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Taliban Commanders Reportedly Targeted in Pakistan

The killing this week of an Afghan Taliban leader in Pakistan is focusing attention on a spate of recent killings of Taliban leaders inside Pakistan, with recriminations coming from warring sides in the conflict about who is responsible for the deaths.

Mullah Salim died from injuries he suffered in an attack carried out by his own security guards near Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, which has served for years as a refuge for senior Afghan Taliban leaders. Salim died in a Quetta hospital on Monday and his guards have not been apprehended.

Salim was just the latest senior Taliban official to die under mysterious circumstances in Pakistan. Just days before he was killed, Taliban commanders Mullah Noorullah Hotak and Mullah Abdul Malik, were killed in Quetta. So far no group or individual has taken responsibility for their deaths.

The deaths are fueling suspicion of an organized campaign of assassination against Taliban leaders. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted unnamed Afghan Taliban sources as saying the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, or NDS is behind the attacks.

NDS officials have publicly said they are not involved in the killings. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry also rejected the Taliban claims saying the killings are the result of an internal dispute within the Taliban. Afghan officials, who are pursuing peace talks with the Taliban, blame Pakistani military and police elements for the killings.

The Journal quotes an unnamed Taliban official as saying the powerful Chief of Police in Kandahar, General Abdul Raziq, is behind the attacks. Raziq, who has survived more than a dozen assassination attempts, puts the blame on Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency, the ISI, saying Pakistani security services are targeting Taliban commanders who contact Afghan officials about joining the peace process.

Daoud Jalali, a former official at the Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, also blames the ISI for the killings. According to Jalali, Pakistani intelligence agencies will do whatever it takes to prevent Taliban commanders from making contact with Afghan officials.

“Those who do not listen to Pakistani officials are then murdered”, Jalali said.

Pakistani officials have not commented on the killings.

But some observers say the killings of the Taliban leaders may not be linked in any way. Sami Yousafzi, who reports on militant groups in the region for several U.S. news organizations, says there could be multiple factors behind the deaths, including internal rivalries and revenge attacks. Yousafzai, who doesn’t rule out an organized assassination campaign, says one result has been that Taliban commanders do not feel safe in Pakistan anymore.

Even the normally secretive Taliban is addressing the issue now publicly in the media, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says the reports are “enemy propaganda,” and he says the commanders who were reported killed are in fact alive, and are continuing their “Jihad.”

So far the most prominent Afghan Taliban leader killed in Pakistan was Mullah Nasiruddin Haqqani, the son of Haqqani network founder Jalalluddin Haqqani. Nasiruddin Haqqani, who was in his early 30’s, and regarded as the network’s financier, was killed near Islamabad last November.