PESHAWAR -- Already tattered by the counter-insurgency Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) suffered another blow at the weekend with the desertion of six key leaders, officials and security analysts said.
Among the six TTP leaders who laid down their arms late June 18 were the late TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud's brother, Ejaz Mehsud, and his uncle, Khair Muhammad Mehsud.
Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in North Waziristan in November 2013. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has gone on since June 2014.
The six militants surrendered in upper Kurram Agency near the Afghan border, media reported.
They will undergo questioning in Dera Ismail Khan and are likely to undergo rehabilitation at an army rehabilitation centre in Swat, officials said.
The beginning of the end
This latest high-profile surrender by TTP leaders points to the imminent demise of the movement, as its members flee relentless troops by seeking cover in mountains along the Pakistani-Afghan border and by joining other terrorist groups, observers say.
Ejaz and Khair Muhammad Mehsud's surrender signals that the entire Mehsud clan will give up its battle, North Waziristan journalist Safdar Dawar told Central Asia Online.
"It's a big blow symbolically and physically to the TTP," he said.
"[The TTP] will continue to be weakened, as it already is on the verge of elimination," Dawar said.
Many other Mehsuds have left the ranks of TTP leaders, including Sheryar Mehsud, who surrendered in 2014, and Khan Said Sajna, who fled into the arms of the Afghan Taliban but was killed in combat in Afghanistan last November, Dawar said.
"It's an end to the Mehsud Taliban role in the TTP," Dawar continued. "It's a good omen for ... the region. But it's a bad omen for the TTP. The Mehsuds founded the TTP."
Internal rifts within TTP
The TTP is heading rapidly into oblivion, Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah of Peshawar, a former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), said.
"There are internal rifts inside the TTP over its ideology," he said. "Many of the fighters are questioning this unjust war and running away."
"The departure of Hakimullah's family ... is a serious blow and almost ends the Mehsud Taliban rebellion," he said.
To establish peace, rehabilitating the ex-militants will be essential, he said.
Ripple effect hurts other militants
Outside militants now will face difficulties in entering the area, Shah said, noting that in the past the Mehsuds provided logistical and other support to al-Qaeda and other terrorists.
Most Mehsuds have lost their bases in North Waziristan, such as Hakimullah's family, now in Kurram Agency, Shah said. As a result, many of them will surrender, he added.
The disappearance of such strong families from the militancy will help the government establish a stronger grip over the Mehsud tribal region, Shah said.
The surrendering commanders' blood ties to Hakimullah make their act an especially severe blow to the TTP, Prof. Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, head of the Cell for FATA Studies at the University of Peshawar, said.
"It means the support [of the founding family] is gone," he told Central Asia Online.
"The key tribe that fought the state is now in the government's camp," he said.