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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The king is dead

Baitullah Mehsud,leader of the self-styled Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP),has finally been confirmed dead by the new leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

Written by Ejaz Haider |
August 28, 2009 2:55:57 am

Baitullah Mehsud,leader of the self-styled Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP),has finally been confirmed dead by the new leader Hakimullah Mehsud. Earlier,Taliban leaders had repeatedly denied official claims that BM had been killed in the August 5 Predator strike even after the captured Maulvi Umar,erstwhile spokesperson of the TTP,had informed interrogators that BM was indeed dead.

Between Hakimullah’s ascension to the TTP throne and BM’s removal from the scene had entered Faqir Mohammad,the Taliban leader from Bajaur who has been on the run since the Frontier Corps conducted the operation in that Agency. In an oblique manner,Faqir,who took over as acting head of the TTP,confirmed BM’s death when he said that he (Faqir) was taking over because BM “is very ill”.

One thing is certain,confirmed both by intelligence sources and reporters on the beat: the TTP is in disarray. There was a power struggle after BM’s killing with Faqir Mohammad,Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud vying for the crown. The government had also insisted that Wali and Hakimullah were dead,killed in a shootout during a meeting to decide the contentious leadership issue.

However,Wali and Hakimullah apparently called up TV channels on consecutive days and denied that there was a shootout or they were dead. The government’s riposte was that calls were made by people impersonating the two TTP leaders.

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Even if they are not dead,and the Hakimullah who has taken over is not the twin brother of a dead Hakimullah,as Interior Minister Rehman Malik continues to claim,there is enough evidence to suggest that the TTP is on the backfoot and Mullah Omar and the Al Qaeda were,and are,trying to stitch up differences through Sirajuddin Haqqani to retain the TTP’s cohesion and make it operationally viable again.

Does this mean the TTP is down and out?

Down it might be,but it is far from out. It has had to suffer reverses in Swat,Buner,Lower Dir and Bajaur. Drone attacks have also signalled that aerial platforms can be effectively used to take out the Taliban leadership even in the craggy mountain redoubts where groundbased extraction operations can be a nightmare. Its cadre is more demoralised today than they were only two months ago,when they could,and did,strike at will,mixing insurgent tactics with terrorism in a deadly and fearsome combination.

To that extent,the offensive that began in Lower Dir in the northwest of Swat and in Buner in the south,and then went into the Upper and Lower Swat Valleys along three axes has been successful. The use of force has very largely translated into utility of force,not easy in irregular warfare. But South Waziristan remained and that’s where the centre of gravity lay. The COG has been hit and BM’s death is the prize.

But even bigger success has come in the cities of Pakistan where intelligence agencies have been able to bust many cells the TTP was using for terrorist strikes. This has helped bring down the number of terrorist incidents — thus easing public pressure on the government,which can now focus on the remote areas of FATA.

The war has been taken to the adversary but more needs to be done still. Swat,Buner and the adjoining areas are now entering the second,more crucial phase. The operation has created the space for the government to show its writ. Now,political activity has to begin; the capacity of the civil administration to maintain law and order has to be increased; and,most importantly,the people of the area have to be given a sense of community so they can make the extremists irrelevant.

The army would remain deployed to the area for another year and ensure that the Taliban do not reorganise. Meanwhile,the two Waziristan Agencies have to be dealt with because other areas are the periphery of this war. BM had forced the army into multiple engagements on the periphery. The government,in reactive mode until now,has regained the initiative.

Nonetheless,it’s too early to raise the glass to victory. There will be reprisals. The Taliban,as before,will change tactics to try to wrest the initiative away from the security forces. The real problem is tackling terrorism in the cities. On the plus side the intelligence agencies have now developed much better techniques to both pre-empt attacks and track down the perpetrators when they do manage to strike.

Much would also depend on how the political situation in the country unfolds and whether the opposition allows the government to remain focused on the job at hand. Political instability could be a spoiler.

The writer is op-ed editor of ‘Daily Times’,consulting editor of ‘The Friday Times’,Lahore. The views expressed are his own

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