Pak Taliban commander Azam Tariq killed in Afghanistan

Before becoming an active fighter and joining the Baitullah Mahsud-led Taliban fighters, Raees Khan was a schoolteacher

Mushtaq Yusufzai
Pak Taliban commander Azam Tariq killed in Afghanistan
File photo

PESHAWAR: An important Pakistani Taliban commander Azam Tariq, his son and some other militants were killed by the Nato-backed Afghan special forces in Afghanistan’s Paktika province on Saturday night.

Senior members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) confirmed the death of Azam Tariq, who once served as its spokesman, and termed it a big loss for the splinter Mahsud militant group, headed by Commander Khan Said alias Sajna.

Zeeshan Mahsud, the contact person for Sajna, also phoned reporters using an Afghan SIM to confirm the death of Azam Tariq and his young son Shafiullah. Terming terrorist Azam Tariq a martyr, he greeted the Mahsud tribe and Pakistani Muslims on his martyrdom.

Azam Tariq’s real name was Raees Khan. He belonged to the Mahsud tribe inhabiting South Waziristan where the security forces have been engaged in operations against the militants since 2009. His village was in Barwand Tehsil.

Before becoming an active fighter and joining the Baitullah Mahsud-led Taliban fighters, Raees Khan was a schoolteacher and used to teach Islamic Studies at a state-run school in South Waziristan. He withdrew his salary regularly from the national exchequer despite being a dreaded militant wanted by the law-enforcement agencies in a number of cases of terrorism.

It was after the story appeared in the media that his salary was stopped. It was one of the reasons Azam Tariq didn’t like journalists.The Pakistani Taliban fled South Waziristan and settled in the neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan after Pakistani security forces launched military operations against them in 2009. More militants shifted to Afghanistan when the operation Zarb-e-Azb was undertaken by the military in June 2014 in North Waziristan.

Sajna and his spokesman Azam Tariq had settled in Paktika province close to South Waziristan tribal region.The sources said the special Afghan forces backed by Nato troops in four helicopters raided a compound in Mangalkai area in Birmal where Azam Tariq, his son and other militants were present. Mahsud tribal sources said two drones were flying over the area when the raid took place after 10:00pm. They said an exchange of fire happened between the two sides until the operation ended at 4:00am on Sunday.

One report said seven persons were killed in the incident. They included Azam Tariq, his son, two other Mahsuds and three Wazir tribesmen from the Madakhel tribe from North Waziristan. The last-named three were stated to be militants from the faction headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

However, Mahsud sources said 10 persons were killed in the incident. There was no word about the casualties suffered by the Afghan forces or the foreigners involved in the raid. The Afghan officials had initially announced that al-Qaeda and Haqqani network militants were targeted and killed in the attack, but it later turned out that all those slain were Pakistani Taliban militants.

Azam Tariq was considered an influential figure in the militant circles when the TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud and his close aides Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rahman were alive. Azam Tariq was close to Sajna, who at the time was affiliated with the group led by Waliur Rahman, a rival of Hakimullah Mahsud. Subsequently, Sajna became involved in a bitter dispute with Shahryar Mahsud, another factional leader of Mahsud militants in the TTP.

—Originally published in The News