For months, Baitullah Mehsud — the head of the Taliban in Pakistan — was a top target of the CIA and Pakistan’s military, with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. A notorious militant commander who controlled wide areas of Pakistan’s northwest, his organization killed hundreds of security forces and civilians.
On Friday, a senior Taliban commander and the Pakistani government said Mehsud had been killed in the South Waziristan tribal area on Wednesday by a missile fired from an unmanned American aircraft.
Watch the interview: U.S. drone likely killed notorious Taliban leader in Pakistan
Worldfocus contributing blogger Sana Saleem, an editor with Reading Bee magazine, explores how Mehsud’s likely death will impact the war on the Taliban and Pakistanis’ perception of the U.S. and its drone attacks.
“Only jihad can bring peace to the world” said Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s enemy number one, while talking to the BBC in 2007. Mehsud earned the ire of the Pakistani military, people and Western world alike by his version of Jihad. His force structure is known to be very diverse: Including around 12,000 local fighters, many of them belonging to his own Mehsud tribe, and an estimated 4,000 foreign fighters, predominantly Arabs and Central Asians seasoned in the 1980s Afghan jihad. By giving them a cause and a home — in parts of South Waziristan where they were easily accessible to him — Mehsud raised a fanatical army of guerilla warfare. Not to forget his stable of teenage boys — indoctrinated to serve as suicide bombers, thus raising an army of child soldiers.
[…] Mehsud’s growing influence had become a grave concern to Western policymakers, suggesting Pakistan represents the gravest general security threat to the international community — the prospect of al Qaeda being nuclear-armed. With Mehsud down the prospect seems less likely to be attained. At the same time this is entirely dependant on how Baitullah’s death is utilized to further damage the Taliban regime.
The most interesting fact surrounding Baitullah is his death from a drone attack, and if the incident changes the [majority’s] perspective. While speaking in a live show on Dawn, Faraha naz Isphani, Advisor to the President, confessed she will not condemn drones if they have successfully eliminated Baitullah. In the past the secrecy-cloaked drone attacks have been quite notorious. Even though the authorities continued to publicly condemn the drone attacks, many analysts disclosed a mutual agreement. The targeting of Baitullah Mehsud highlights the closely-knitted intelligence networking between the U.S. and Pakistani authorities.
In June, authorities announced they were launching an operation against Mehsud in South Waziristan. Although air strikes began right away, the offensive never went full-scale, even with a well-defined target. In the meantime, the drone attacks increased, claiming to target Mehsud, further raising speculation that the Pakistani authorities were coordinating the drone attacks with Americans. On accounts of drone attacks, many might principally disagree , but after Baitullah’s death a possible change in perspective can not be denied.
Baitullah Mehsud’s death can be considered a significant blow but not a definite one. Al-Qaeda has never been a one man army, many more will vow in Baituallah’s place. But the Taliban will require time to groom a leader that commands the same fear among his tribesmen that made Baitullah an elusive foe. The recent tussle among the Taliban groups has incautiously exposed their weakness. His demise has also managed to shatter the implausible conspiracy theory surrounding his group. The aim now should be to sabotage Baitullah’s legacy.
We must remember that the Waziristan operation was tagged as a “decisive showdown” by the army, and Baituallah’s death is no doubt the curtain raiser. Now that Baitullah is no more, the end seems more realistic and attainable.
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