The death(?) of Baitullah Mehsud
Lost all train of thought while writing the post below as have just seen reports emerging on TV that a fight has broken out during the TTP shoora to elect a new commander between two groups within the TTP- led by Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud – and that several leaders have been killed. Pakistan Television is reporting that both Hakimullah and Wali have been killed. Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister has said that the fight actually took place yesterday and that either one of the men have been killed.
Is he dead, or isn’t he? That question shrouded over Pakistan yesterday, as news channels, reporters and security officials tried to figure out whether Baitullah Mehsud, the man with the $5 million prize on his head had been killed in a US drone strike or not. The uncertainty still hovers despite the Pakistani Government and security officials providing confirmations, but its been thrown into disarray because there have been several conflicting reports about whether Mehsud is dead or not. The strongest of these has come from Hakimullah Mehsud, said to be in the running for the job of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan commander, who told reporters:
Hakeemullah said Baitullah is alive and continuing to lead the Tehreek. A videotape will be released soon as a proof of this statement, he added.
Hakeemullah said Baitullah has gone into hiding as part of a strategy and he is not in contact with anyone after the drone attack.
Replying to a question about Baitullah Mehsud’s presence in his father-in-law’s house, Hakeemullah said staying at in-laws house is against Pushtoon tradition and that Baitullah was not there at the time of the drone strike. He said meetings of Majlis-e-Shura of Tahreek-e-Taliban are part of the Tehreek’s routine.
A former MNA from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Maulana Meraj, has also claimed Mehsud is alive according to his sources in Waziristan.
While the guessing game continues, news organizations have had a field day with profiles of Mehsud and chronicling his rise to power and the destruction he brought upon this country. Notable acts include taking 200 Pakistani soldiers hostage and organizing suicide attacks in Pakistan including the attack on the police academy in Manawan. He has also been alleged to have organized the fatal attack on former PM Benazir Bhutto, a claim that Mehsud denied.
Now while the efforts to verify Mehsud’s death continue – a task that analysts have deemed as near impossible because the Pakistani government has no control in the area where the drones fired missiles into. Reports have it that the Taliban is now attempting to elect a new leader to take over from Mehsud.
The attack raises a number of questions and brings forth a number of scenarios. If Mehsud is indeed dead, the US will use this as an example of how high-profile targets can be taken out using drones, and will step up drone attacks in the Southern Waziristan region. But Mehsud’s death via a drone attack is not going to help increase their popularity in Pakistan. The usage of drones to fire missiles has been extremely unpopular in the country, and the Government hasn’t helped either by publicly decrying them and privately agreeing to the US strategy. Analysts speaking on Pakistani news channels last night also said that the reason the Government had taken so long to confirm Mehsud’s death is that they didn’t want to give legitimacy to the strategy.
Secondly, irrespective of whether Mehsud is dead or not, the fact remains that there exists an entire parallel – and nefarious – structure that needs to be dismantled. Kill one commander or ten, this is an organization that is extremely well trained, has alot of support from entities like the Al-Qaeda network and will continue to function. More importantly, this is an ideology that needs to be erased but it has been decades in the making. Pakistan needs to figure out how they will manage that uphill task, but this is a problem no one seems to have focused on. Even the Lal Masjid debacle didn’t bring about a movement to erase the roots of the problem: education and a lack of socio-economic development. Baluchistan is another crisis in the making because of similar problems and that insurgency will take another few decades to resolve, if ever.
Thirdly, should Pakistanis be prepared to face a backlash of Mehsud’s death? I feel that the TTP will definitely be looking for revenge, most probably aimed (as the TTP pattern has been) at army and police installations. One wonders what the army strategy is at this point, and if details will be leaked.