The Pakistani Taliban's firing of its deputy chief is a sign of disarray within the militant movement brought about by army operations in its heartland along the Afghan border, a top government official said Tuesday.
The Taliban, a local ally of al-Qaida, has been behind many of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan over the last five years. But its leadership, living along the border with Afghanistan in northwest Pakistan, has been relentlessly targeted by U.S. drones and Pakistani army operations.
The Taliban announced over the weekend that it had fired deputy Maulvi Faqir Mohammad for allegedly holding peace talks with the government. Mohammad has long been said to have had tense relations with Taliban chief Hakimullah Mahsud, who has shown no public indication of compromise with the Pakistani state.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the government in northwest Pakistan, denied any talks had been held with Mohammad, but said the Taliban announcement "clearly shows the differences among Taliban ranks."
He told The Associated Press that Mohammad's ouster was a result of the pressure on the Taliban from army operations.
"The Taliban have lost their control of the tribal areas and are now on the run," he said.
Most analysts agree that the movement, formed in 2008 as umbrella group of militants in the northwest, has lost much of its command and control structure over the last three years. But while extremist violence is down in Pakistan from the highs of 2009, the Taliban and their offshoots are still highly dangerous and claimed responsibility for a series of bloody attacks over the last month.
In December, Mohammed announced the group was in peace talks with the government. But that was denied by other Taliban commanders, who are demanding their hardline version of Islamic law be installed in the country and have embraced an al-Qaida-inspired version of international jihad.
The group trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York City's Times Square in 2010 and is also tied to a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA agents at an Afghan base in 2009.
In January, Pakistani intelligence officials claimed that Mahsud had been killed in a drone strike,
The group denied that at the time, and there has been no evidence or further suggestion that the claim was true.