Militant groups in Pakistan form united front

Ishtiaq Mahsud/AP - Masked Pakistani Taliban militants take part in a training session in the South Waziristan region along the Afghan border. A new coalition of militant groups in Pakistan could indicate a unified effort to strike harder against U.S.-led troops as they begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At the urging of the Afghan Taliban, four major Pakistani insurgent factions have joined the Afghan guerrilla group known as the Haqqani network in a council aimed at resolving infighting and ending militant violence against civilians in Pakistan.

The council’s formation was announced in a leaflet distributed in recent days in North Waziristan, a remote Pakistani tribal area that is the base of the Haqqani network, a cross-border group that NATO forces in next-door Afghanistan call their most lethal foe. In the pamphlet, the Shura-i-Muraqba said it had formed in consultation with the Afghan Taliban and called on “all holy warriors” to avoid criminal activities or face punishment under Islamic law.

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The two countries are allies but their relationship has been plagued by mistrust over the last 50 years.
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The two countries are allies but their relationship has been plagued by mistrust over the last 50 years.

The new coalition could indicate a unified effort to strike harder against U.S.-led troops as they begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan, or it could signal a recognition that splintering has weakened the insurgency inside Pakistan, where the incidence of terrorist attacks fell 7 percent in the past year, according to data released Tuesday.

Those divisions remained on display even as participants in the council confirmed the agreement. In a telephone interview, a member of the militant group led by Maulvi Nazir said the factions had agreed to direct all their attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan. But Ensaullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said his wing had made no such pledge.

The Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group, has become the primary face of the bloody rebellion against the Pakistani state. It denounces Pakistan’s alliance with the United States and says its goal is to overthrow the government and establish a caliphate, or Islamic state. That differentiates it from other militant groups in the new council — including the Haqqani network and blocs led by Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur — that already target NATO troops and have tacit peace agreements with the Pakistani state.

Al-Qaeda, which some news reports said was also involved in brokering the Shura-i-Muraqba, and the Haqqani network have long sought to unify Pakistani militants. One past such effort, in 2007, resulted in the formation of the Pakistani Taliban, but the group has since been fractured by leadership spats, military offensives and U.S. drone strikes.

The member of the group commanded by Nazir, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the council recognized that killings and kidnappings of civilians had “brought a bad name to our struggle,” further weakening the groups’ public standing.

Security analysts said they doubted that the new union would have much impact, in large part because it does not include various militant factions that attack inside Pakistan.

But the suggestion that the council would shift its focus to Afghanistan, while unconfirmed, could indicate militants’ approval of Pakistan’s hard stance against the United States following a NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, said Ashraf Ali of the FATA Research Center, which studies Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“That has been bringing all these militants to have a softened stance against Pakistan,” Ali said.

According to an annual report released Tuesday by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan dropped 7 percent and caused 18 percent fewer deaths in 2011. Suicide bombings fell 34 percent, the report said.

Military offensives that have shrunk insurgent space, CIA drone strikes that have killed key commanders and the possibility of peace talks with the Pakistani government have all contributed to the decline, said Muhammad Amir Rana, the institute’s director.

“During the last two years, they have suffered a lot,” Rana said of Pakistani insurgents. “But that doesn’t mean that these groups have been dismantled. . . . They can pose a threat even in the future.”

Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

 
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