Sunday, August 09, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud dead in a drone attack - and his successors are now fighting

For Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud has been one of the people who have caused it the most grief. Baitullah was the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the leader of what has been called the Pakistani Taliban. He first became internationally famous when he was blamed for being behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and in an ironic revenge, he was killed by a missile fired by a US operated drone when Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari is the President of Pakistan.
Baitullah was hiding in Waziristan, a rugged and difficult terrain that the Pakistani Army has always been reluctant to attack. This was even when Baitullah was blamed for a majority of the suicide attacks (including huge bomb attacks that made international news) that happened inside Pakistan, and yet he seemed to be always ahead of the Pakistani military. It was only in the recent past that the US operated drones (with their fearful missile launching capability) started striking fear in the hearts of these terrorists. The drone with their video coverage meant that these terrorist leaders always had to be on the move; and it was only recently that the drones also started tracking the Tehrik-i-Taliban; earlier the drones would be attacking the Al-Qaeda leadership hiding out in these remote areas as opposed to taking on the Pakistani Taleban. This had created a divergence between the US and Pakistan since Al-Qaeda was threatening Pakistani interest, while Baitullah was attacking Pakistani interests.
Now, the question is what are the next steps ? With recent reports of his potential successors having indulged in severe infighting and firing at each other, there is an opportunity for the Pakistani Government and military to step in and try to clean up. However, it seems much easier to try and strike a deal, since that would ensure that the hard steps of fighting in a difficult terrain can be avoided (link to article):

On an immediate basis, the Pakistan Army needs to decide whether or not to go ahead with a fully fledged military operation in South Waziristan, the headquarters of the TTP. But before that, Pakistan’s government, army and intelligence agencies will have to undergo some existential angst articulating Pakistan’s absolute stance on militancy. The outcome of that thought process will determine what happens next. The Pakistan Army should not make the mistake of sitting back and hoping that a battle of succession will lead to rampant infighting that will forever fragment the TTP.
The US, meanwhile, has expressed concern that Pakistan will try to negotiate with Baitullah’s successor. After all, reports suggest that Baitullah’s father-in-law Malik Ikramuddin had been in touch with government officials looking to strike a new peace deal. Striking now will indicate a genuine desire to rid Pakistan of militancy. Talking, on the other hand, will suggest that Pakistan is still engaged in a double game.

Past deals with terrorists have always led Pakistan into more trouble, with the terrorist seeing such deals as being reflective of the inability of Governments to fight with them (or of having the stomach to take losses), and using this time to regroup and build up into being a formidable force again. The international community also suspects the intention of the Government when it strikes such deal.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:00 AM