The death of the respected cleric, Maulana Noor Mohammad (above) and 33 others in a suicide bombing in a mosque in Wana Bazaar in South Waziristan last Monday is likely to have enormous consequences in the tribal territories and risks the outbreak of serious warfare between the Wazir and Mahsud tribes.
Maulana Noor Mohammad was an influential figure amongst the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe who dominate the area around Wana. He had just finished a lecture on the Koran after Zuhr prayers, when a young boy, aged around 15, ran up to him and detonated an explosive vest. The Maulana was buried the next day, when around 10,000 people attended his funeral. All the commercial and business centres and schools in the area closed for three days to mourn his death.
Maulana Noor Mohammad was a highly respected cleric and had been involved in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. He is also the author of a dozen book on jihad and Islam. In 1978 he had tried to form a Taliban-like adminstration in Wana, but was prevented by the Pakistani government from doing so. He later spent four years in jail. While supporting jihad against the Coalition forces in Afghanistan, he has been strongly opposed to any attacks on the Pakistani state.
He has ten sons from two wives and his eldest son, Taj Mohammad, has been chosen as his successor by local elders and religious leaders. Taj Mohammad is a religious scholar and completed an MA with distinction at Gomal University in Dera Ismail Khan. He will take over the running of the huge madrassa built by his father in Wana where hundreds of boys are given free religious education and board and lodging. Maulana Noor Mohammad also built a madrassa in Wana that provides free religious education for Ahmadzai girls.
Elected as a member of the Pakistan National Assembly in 1997 for South Waziristan, Maulana Noor Mohammad was widely respected by local Taliban commanders, such as Mullah Nazir, Mita Khan and Malang Wazir. Many prominent Taliban had passed through his madrassa. His excellent contacts meant he played an important role as an intermediary during the military operations in Wana in 2004-5.
While no-one has yet claimed responsibility for the atrocity, on Tuesday local mosques broadcast announcements telling all members of the Mahsud tribe living in Wana as displaced persons due to Army operations, and all Tehreek-e-Taliban members to leave the area immediately. The broadcasts said they would be removed forcibly if they did not comply, in the same way as the Uzbeks of the IMU under Tahir Yuldashev were forced to leave Wana in April 2007.
These broadcasts make it clear that the principle suspect for the suicide bombing is the TTP of Hakimullah Mahsud. It was Mahsud who provided sanctuary to the Uzbeks and who now has a close alliance with them. Local people have been quoted as saying that the head of the bomber, which has been on display in Wana Bazaar, shows he was an Uzbek.
According to a recent unpublished report from the influential FATA Research Centre, Uzbeks had previously been involved in a failed suicide attack on Mullah Nazir, the overall commander of the Wana Ahmadzai Wazir Taliban, but the boy was caught by guards. Uzbeks also killed 11 of Nazir's men during Ramadan last year near Salay Roghain in the Mahsud territory as they returned for Eid from fighting the Americans in Afghanistan.
After this event, Mullah Nazir demanded that the TTP hand over the four Uzbeks and four Mahsuds involved in the killings, but this was refused.
Then on 17 August this year a clash took place between Mullah Nazir's commander Hajji Tehsil Khan and TTP commander Hafiz Khan (who was one of those involved in the killings of Wazirs last year). Tehsil Khan killed two of Hafiz Khan's men and lost one of his own. Last year he was one of the commanders who joined an anti-TTP alliance in South Waziristan along with Waziristan Baba and Turkistan Bhittani.
The Ahmadzai Wazir's decision to expel all the Mahsud IDPs on their territory will have significant consequences. There are an estimated 3,000 Mahsud families living in Wana due to the Pakistan Army's Operation Rah-e-Nijad. Many more families are in other parts of the Wazir territory. They cannot got to Tank or Dera Ismail districts because of the devastating floods that have wrecked these areas.
If the Ahmadzai Wazir elders decide the Mahsuds of the TTP were responsible for Maulana Noor Mohammad's death then open hostilities are inevitable and TTP leader will have to fight both the Army and the Wazirs. The Ahmadzai Wazirs would also probably call on their kinsmen amongst the Uthmanzai Wazirs who mostly live in North Waziristan, close to the TTP heartland.