Hakimullah Mehsud, the vicious leader of Pakistani Taliban, is again reported to have been killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on January 12. He did survive a strike in January 2010. And, like before, his killing is being claimed by Pakistani security officials monitoring wireless radio communication among Taliban fighters after the sand drone strike. The spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has denied the said claim, a stand they may be as untrue as was taken after the death of Osama bin Laden last May.
Hakimullah had assumed the leadership of TTP after his cousin Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in August 2009. Baitullah, after assuming the terrorist entity’s leadership in December 2007, had orchestrated a terrorist spree across the country in response to Pakistani security operation on the Red Mosque earlier in that year. The country’s major cities and towns saw recurrent instances of spectacular terrorist activity until his death.
Hakimullah, after taking over the TTP command, not only continued the terrorist campaign from where Baitullah had left, but also linked the terrorist entity more closely with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. This meant that TTP, whose focus was on conducting terrorism only inside Pakistan, saw expanding its terrorist mission to Afghanistan and beyond. Faisal Shehzad, who tried to conduct a potentially disastrous terrorist operation in New York City in May 2010, allegedly received terrorist training from TTP in South Waziristan by TTP.
Earlier in December 2009, Hakimullah had also proudly claimed responsibility for directing an attack on a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, by a Jordanian doctor and spy Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, whom he had personally dispatched to the base from the tribal areas. On the eve of this event, he had also claimed to have dispatched thousands of TTP fighters to Afghanistan.
Dissensions in TTP Ranks
Hakimullah’s death will cause significant blow to Pakistani Taliban’s terrorism campaign. However, even if he survives another drone attack, TTP’s future as an umbrella organization of various Taliban groups in Pakistan’s tribal region may continue to hang in the balance, particularly due to growing instances of factional dissension.
On the eve of Baitullah’s death, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had claimed rifts among TTP leaders such as Wali-ur-Rehman, Qari Hussain, and Malvi Faqir Mohammad, who reportedly did not want the party leadership to fall in the hands of a relatively younger person such as Hakeemullah. In fact, Maulvi Faqir, the organization’s deputy leader from Bajaur Agency, had then initially declared himself as its new leader.
The trouble within the TTP subsided for a while after a Taliban Shura consisting of various TTP factional leaders chose Hakimullah as Baitullah’s successor. However, later, Maulvi Faqir announced the creation of Ittehad Taliban to distance himself from TTP and place himself in a more favourable light with the Pakistani Government. Last month, he confirmed an earlier disclosure by the Pakistani government that it was having a dialogue with the Taliban.
Other fissures within the TTP have also emerged during Hakimullah’s leadership. Two of its factions, one led by Wali-ur-Rehman and another led by Naimat Mehsud, had reportedly distanced themselves from the TTP command, due to Hakimullah’s close ties with al-Qaeda. The same factor had led Maulvi Nazir’s faction in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s group in North Waziristan to side with Pakistani security forces while they operated against TTP in South Waziristan from October 2009 onwards. Last year, the Haqqani Network also decided to cut off links with Hakimullah, whose fighters have been at war with a Taliban faction in Kurram agency led by commander Fazal Saeed Haqqani.
Earlier this month, a newly created five-member Taliban Shura, with representation from these various dissenting factions, did decide to prevent kidnapping for ransom and unlawful killings. However, the core causes of their earlier dissentions remain unaddressed. TTP’s terrorism campaign across Pakistan has also overtime receded due to growing pressure from Pakistani security forces and heightened state security arrangements to prevent terrorism in major cities and towns. Serious deterioration in US-Pakistan relations in recent months also means the Taliban cannot justify terrorism inside Pakistan on the basis of its government’s close alliance with America.
Talking to Taliban
An obvious outcome of Hakimullah’s death may be an increasing willingness on the part of Taliban for a negotiated outcome of their hitherto militant campaign. Given his inherently offensive and uncompromising nature, and propensity for violence and terrorism, Hakimullah could not be expected to dissuade the TTP from negotiating peace with the Pakistani state and government leadership. If both sides are ready for peace, then this liberates the country’s security apparatus and wider population from the death and fear that they have experienced at the hands of Taliban terrorists in the last few years.
Unlike Afghanistan, however, Pakistan is an established state and has not been at war for the past over three decades. The principal reason why there is insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan is because Taliban represent the majority Pashtun Afghan population, and feel that they are marginalised in the present security, political and economic structure of the country. This is not the case with Pakistan, where the goals and motivations of the forces of insurgency and terrorism, the TTP in particular, are more ambiguous than specific—ranging from the demand from Sharia rule in Swat to the withdrawal of Pakistani support to the US in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and the tribal region. Given that, what to negotiate with the forces of insurgency and terrorism may still pose a major challenge for the government.
As for Swat, the organization demanding Sharia, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariyat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), is almost fizzled out now—as, since the 2009 security operation, the valley has experienced relative peace. Then, in the past nearly two months, particularly since the November 26 NATO operation on a Pakistan’s security post on the Afghan border that killed several of its soldiers, Pakistan has distanced itself from the United States. For its part, Washington has also been cautious in its security ties with the country. There has been nearly an eight-week hiatus in US drone strikes, before one such attack on January 10 reportedly killed an al-Qaeda operative in North Waziristan.
Relations with America
That a person who brought so much death and destruction is eliminated in a US drone attack may also soften Pakistani stance on the controversial drone issue, while helping to normalise the two countries’ sordid ties back to normal in the longer run. After all, until the end of 2010, US-Pakistani relations were experiencing a strategic shift, which was subverted by at least three successive instances, including the Raymond Davis issue in January last year, then the killing of Osama bin Laden last May, which was followed by Mike Mullen’s accusation in a Senate hearing about the Haqqani network being a veritable arm of Pakistani intelligence agency.
The November 26 incident eliminated whatever scope there was for bringing US-Pakistani ties to normalcy amid a seriously deteriorating trend earlier in the year. Now, one issue over which growing compatibility in Pakistani, Afghan and American interests can be observed is that of talking to the Taliban. The Afghan Taliban leadership, after covertly negotiating with the US during 2011, has announced to establish an office in Qatar. Pakistan has offered to resume dialogue with the Afghan government to facilitate the negotiating process with the Taliban, which was stalled after last year’s killing of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Afghan government’s chief peace envoy.
With a hardline TTP leadership gone, Pakistan’s security establishment and civilian government can concentrate on bringing peace inside the country by holding meaningful parleys with domestic insurgents willing to renounce violence but may also be in a better position to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process with America’s help and under Afghan government leadership. For peace in Afghanistan is must for peace in Pakistan’s borderlands with the war-torn country. If a viable process aimed to achieve such peace begins and moves forwards, then South Asia can at least be freed from a decade-old enigma: that of acting as a principal source for the horrific phenomenon of international terrorism.
The commentary can be accessed at weeklypulse.org