What was behind the decision of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen of South Waziristan to issue an ultimatum to 40,000 displaced Mahsud tribespeople to leave Wana by 5th December?
The decision - later extended to 15 December - was taken at a jirga held in Rustam Bazaar in Wana, attended by elders from all nine subtribes of the Ahmadzai Wazirs. Overseeing the jirga was Maulvi Nazir, the pro-government militia commander who, only days before, had been injured in a targeted suicide attack in the same town that killed eight of his companions.
The Mahsuds, in turn, form the backbone of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistani Army action aimed at the TTP in South Waziristan is the reason there are so many Mahsuds living temporarily in Wana. Many of their homes have been destroyed or are in areas that are too dangerous for occupation.
Some sources say that the suicide attacker tasked with killing Maulvi Nazir was despatched by Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the TTP. The attack was an attempted revenge for the killing of Wali Muhammad on July this year. Wali Muhammad was a close associate of Hakimullah and had only returned to South Waziristan recently, having been expelled by Maulvi Nazir in the past. (more on the background to this feud can be found here).
In the past the Ahmedzai Wazirs have usually attempted to settle their differences with the Mahsuds, not least because they have always needed their agreement to get access to DI Khan and other border areas. The Mahsuds control access to important strategic roads - such as that running from Tank-Jandola-Wana - and have been able to exert a stranglehold on the Wazirs in the past.
However, that era may now have come to an end with the opening of a new road on 18 June this year. Built by the Pakistani Army with American money, the 105-km Kaur-Gomal-Tanai-Wana road means that the Wazirs no longer need permission from the Mahsuds to connect with the rest of the country (more on this here).
Tribal politics in FATA are complex and this may not be the end of the matter. Already, Pakistani officials are talking about putting pressure on the Utmankhel Wazirs in North Waziristan to expel Mahsud tribesmen from Miramshah.
All of these events may be the reason that rumours are growing of a split within the leadership of the TTP. Hakimullah's policy of war against the Pakistani state appears now to come with a price tag that is too high for many of his fellow tribesmen to bear. No wonder that Waliur Rahman, touted as someone who can cut a deal with the military and also turn TTP guns towards Afghanistan, is being spoken about as a future leader of the organisation.
Ashraf Ghani talk at RUSI, 12 May 2016
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