Q. There are conflicting news about the death of Baitullah Mehsud. What’s your opinion? Do you think he is dead or still alive?
A. I think he is dead, as now two responsible Pakistani government officials, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi have confirmed this publicly. It is true that the leader of Taliban leader was killed some days ago in a US drone attack along with his second wife and father-in-law in South Waziristan. However, the news about infighting within the Taliban leadership following his death is still unconfirmed.
Q. What do you think will be the future of Taliban movement after Baitullah’s death?
A. Without any doubt, the death of Baitullah has rendered a mortal blow to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. For the past few years, he had emerged as an unrivalled leader of the movement, claiming responsibility for a number of spectacular terrorist attacks in the country. Everything in the movement seemed to move around his leadership and personality.
However, this may not have been the actual story within the Taliban movement, if the news we are getting now about the war of succession following his death are proven true. Reports suggest that two of his possible successors Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali Ullah were killed in an exchange of fire during a Shoora meeting meant to choose his successor. If this were the case, then Baitullah’s leadership of Taliban was not due to his charisma or populism but because of his coercive and terrorist hold within the movement.
Q. So, do you think the threat from Taliban terrorism in Pakistan will recede now?
A. As I said before, Baitullah’s death will make a lot of difference, so will be the infighting among his successors. However, at the same time, we should not under-estimate the threat from Taliban terrorism in post-Baitullah period. Sometime, the elimination of top leadership of a guerrilla or terrorist organization makes the task of counter-insurgency or security forces easier. However, there remains a possibility that the anarchy within the Taliban movement following Baitullah’s death may make this task more difficult. This is because targeting an organization knitted well around a single leader is easier than a network of terror groups led by different leaders vying for power in a terror wave.
Q. Do you foresee greater cooperation between Pakistan and America, especially because Pakistan’s Enemy Number One is killed by a US drone?
A. I have always maintained that despite Pakistan’s public condemnation of drone attacks, there existed some tacit understanding between Islamabad and Washington on the issue of drone attacks. In fact, for some months, our government had stopped condemning them. This would only mean that, in recent months, Pakistan and the United States might have been sharing intelligence for possible use in drone strikes in South Waziristan, which might have been a crucial factor in hunting down Baitullah.
What I can say is that after Baitullah’s death through a drone attack, there might be greater acceptance for the drone attacks in Pakistani public opinion, which has been quite critical of the issue before. I say this because public opinion in the country has also shifted heavily against Taliban and their terrorism in recent months. So, anything that helps the country eliminate the Taliban threat will be welcome, even if it has an American label on it.