Pakistan Taliban reunite with two splinter groups as army hails battle success

The Pakistani Taliban have brought two splinter groups back into their fold, they announced in a statement, days after the army said anti-militant operations nationwide had brought “hard-earned success”.

The Pakistani Taliban, fighting to overthrow the government and install their own brand of Shariah, are an umbrella of Sunni militant groups called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has broken into many divisions.

The TTP, designated a terrorist group by the United States, has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by U.S. drone strikes on both sides of the border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan, or fleeing to urban Pakistan.

“Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan welcomes them,” the TTP statement said of the two splinter groups, adding that it would like all groups to unite.

The reunion with Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) appears significant in view of the rise in militant attacks against security forces, most claimed by the TTP, including some suicide bombings.

Pakistani army spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar said last week however that the military’s operations against militants had been very successful.

“The war against terrorism has yielded some hard-earned success,” he told a news conference. “More than 18,000 terrorists have been killed and more than 400 tonnes of explosive material seized” in a countrywide anti-militant operation that started in 2017.

The reunion comes at a time when the United States is promoting peace talks between the Afghan Taliban, also seeking to reimpose their strict form of Islamic rule, and the government in Kabul.

The Pakistani Taliban said the two groups pledged allegiance to the TTP chief, Mufti Noor Wali, shown in photos at a ceremony.

It was not clear what side of the border the ceremony took place. Government and military officials did not comment on the merger or the location of the ceremony.

The JuA, which broke from the TTP in 2014, has been involved in major attacks, including the 2016 suicide bombing in a park in eastern city of Lahore that the group said targeted Christians celebrating Easter. It killed more than 70 people.

The HuA, a faction that further split from the JuA, has not been so active.