A terror group unaffiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has announced that it will wage war against Pakistan’s security forces over Operation Zarb-e-Azb, according to a spokesman for key commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
Bahadur is the leader of a Pakistani Taliban faction that distanced itself from the umbrella TTP organization due to rivalries with former chief Baitullah Mehsud and disagreements over targeting the Pakistani state. “From today [June 19] we are launching a war against security forces with the name Zarb-e-Momin,” said spokesman Ahmadullah Ahmadi. “We are an independent group and have no affiliation with the TTP,” he added.
Bahadur signed a peace agreement with the Government of Pakistan in 2006, which stayed intact until May 30 of this year when he warned against any military operation in North Waziristan. In a statement, Bahadur warned tribesmen to either flee or prepare for the “defense” of Waziristan. He also warned residents of North Waziristan against seeking government aid after June 10, threatening retaliatory action against anyone visiting government and political administration offices.
Often cited as an example of the “good Taliban” by analysts due to the longstanding peace agreement, Bahadur’s decision to declare jihad against Pakistan’s security forces has been cited as a potential hindrance for the military offensive in the tribal areas.
Ahmadi, the spokesman, told Newsweek that Operation Zarb-e-Azb had forced their hand. “We wanted to assist Pakistan’s security forces because we have always respected the peace accord signed with the Government of Pakistan,” he said. “We followed the accord in true spirit and never allowed the TTP to use North Waziristan to plan or stage attacks against the security forces,” he added. “The peace accord also applied to the government and it clearly states that no military intervention can take place in North Waziristan,” he said, claiming the Bahadur-led group had resisted great pressure from the TTP to stay out of the war against Pakistan’s security forces.
“The Pakistani Taliban approached Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s shura-e-mujahideen several times to join hands, but Bahadur never supported the idea due to the peace accord with the government,” Ahmadi claimed, adding that Mullah Nazir, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012, had also opposed joining the TTP. “The military violated the peace accord and waged war against us and now we have no choice but to fight against them for our pride and motherland as per the decision made in shura-e-mujahideen meeting,” he added.
“Both the Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir-led groups were against attacking Pakistani installations or forces. However, they would often stage attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan and were sending fighters across the border,” said veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai. “Drone attacks targeted leaders of both groups, including the chiefs, eventually resulting in the death of Mullah Nazir and four of his fighters,” he added.
“Bahadur has also been targeted in at least three drone strikes, but has survived all of them. However, his son and brother were killed,” said Yusufzai, adding that NATO and CIA have repeatedly conveyed to Pakistan’s military that Bahadur and his group have been helping Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network.
The U.S. has been urging Pakistan to take action against the groups based in North Waziristan for several years, claiming they stage attacks on troops in Afghanistan and seek refuge across the border in Pakistan. “Operation Zarb-e-Azb appears to, at least partially, be a result of these meetings since the Pakistan Army has realized that North Waziristan has become a haven for the Taliban,” Yusufzai added.