ISLAMABAD — Battered by Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, the once-formidable Pakistani Taliban has splintered into more than 100 smaller factions, weakened and is running short of cash, according to security officials, analysts and tribesmen from the insurgent heartland.
The group, allied with al-Qaida and based in the northwest close to the Afghan border, has been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan over the last 4 1/2 years. Known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, the Taliban want to oust the U.S.-backed government and install a hard-line Islamist regime. They also have international ambitions and trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square in 2010.
“Today, the command structure of the TTP is splintered, weak and divided, and they are running out of money,” said Mansur Mahsud, a senior researcher at the FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Area, Research Center. “In the bigger picture, this helps the army and the government because the Taliban are now divided.”
The first signs of cracks within the Pakistani Taliban appeared after its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike in August 2009, Mahsud said. Since then, the group has steadily deteriorated.
Set up in 2007, the Pakistani Taliban is an umbrella organization created to represent roughly 40 insurgent groups in the tribal belt plus al-Qaida-linked groups headquartered in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province.
“In the different areas, leaders are making their own peace talks with the government,” Mahsud added. “It could help the Pakistani government and military separate more leaders from the TTP and more foot soldiers from their commanders.”
The two biggest factors hammering away at the Taliban’s unity are U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani army operations in the tribal region.
Turf wars have flared as militants fleeing the Pakistani military operations have moved into territory controlled by other militants, sometimes sparking clashes between groups. And as leaders have been killed either by drones or the Pakistani army, lieutenants have fought among themselves over who will replace them.
“The disintegration ... has accelerated with the Pakistan military operation in South Waziristan and the drone attacks by the United States in North Waziristan,” Mahsud said, referring to the two tribal areas that are the heartland of the Pakistani Taliban.
Another factor is the divide-and-conquer strategy Pakistan’s military has long employed in its dealings with militants. Commanders have broken away from the TTP and set up their own factions, weakening the organization. Battles have broken out among the breakaway factions, and in one particularly remote tribal region, the TTP was thrown out. These growing signs of fissures among the disparate groups that make up the Pakistani Taliban indicate the military’s strategy could be paying off.