Haqqani leaders fleeing Pakistan fearing crackdown – Tahir Khan

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By Tahir Khan

Afghan Taliban sources have confirmed that Pakistani security agencies have recently raided religious schools, mosques and houses in the outskirts of Quetta in Balochistan to arrest Afghan Taliban officials that could be seen a change in the country’s policy amid growing U.S. pressure.

Similarly a Pakistani militant, who is considered very close to the Haqqani Network, says that most of its leaders have left their previous locations in recent days and their phones are switched off, fearing a possible Pakistan’s crackdown.

Last month the US Defense Department withheld $50 million in Pakistan military payments after the secretary of Defense Jim Mattis accused Islamabad of not doing enough to counter the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said in reported comments that the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to operate in locations in Pakistan.

The Haqqani Network was under pressure after the May 31 deadliest truck bomb in capital Kabul killed nearly 150 people and injured around 300 more. Although no group claimed responsibility, Afghan intelligence officials blamed the Haqqani Network for the attack in diplomatic neighbourhood and pointed fingers at Pakistan. Kabul’s claim forced Siraj ud Din alias Khalifa, the network chief, to personally issue an audio message to deny any involvement.

The reports of raids coincided with a meeting between Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa with Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, who had handed over to Pakistan a list of 32 militant training centres and 85 wanted men allegedly based in Pakistan. The possibility of raids conducted in Balochistan on the basis of the Afghan information cannot be ruled out. Pakistan had also handed over a list of over 70 militants, who officials operate from the Afghan side of the border.

The raids could also be linked to an understanding reached during the last month visit to Islamabad and Kabul by a high-powered delegation of US senators led by Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. The delegation had told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Pakistan has agreed to ‘joint operations’ against terrorist groups in the border region.

Pakistan military spokesman had denied the statement issued by Presidential Palace in Kabul after President Ghani’s meeting with the American senators.

No arrest was made during the Monday’s raids in Balochistan, however, the action could address to the growing criticism by the U.S. and Afghan authorities at what they called Pakistan’s inaction against the Afghan Taliban, who have stepped up attacks since they launched their annual Spring Offensive in April.

Taliban sources say most of the Taliban leaders, especially military commanders, have already moved to Afghanistan as they now have areas under their control to live in. Taliban strategy was seemed successful to keep control over the areas, especially in the south, which they had overrun in 2016.

Several senior Taliban leaders from southern Kandahar and Helmand, particularly those whose mistrust about Pakistan grew after the killing of the Taliban chief Mullah Akhat Manosur in Balochistan in May last year, have broken relations with Pakistan and are now living in Afghanistan. A former Taliban ‘shura’ member says these leaders have find Iran as their new ally and now in direct contact with the Islamic Republic.

Sheikh Abdul Hakim, the Taliban chief justice and highly respected within the Taliban even more than the Taliban chief, Maulvi Haibtullah for his religious education background, left Pakistan after “Eid” and moved to Helmand to join the anti-Pakistan group, according to the Taliban former minister.

A Taliban official says Sheikh Hakim was considered as the mastermind of Mullah Akhtar Mansour policies and his departure could be seen a setback for the Pakistan-based Taliban leaders. Hakim was previously accessible to the Taliban leaders instead of Haibtullah as he has gone into hiding since his nomination as the leader.  Sheikh Hakim’s leaving Pakistan could encourage more Taliban to rethink its relationship with Pakistan,a Taliban leader insists.

Other leaders in the anti-Pakistani group include Sadr Ibrahim, the Taliban military chief. He had left Balochistan last year and moved to south. The governor of Helmand Mullah Muhammad Rahim, also known as Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund,  governor of Kandahar Mullah Muhammadzai, Mullah Gul Agha, in-charge of the financial committee, and brothers of Mullah Akhtar Osmani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Helmand in December 2007. Musharraf had claimed Pakistan had coordinator the attack with the U.S. military.

The former Taliban leadership council’s member says these Taliban do not see any good from Pakistan due to its policies. Their frustration was high after the death of Akhtar Mansour as some of them had suspicions that Pakistanis may have passed on information to the U.S. for the strike.

They were upset at the arrests of some Taliban leaders in Balochistan in October last year. Mullah Abdul Samad Sani, one of the detainees, was very close to the dissident Taliban leaders. Sani was a trader and in-charge of the Taliban religious schools.

Ahmadullah Muti, known as Mullah Nanai, was the senior most leaders among those arrested in Balochistan. They are still in Pakistan’s custody, Taliban say. The Taliban leader says those Taliban were arrested as the U.S. or other foreign intelligence agents knew about their activities and had complained to Pakistan.

A Taliban leader believes as they were not close to Pakistan so Pakistanis took them into custody. He thinks as the Taliban leaders in south and the west have now established direct contacts with Iran and are not dependent on Pakistan. Mullah Akhtar Mansour had already paved the way for the Taliban relationship’s contact with Iran and Mansour’s loyalists are now using the same channels.

Now a division is seen within the Taliban because of relations with Pakistan and Iran as well as Russia. Those Taliban who are now receiving support from Iran have left Pakistan as they could not live here because of sensitivity of Pakistani officials dealing with Afghan affairs. Although Akhtar Masnour had been leading the Taliban from Pakistan he was also the frequent visitor of Iran, which may have annoyed Pakistan.  The dissident Taliban leaders are however still part of the main set-up under Haibatullah.

Masnour was not on good terms with Pakistan. His father-in-law, Ustad Yasir, had been missing for years and Mansour believed Pakistani security officials had been involved in Yasir’s disappearance. Taliban believe Yasir has been killed during detention and Pakistanis even do not tell anything even about his grave. Taliban tried to know even if he is killed, but Pakistan never shared any information.

Yasir, who previously associated with Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf’s Ittehad-e-Islami party, had relations with Pakistani Taliban. Some sources believe TTP would seek his guidance and even decree about the killing of people. The emergence of a strong group of anti-Pakistan Taliban leaders, could reduce Pakistan’s importance in term of its influence among the Taliban and also its role in Afghan affairs.

The author is editor NNI news agency, and also a member of CRSS’s Track II Diplomacy initiative, Beyond Boundaries, with Afghanistan.

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