A footpath in Pakistan, near the Afghan border. (CC/Umer Malik)
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Taliban commanders in Pakistan have split away from the main leadership, forming a new group after a dispute about un-Islamic practices and the Pakistani Army's offensive into the group's safe havens.
Pakistan's former spy chief, Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, said the commanders separated because of disagreements about whether the umbrella group of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), should be fighting the Pakistani Army in that country's tribal regions.
The split occurred along tribal lines, with commanders from the Wazir and Mehsud tribes splitting from TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah, who is from the Yusufzai tribe.
The new group is called Jamaatul Ahrar, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced in a statement. The Wazir and Mehsud tribes that make up the new group had formed the bulk of the Pakistani Taliban's forces.
"Most of the TTP commanders have become members of Jamaatul Ahrar. Not only that but relatives and close family members of the late TTP chiefs Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud have also joined us," Ehsan said, referring to previous Taliban commanders killed in battle before Fazlullah took leadership.
Jamaatul Ahrar has pledged allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has advocated for using Pakistan as a rest and refit area to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan, rather than a theater in which to engage the Pakistani military.
In June, the Mehsud faction had made it clear they wanted to separate from the TTP over "un-Islamic practices." Over the course of the summer, Pakistan military's offensive in North Waziristan has caused hundreds of Taliban deaths.
Gul said that the split will weaken the Taliban even more. "Fazlullah wants to fight the Pakistan Army but Commander Sajna does not want to take it on. Now the Wazirs and Mehsuds are not fighting [the army]...Strategically, Pakistan wins," he said.
Fazullah's forces are now believed to be isolated in Afghanistan's Kunar province.