An extremely bloody fight between two rival Islamist militant factions in Pakistan’s Khyber Agency continued today, with each hoping to oust the other from the extremely valuable Tirah Valley, which lies along the border of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. A week of fighting has left 97 people killed and thousands of civilians displaced.
The clash is between a faction of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the local chapter of Ansar-ul Islam (AI). The TTP sees the area as vital to their ability to cross into Afghanistan, but has run afoul of AI in trying to assert those claims.
Though both are Sunni Islamist factions, they have extremely different ideologies, with AI adopting the more moderate Barelvi movement popular in the Indian subcontinent to provide an alternative to rival Lashkar-e Islam (LeI), a group associated more with the Wahhabist teachings popular with Islamists in the Arab world. The TTP is also in the Wahhabist milieu, and has thus found itself unwelcome in AI territory.
While the two sides have fought, the Pakistani military is also carrying out offensives in Khyber and neighboring agencies, and has launched air strikes into the same region. It is unclear from the reports how much of the death toll is associated with Pakistan’s own military, and how much is a function of the TTP-AI fight.