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Pakistan: Mehsud’s Death Restores Army Presence in Tribal Region | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Several months prior to his assassination, the former leader of the Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, sent several messages to Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Commander of the Pakistani army, requesting negotiations be started in order to reach a ceasefire. However the bearer of these messages, former Pakistani MP, Shah Abdul Aziz, was arrested, and the military sent a response to Mehsud saying that his time was up, and that warrants had already been issued for his arrest.

On 5 August, Mehsud – who suffered from diabetes – was with his second wife, protected by seven or eight guards who were stationed on the rooftop of the house, when at 3 am local time an unmanned US drone fired rockets at this target killing everybody inside.

Mehsud’s death was confirmed by his rival in southern Waziristan Haji Turkistan Bhittani, as well as by the Pakistani government, and the Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan group which Mehsud was a founding member of. All reports indicate that Mehsud was killed in the attack, and if he was still alive, why would the Shura Council [of this group] be meeting to choose his replacement?

There are also rumors that Wali Rahman and Mufti Noor Wali were killed in the attack, meaning that nobody knows who will be the next leader of Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan. Previous leaders of the Taliban in Pakistan were all killed, such as Nek Muhammad Wazir, who was killed by an unnamed US drone in Waziristan in 2004, not to mention Abdullah Mehsud, who was killed in a firefight with Pakistani forces in Baluchistan in 2005.

Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the 2001 US invasion, Arab Afghan leaders fled the country southern Waziristan, where they began to use their money and ideology to radicalize a generation of Pakistani’s. A Pakistani journalist explained what happened saying that high ranking members of the Al Qaeda in Pakistan movement such as Khalid Habib and Abu Laith al-Libi, embraced Baitullah Mehsud, providing him with weapons and vehicles. More importantly the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Tohir Yuldashev [To’hir Yoldosh] placed 2,500 of his own soldiers under Mehsud’s command. The Uzbek leader would become an ideological inspiration for Baitullah Mehsud.

After an attempt was made on the life of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani government launched a crackdown on Pakistani jihadist movements. Many members of such movements took refuge in the tribal region where they were granted protection by well-known Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, and Baitullah Mehsud. During this period Mehsud became on of the most influential figures in the tribal region. By 2007, Mehsud was sending hundreds of fighters to the Afghan Helmand province to help the Taliban forces in their fight against the Western coalition. Mehsud also provided suicide bombers to Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and used extortion as a means to raise funds.

Baitullah Mehsud’s assassination could not have taken place without accurate security information regarding his whereabouts, and the Pakistani authorities have such information due to their agents who are on the ground in this region. Mehsud was a high priority target for the Pakistani forces due to his continuous operations that targeted Pakistani forces. However Mehsud was not a direct threat to any US forces, although his attacks on the army decreased the Pakistani forces dedication in helping US forces in Afghanistan, as a result of this unmanned US drones targeted the problem.

There can be no doubt that this operation took place in coordination with the Pakistani government, with the Pakistani side believing that this operation serves its own interest, and the US side believing that this in turn increases cooperation and coordination between Washington and Islamabad. Washington needs Pakistani support for other US operations that will target Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, as well as operations taking place in Afghanistan. Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, General A. McChrystal, recently told the Wall Street Journal that the Taliban are achieving some victories in Afghanistan, he described them as a “very aggressive enemy” and said “we’ve got stop their momentum, stop their initiative.”

It does not appear that the US is aware of [how to deal with] the Taliban, and if any State is aware of the dimensions of this movement, it is Pakistan, which supported the Taliban in Afghanistan for a long time. This puts Pakistan in a special position with regards to desperately needed security information on the structure of the Taliban, its operations, and its location.

According to an American source, the majority of this information is available to the Pakistani Intelligence Service [ISI], and he said that “if the security information that led to the death of Baitullah Mehsud came from this agency, this indicates that the agency has become more willing to share the information that it knows.”

This change may be due to the [suicide] operation undertaken by Mehsud’s forces against the ISI headquarters in Lahore in May 2008 [resulting in 35 deaths]. This operation may have caused those in the ISI who were previously sympathetic towards the Taliban cause to change their hard-line position.

The American source added “the assassination operation against Baitullah Mehsud neutralized a major threat to Pakistani stability, and will allow the Pakistani army to alter its strategy from defense to attack and respond to the Pakistani Taliban.” However the source also warned that “Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan has, until now, been limited. Pakistan consider the Taliban in Afghanistan to be an investment should they want to recover their influence there, it therefore refuses to weaken this investment…by providing security information to the Americans.”

However there are a number of Taliban factions in Afghanistan who have no links whatsoever to Pakistan, but who are rather affiliated to Al Qaeda. The US wants Pakistani aid in its fight against Al Qaeda, as well as help in the war in Afghanistan. The US would like Pakistan to provide whatever information it can on Al Qaeda and the Taliban factions affiliated to the movement, whilst at the same time not destabilizing its pre-existing relationship with the Taliban factions that it has links to, as it has long invested in these factions and therefore refuses to abandon them.

My source added “Following the death of Mehsud, Pakistan will try to strike a balance between doing what is necessary for the country…and providing security information to the US on members of the Taliban who are affiliated to Al Qaeda.. This will help in creating a milder Taliban in Afghanistan, whilst also protecting its own security.”

Following this, there is also the possibility of Washington and Islamabad exchanging security information regarding the Taliban that are mutual enemies to both Pakistan and America. However it is unlikely that the Pakistani will agree to give up information on the Taliban that it has ties to.

It is likely that Baitullah Mehsud’s death has weakened the Taliban factions who are hostile to Pakistan, and the country’s security and military forces will use this opportunity to further weaken these factions. These operations will focus on the Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan movement that has previously demonstrated its ability access the Pakistani interior and carry out operations beyond the tribal regions.

The ISI had previously began to secure the support of tribal factions who were unsympathetic to Baitullah Mehsud, such as Maulvi Nazir, who is a tribal leader in southern Waziristan, and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is a tribal leader in northern Waziristan. For a time both these tribal leaders avoided attacking targets in Pakistani, although Bahadur recently took a hostile attitude towards Islamabad and ordered a suicide attack against a military convey that was crossing through Northern Waziristan. This attack resulted in the deaths of 20 Pakistani soldiers and officers. Mehsud’s death may result in the Pakistani forces refocusing their attention on Hafiz Gul Bahadur, however these forces will not target Maulvi Nazir so long as he does not launch any attacks on Pakistani soil.

Now, if reports can be believed and Baitullah Mehsud is indeed dead, he is only the most recent leader of the Pakistani Taliban to be killed, and Pakistani Taliban operations in the regions of Kurram, Khyber, and Orakzai have suffered a great setback because of this. This means that the Pakistani army has begun to regain control of the tribal border region, which will make it difficult for Al Qaeda fighters – especially non-Pakistani and non-Afghan fighters – to remain hidden in this region. .