BAGGAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani Taliban are trying to lure back a senior militant commander who recently quit the group because he controls strategic routes into Afghanistan and Pakistan and can block off militants’ escape paths, his supporters said on Friday.
Analysts say last week’s defection of Fazal Saeed, a Taliban leader in the Kurram region, is a serious blow to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, blamed for many suicide bombings across the country.
Saeed’s faction controls important roads used by both Pakistani and Afghan Taliban militants based in North Waziristan’s tribal region for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Saeed has now formed a new group called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Islami (TTI), comprising some 500 militants and is said to have close ties to Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the most brutal faction of the Afghan Taliban.
TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud has sought help from Haqqani for a truce with Saeed, who quit the group to protest against what he called “brutal” attacks on civilians, militant sources said.
“A six-member delegation of Afghan commanders is meeting commander Saeed at the request of Hakimullah Mehsud to ask him to rejoin the group,” a militant source close to Saeed told a group of reporters.
“They have asked him to open roads he has blocked for militant movements, which are import routes linking Pakistani tribal regions to Afghanistan,” the militant source said.
Saeed said he intends to continue to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
A Reuters’s reporter was part of a group of journalists who were to meet Saeed at his invitation, but the meeting had to be postponed because of the Mehsud delegation’s visit.
A spokesman from the TTP was unavailable for comment.
Saeed has been at odds with Mehsud for several months over militant activities in his stronghold of lower Kurram but their ties deteriorated after one of Saeed’s commanders was killed about a month and a half ago, his supporters say.
The roads Saeed controls are vitally important for Mehsud’s men to reach other tribal regions, and to use as escape routes in case of a military operation in North Waziristan.
Kurram is one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies, semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun regions. Its roads are open to the Haqqani network, but not the TTP.
The United States has long demanded that Pakistan attack the North Waziristan region to eliminate the Haqqani network.
Pakistan has been reluctant to do so but it has come under increased pressure after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was found and killed in a Pakistani military town by U.S. special forces in May.
Pakistani forces have launched many offensives in these tribal areas against militants, but have failed to weaken their resolve as insurgents continue to attack the army in the northwest.
The Taliban have vowed to avenge bin Laden’s death and have stepped up attacks, including a bombing that killed 80 army recruits, a brazen attack on a main naval base and an assault on a U.S. consular vehicles in the Peshawar city.
(Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sugita Katyal)