ISLAMABAD/DERA ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTAN— Pakistan-based Taliban sacked their spokesman on Tuesday for making remarks that angered their Afghan allies, in a move highlighting efforts to patch up divisions within the increasingly fractured insurgency.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP], formed in 2007, is an umbrella group uniting various militant factions operating in Pakistan's volatile northwestern tribal areas along the porous border with Afghanistan.
Any further divisions within the movement are likely to weaken the Afghan Taliban's fight against Western forces there, making it more difficult to recruit young fighters and disrupt safe havens in Pakistan used by Afghan militants.
The Pakistani Taliban announced the dismissal of Ehsanullah Ehsan - an outspoken and prominent figure close to TTP's top brass - in a pamphlet distributed by militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
“He has made comments that have raised the danger of divisions between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban,” according to the pamphlet.
“The Taliban are our foundation and [Afghan Taliban leader] Mullah Omar is our supreme leader. That is why, from today, Ehsanullah Ehsan is no longer our spokesman.”
One TTP commander told Reuters the Afghan Taliban were incensed when Ehsan told a local newspaper that U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Doha would have no effect on the TTP, suggesting that the two movements were “totally different”.
“After Ehsan's damaging statements, the Afghan Taliban asked us not to use their stationery or their flag,” he said by telephone from North Waziristan. “This is unacceptable for us.”
Ehsan was replaced by Sheik Maqbool, a man who is considered close to the Afghan Taliban and has spent much of his time since 2007 in Afghanistan.
But Ehsan's sacking also could signal yet another chink in the armor of the Pakistani Taliban itself, which last month lost its second-in-command, Wali-ur-Rehman, in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, a militant stronghold.
The Pakistani movement has long struggled to formulate a unified set of goals, with some factions focusing on staging attacks against domestic military and civilian targets, and others calling for deeper involvement in the Afghan cause.