Big blow

The reported death of Pakistan Taliban chief Beitullah Mehsud in a US Predator drone attack in the South Waziristan tribal area is a huge blow to the outfit, indeed to an assortment of militant and terrorist outfits operating in Pakistan.A charismatic leader, Mehsud played an important role in bringing and holding together the al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, tribal militants and Pakistani extremists. His death will deprive these outfits with an important unifying figure. Mehsud was Pakistan’s most wanted man. He was behind several terrorist attacks carried out in Pakistan in recent years, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. That he was seen by the US too to be an important person in the jihadi/militant hierarchy in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region is evident from the huge bounty of $5 million that he carried on his head. Many viewed him as a bigger threat than al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Mehsud’s death is a setback for militant outfits in general in the region. Expectations that Mehsud’s death will weaken the Afghan Taliban are rather excessive. While he did provide Afghan Taliban with sanctuary, he restricted his attacks to Pakistan. It was the destabilisation of Pakistan that was his main goal. He thus became an enemy of the Pakistani government and of the Inter-Services Intelligence, earning him and his fighters the tag of bad Taliban in Islamabad. Mehsud’s death, while a major victory, does not spell the end of the Pakistan Taliban as he leaves behind powerful deputies who are still committed to continuing the fight and a large army of around 20,000 fighters. It is likely that his death will be followed by a spurt in revenge suicide attacks in Pakistan.

Mehsud’s death shows that when Islamabad wants to act against terrorism it can do so very effectively. It wanted him eliminated and it went after him. The drone attack that killed him might have been launched and executed by the Americans but it would not have been successful without intelligence input from the Pakistanis. Islamabad has shown that it has the ability to eliminate militants that are hiding in areas over which it has tenuous control. It needs to act now against scores of terrorists like Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafeez Sayeed, who are operating in public and with ISI support. It needs to act against all terrorists to successfully eliminate terrorism.

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