The Pakistani Taliban are divided in their approach to secure an Islamist state and have even begun attacking each other, an influential US newspaper said even as President Pervez Musharraf held top level meetings to counter their influence along the Afghanistan border.
Pakistan-based Taliban have been hit by internal rifts over attacks on civilians and consequently have begun to turn their guns on one another, The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) said on Monday.
They are "united in their goal, but divided in their methods" where the age-old Pashtun battle code of sparing guests, women and children in a conflict is giving way to indiscriminate killings and suicide attacks, CSM said.
Musharraf on Monday presided over a four-hour meeting to devise a plan that includes beefing up security and organising local people into peace committees.
"The aim is to isolate foreign elements and their local allies," Daily Times said on Tuesday quoting official sources concerned with the plans. The newspaper also carried a detailed CSM report filed by two correspondents from the spot.
It said that militant leader Qari Hussain Ahmad had launched a series of violent attacks throughout Pakistan's tribal belt killing many innocent civilians, but in retaliation, reigning Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud captured 17 of Ahmad's men and threatened to kill them.
"The incident highlights how the Taliban's ideological frontiers have changed as Pakistani militants have regrouped and realigned their allegiances, leading to internecine violence throughout the tribal belt," adds the newspaper.
The reports quoted experts as saying that the Taliban's central leadership in Pakistan was weakening and some factions have proved themselves all too willing to dispense with the ancient Pashtun codes of mercy and restraint - the kind that saw guests, women, and children as off-limits in war.
A university professor from Peshawar told the newspaper that the Pakistani Taliban are not as organised as their Afghan counterparts.
The writ of the Pakistan government is also absent in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), making it an attractive haven for the Taliban and Al- Qaeda, CSM said.
Taliban militants have killed around 150 tribal elders and targeted political agents throughout FATA in recent years. The purpose, as in Afghanistan, is to clean the slate for the advent of full Islamic law.
Two Taliban leaders - Ahmad and Mehsud - claims the report, represent a new generation of Taliban fighters who conduct their operations in Afghanistan from Pakistan and who are increasingly waging a war of militant Islam on Pakistani soil itself.
Recognised as the "Amir" (chief) in North and South Waziristan, Mehsud may seem like an unlikely poster child for moderation. Yet, at least in the public imagination, there remain certain lines not even Mehsud would cross, like killing innocent women and children. Through public acceptance and apparent benevolence, Mehsud has built a power base in the area.
Compared with Qari Hussain Ahmad, Mehsud is a "moderate", whereas the former is said to have carried out most of the beheadings and targeted killings of tribal elders. He also launched a series of attacks against police forces in Tank in March that left many civilians dead, including women and children. His extremist views, residents added, are popular among Arabs, Uzbeks and Afghan fighters.
Mehsud has increasingly taken Ahmad to task for his indiscriminate killings, locals said. The tension finally reached a boiling point on May 31 when Ahmad's followers attacked the Tank residence of Pir Amiruddin Shah, the political agent of Khyber Agency.
The newspaper claims that a power struggle has now ensued to decide both the leadership and the limits of the Taliban's campaign in Pakistan. Although Mehsud's retaliation to the events of May 31 has been swift, tribal elders and residents say Ahmad has effectively undermined Mehsud's rule.