PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani Taliban said on Saturday they would cease their occasional attacks on the Pakistani army in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan and concentrate attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan instead - an announcement possibly designed to head off divisions in the insurgency.
The ceasefire does not apply to the rest of the country, where there are often fierce clashes between the Taliban and security services.
Thousands of Pakistani soldiers are stationed in North Waziristan, a tribal region along the Afghan border.
There have been occasional clashes there between the soldiers and Taliban, but a leaflet issued by Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud ordered those to stop. A senior commander confirmed the pamphlet’s veracity.
“O Mujahideen brothers! As you know, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid are engaged in jihad against the crusaders and infidels, and are supporters of each others in the ongoing holy war,” the pamphlet said.
“The enemy does not want to see us united and disciplined against them and are trying to divide us,” it continued.
The Taliban have formed alliances with a number of other militant groups in North Waziristan who are violently opposed to the Pakistani state.
Some Taliban commanders are divided over whether the Pakistani state or NATO forces are their top target.
Those divisions were laid bare in November by an attempted suicide attack on Mullah Nazir, a top militant commander from the Wazir tribe in South Waziristan. He had signed a peace deal with the Pakistani army but supported attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The attack was widely believed to be the work of rival Taliban commanders, and the Wazir tribe ordered Hakimullah Mehsud’s tribe out of their lands.
Mullah Nazir was killed in a drone strike this month and it is unclear if his successor will continue his policies, or what relationship the Wazir tribe will have with the Mehsud tribe.
Pakistani army officials have also told Reuters that there are tensions between Mehsud and his deputy. The two men recently appeared together in a video to deny the allegations.
The decision to halt attacks against the Pakistani army in North Waziristan could signal the Pakistani Taliban’s intention to help the Afghan Taliban fight U.S.-led NATO forces in the neighboring country, or focus more closely on attacking Western targets inside Pakistan.
Or it could be more specifically aimed at unifying local factions. Mehsud’s statement specifically addressed both foreign fighters and local Taliban.
Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Kevin Liffey