ISLAMABAD – A leading faction within the Pakistani Taliban split from the umbrella militant organization on Wednesday, a top commander said, underscoring the difficulty the U.S.-allied government will have in negotiating an end to a decade of violence with increasingly fragmented militant groups.
The split came as a result of disagreements with the group's leadership, said Azam Tariq, a key commander of the faction that was earlier reported to have been toeing an independent line over the issue of peace talks with the government. The faction is based in the South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border, the birthplace of the Taliban.
In a statement, he said the South Waziristan branch had differences with the leadership operating under Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah.
He alleged that a criminal element had penetrated the Taliban's central command and been involved in extortion, kidnapping for ransom and other such crimes. He also alleged that the Taliban leadership had been serving the interests of foreign spy agencies, which he neither identified, nor explained.
A spokesman for the militants' central command was not immediately available for comment.
The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made negotiations with the militants a centerpiece of his policy ever since he took power last summer.
The Pakistani Taliban have been fighting against the state in a bid to overthrow the government and install their own harsh brand of Islamic law.
As negotiations with the government got underway, the Taliban refrained from large-scale attacks, but then called off a 40-day cease-fire declared on March 1. They and splinter groups have launched attacks including rocket strikes on army camps and roadside bombs, raising doubts over the utility of talks.
Supporters of the talks argue that negotiations are the only way to end the cycle of violence. Critics say the militants have always used such deals to strengthen their ranks, regroup and strike back with more force.
Associated Press Writer Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.