South Asia News
Al-Qaeda tries to unite Pakistani militants
By Nadeem Sarwar and Safiullah Gul Mehsud Dec 22, 2011, 9:24 GMT
Peshawar, Pakistan - Al-Qaeda is trying to form a united front of all militant organizations in Pakistan's tribal region with the lure of bringing down another superpower in Afghanistan by focusing their efforts on fighting the United States.
The man behind the campaign is senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, who escaped from a high-security US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2005, winning great respect in jihadi circles.
The charismatic al-Libi, 48, has filled the vacuum left by the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the retreat of bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to safer hideouts along the Pakistan-Afghan border to dodge US drone strikes that have killed dozens of al-Qaeda leaders since 2008.
Al-Libi has brought, at least initially, the main Pakistani militant groups together to accept the idea of working under one banner and with one platform.
On November 27, he headed a meeting of the main Pakistani militant groups - some of which are rivals - in Azam Warsak, 15 kilometres west of Wana, the main city in the tribal district of South Waziristan, two Taliban commanders aware of the meeting said.
Al-Libi urged the participants to combine their forces to wage what he called a 'last assault against infidel forces in Afghanistan,' one of the commanders quoted him as saying.
The meeting, held at the compound of Shams Ullah, a commander of pro-Pakistani Taliban warlord Maulvi Nazir, was attended by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the notorious Haqqani network, and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the main local Taliban commander in North Waziristan.
All these fighters are known as 'good Taliban' because they focus on fighting international forces in Afghanistan and have seldom been involved in attacks on official or civilian targets inside Pakistan.
But there was more to the meeting, according to the Taliban sources, and that was the participation of 'bad Taliban' ringleader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who heads Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks across Pakistan.
Mehsud has not only attacked Pakistani civilians and officials, but his men have also fought against militants from the Haqqani network and factions inside his own organization. 'Good Taliban' have always distanced themselves from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's activities.
The al-Qaeda move to unite rival Taliban groups is part of a changing scenario in Pakistan's tribal region, where hostility to the government is decreasing amid rising tensions between Pakistan and the US since the May 2 killing of bin Laden in Pakistan's north-western city of Abbottabad.
'Pakistan is seen less now as a US ally due to its defiant stance towards Americans,' a Taliban commander said.
As a result, Pakistani security officials have established initial, indirect and informal contacts since September with the Taliban through retired military officials, diplomats and bureaucrats to try to work out a peace deal, a Pakistani intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.
Officially, Pakistan has denied the talks with the Taliban, who in return have issued conflicting statements - some leaders confirming the negotiations and others denying them. But the Taliban seemed to have stopped major assaults in Pakistan.
The last suicide attack took place in August at a mosque crowded with worshippers in the holy month of Ramadan in north-western Pakistan, killing 49 people and injuring more than 100.
Since then, small attacks have taken place but on very selective targets, mainly to eliminate security officials who have participated in high-profile raids on militants.
In the middle of all these developments, al-Libi, once a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting group that tried to topple then-Libyan ruler Moammer Gaddafi in the 1990s, encouraged warring Taliban factions to settle their internal disputes.
The Azam Warsak meeting did not agree on any specific rules but all parties accepted informally that a new alliance of jihadi organizations was needed, the sources said.
They concluded that unity among the various organizations is also necessary because divisions in their ranks have inflicted heavy losses on them in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban commanders said.
They also agreed that Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the head of all mujahideen in the region but the new organization would be an international alliance and efforts would be made to bring all Islamist organizations across the world into the fold, the commanders said.
The decision about the name of the new alliance is to be taken later.
On December 5, another meeting took place at an undisclosed location to settle a dispute between Mehsud's men and the Haqqani group in Pakistan's Kurram tribal district, where they have fought one another, but no agreement was reached, a Taliban commander said.
'The consensus is there that we all need to be united, but formal agreements to settle particular, long-standing disputes would be a slow process,' the Taliban source said.