One of the truly nasty terrorists in the world has met his end. Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a precision drone strike at his compound in North Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s untamned tribal areaa.
Meshud was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis in suicide attacks, as well as terrorist attacks outside of Pakistan.
Mehsud was killed in a village outside Miran Shah when multiple missiles slammed into a compound just after a vehicle carrying the militant commander arrived. The other militants killed were identified as Mehsud’s cousin, uncle and one of his guards. The identity of the fourth militant is not yet known.
Mehsud gained a reputation as a merciless planner of suicide attacks in Pakistan. After taking over as the Pakistani Taliban’s leader, he tried to internationalize the group’s focus.
He’s believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan and a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square, as well as assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and members of security forces.
Mehsud was on the U.S. most-wanted terrorist lists with a $5 million bounty.
He also increased coordination with al-Qaida and Pakistani militants, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and funded the group’s many attacks by raising money through extortion, kidnapping and bank robbery.
“This is a serious blow to the Pakistani Taliban which may spark internal fractures in the movement,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and adviser to the Obama administration who helped craft the agency’s drone campaign.
“Since the Taliban are a key al-Qaida ally it will be a setback for them as well,” said Riedel, who now runs the Washington-based Brookings Institution’s intelligence project.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was elected in part on promises to bring peace to the country through negotiations instead of more military operations. On Thursday, Sharif had said talks with the militants were underway.
A senior Pakistani security official said a delegation was to travel Saturday to North Waziristan to convey a message from the government about starting the talks. But the official said the delegation would now not be going.
He said the delegation contained no one serving in the government, but refused to share details about its membership.
Mehsud’s death will complicate efforts by the government to negotiate a peace deal. After a drone strike killed the group’s No. 2 in May, the Tehreek-e-Taliban fiercely rejected any idea of peace talks and accused the government of cooperating with the U.S.
Pakistani officials regularly criticize the attacks as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, but the government is known to have supported some strikes in the past.
The Pakistani government does not have a good track record when it comes to making “peace” with the terrorists who hide out in the Northwest Frontier Provinces. There have been at least 3 major deals signed with al-Qaeda and its offshoots that have fallen apart for one reason or another since 2004. A 2008 agreement with the Taliban to halt attacks in the Swat Valley is illustrative:
Within days of inking the peace deal, disagreements arose. The Taliban refused to surrender their arms as stipulated in the agreement, demanding that the government first withdraw troops from the valley. They also demanded the release of Taliban prisoners held by Pakistan. Within a month, the militants began attacking government officials and installations, as well as destroying electronics shops and schools. This caused the government to launch the military operation Rah-e-Haq.
This was followed by some of the worst violence to hit Swat, as schools were destroyed, police stations and army convoys attacked, and civilians kidnapped and beheaded. The violence only stopped when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government agreed to implement the Shari`a-based Nizam-e-Adl regulation in Swat on February 15, 2009. This led to Fazlullah declaring a cease-fire.
Even that agreement, however, failed in a month, and Swat suffered another bout of violence. Emboldened by the government’s concessions, the Fazlullah-led Taliban overran Mingora in May 2009, the commercial center of the Swat Valley, paralyzing the government. The Taliban then pushed into neighboring Buner and Shangla districts, only 60 miles from Pakistan’s capital city. The Taliban advance toward Islamabad rang alarm bells among the government and the military, and caused Pakistan to launch a decisive military operation against Maulana Fazlullah and his fighters. Within two months of the major military operation, Maulana Fazlullah fled the Swat Valley, and many of his commanders were either arrested or killed.
I don’t think it was an accident that just as the Pakistani government was preparing for another round of peace negotiations that we blew up Meshud and his compatriots. And despite their protestations, the Pakistani government itself may feel some relief that their political promise to open negotiations with the Taliban can now be put on hold.
No doubt the Taliban will choose another terrorist leader who is equally violent as Meshud. But disrupting the chain of command and forcing the Taliban’s leadership to change their focus from killing people to choosing a new leader can’t be all bad.