the Mehsuds in the TTP’s verbal and actual fighting with other elements in the proscribed group may presage a resumption of the government’s dialogue process, but this time with just the militants who do want to cut a deal with the government. The government would paint such an outcome as a validation of its dogged pursuit of dialogue. But would it really be a victory?
A basic problem is the ideological affinity and political allegiances of the Sajna-linked TTP militants: they lean heavily towards the Haqqani network and Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban — which means that the price for agreeing not to fight against the Pakistani state inside its territory will likely be a demand to turn a blind eye to stepped-up activities across the border in Afghanistan. That, just as the Obama administration has signalled its intention for an Iraq-like withdrawal from Afghanistan over the next couple of years, could have a destabilising effect at the very moment that some kind of stability is needed to help the incoming Afghan administration pursue its own negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban. Moreover, does Pakistan really want to be in the position internationally of officially giving space to militants with an avowed agenda of fighting in a neighbouring country?
If the foreign dimension is troubling enough, what would it mean for internal security if the TTP is split and at war with itself and encouraged to do so by the state? Surely, state and society will themselves become collateral damage. Already, there is speculation of fresh violence in Karachi, because involuntary migration from Fata in recent years has replicated many of the militants fault lines there in Karachi itself. Beyond that, while the Fazlullah-led group —including TTP Swat, Mohmand and Bajaur — is seeing its influence wane and its ability to strike inside Pakistan hampered by a leadership hiding in Afghanistan, it would be foolish to underestimate Fazlullah and his men. After all, he is the man who was all but written off after his fiefdom in Swat was taken away — and yet he returned to snatch the leadership of the TTP. Setting all of that aside, there still remains a fundamental problem in the government’s dialogue-driven quest for peace: ought there really to be space for a group such as the Sajna-led militants in Pakistan going forward?