x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups set up council to coordinate attacks

A spokesman from the Pakistani Taliban says fighting will be stepped up in March.

ISLAMABAD // The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have set up a five-member council to coordinate attacks in Afghanistan and resolve differences between factions on both sides of the border.

"We have decided to step up attacks in Afghanistan after foreign infidel forces from March," Ehsanullah Ehsan, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said on Monday. He confirmed that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Taliban Movement of Afghanistan announced the establishment of the council through pamphlets distributed in the markets of Miranshah, the main town of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region.

The council was formed after Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's leader, sent a delegation to the Pakistani tribal region to resolve differences between the militant factions.

Mr Omar has remained elusive since the US-led forces invaded Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. US officials suspect he is hiding somewhere in Pakistan.

The council includes representatives from the Haqqani network, which the US blames for some of the most lethal attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan, the TTP, and two other Taliban factions based in Afghanistan.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Haqqani network a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), just weeks before his retirement at the end of September.

Pakistan has denied the charges but has been reluctant to launch an offensive in North Waziristan, saying its army was too stretched as it was already fighting a growing insurgency spearheaded by the TTP.

The formation of the council is likely to widen mistrust between uneasy allies, Islamabad and Washington.

Mr Ehsan denied widespread reports in the Pakistan and foreign media that the TTP had ceased its activities in Pakistan.

"Our jihad against American puppets in Pakistan will continue," he said.

There has been a relative lull in militant attacks in Pakistan in recent weeks, fuelling speculation the Pakistani government was holding secret talks with the insurgents.

The Pakistani government and militants have denied any talks were in progress.

But analysts say militants could exploit the lull in fighting in Pakistan and would concentrate on launching more attacks in Afghanistan.

"The militants will not sit idle. If there is no fighting or less fighting going on in Pakistan then they will go to Afghanistan and there will be more fighting there," Rahimullah Yusufzai, an Peshawar-based expert on militant affairs. "It means there will be more problems for relations between Pakistan and America."

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