Blow to Taliban terrorism?
January 20, 2012
TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on January 12. He has cheated death twice in the past—for similar claims were made on the eve of Baitullah’s murder in 2009 and in its aftermath. This time, his killing is being confirmed by security officials monitoring wireless radio communication among TTP members after the drone strike. For its part, TTP has denied Hakeemullah’s death.
However, for argument’s sake, if we presume the TTP leader has finally met his fate, then his elimination does cause a severe blow to Taliban terrorism campaign in Pakistan. He had assumed the leadership of TTP after Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in 2009. Baitullah himself, after assuming the terrorist entity’s leadership in December 2007, had orchestrated a terrorist spree across the country in response to Pakistani security operation on the Red Mosque earlier in that year. The country’s major cities and towns saw recurrent instances of spectecular terrorist activity until Baitullah’s death.
Hakeemullah, after taking over TTP command, not only continued the terrorist campaign from where Baitullah had left, but also introduced newer tactics—one, by linking it up with the Afghan Taliban terrorist movement in Afghanistan; and, two, by sponsoring terrorist activities even beyond the region. For instance, Faisal Shehzad, who tried to conduct a potentially disastrous terrorist operation in New York City in 2010, was trained by TTP under Hakeemullah’s leadership. Hakeemullah also proudly claimed responsibility of an attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan by a Jordanian doctor, whom had had personally dispatched to the base from the tribal areas.
Hakeemullah’s death weakens the TTP as an organization, which has already faced pressure on the issue of leadership succession, at least once reportedly. On the eve of Baitullah’s death, Pakistani security officials had claimed rifts among TTP leaders such as Wali-ur-Rehman, Qari Hussain, and Malvi Faqir Mohammad, who did not want the party leadership to fall in the hands of a relatively younger person such as Hakeemullah, Baitullah’s cousin. Recently, Malvi Faqir Mohammad, who is also the deputy leader of TTP, also claimed publicly that Taliban were in talks with the Pakistani government. Interior Minister Rehman Malik had made similar claims before.
So, one obvious outcome of Hakeemullah’s death may be an increasing willingness on the part of Taliban for a negotiated outcome of their hitherto militant campaign. Given his inherently offensive and uncompromising nature, and propensity for violence and terrorism, Hakeemullah could not be expected to dissuade the TTP from negotiating peace with the Pakistani state and government leadership. If both sides are ready for peace, then this liberates the country’s security apparatus and wider population from the death and fear that they have experienced in the last few years.
Unlike Afghanistan, however, Pakistan is an established state and has not been at war for the past over three decades. The principal reason why there is insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan is because Taliban represent the majority Pashtun Afghan population, and feel that they are marginalised in the present security, po;uitical and economic structure of the country. This is not the case with Pakistan, where the goals and motivations of the forces of insurgency and terrorism, the TTP in particular, are more ambiguous than specific—ranging from the demand from Sharia rule in Swat to the withdrawal of Pakistani support to the US in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and the tribal region. Given that, what to negotiate with the forces of insurgency and terrorism will, therefore, pose a major challenge for the government.
As for Swat, the organization demanding Sharia, TNSM, is almost fizzled out now—as since the 2009 security operation, the valley has experienced relative peace. Then, in the past nearly two months, particularly since the November 24 NATO operation on a Pakistan’s security post on the Afghan border that killed several of its soldiers, Pakistan has distanced itself from the United States. For its part, Washington has also been cautious in its security ties with the country. There has, for instance been a 55-day halt in US drone strikes, and one strike that reportedly killed Hakeemullah was the first during the period.
That a person who brought so much death and destruction is eliminated in a US drone attack may also soften Pakistani stance on the controversial drone issue, while helping to normalise the two countries’ sordid ties back to normal in the longer run. After all, until the end of 2010, US-Pakistani relations were experiencing a strategic shift, which was subverted by at least three successive instances, including the Raymond Davis issue in January last year, then the killing of Osama bin Laden last May, which was followed by Mike Mullen’s accusation in a Senate hearing about the Haqqani network being a veritable arm of Pakistani intelligence agency.
The November 24 incident eliminated whatever scope there was for bringing US-Pakistani ties to normalcy amid a seriously deteriorating trend earlier in the year. Now, one issue over which growing compatibility in Pakistani, Afghan and American interests can be observed is that of talking to the Taliban. The Afghan Taliban, after negotiating with the US, have announced to establish an office in Qatar. Pakistan has offered to resume dialogue with the Afghan government to facilitate the negotiating process with the Taliban, which was stalled after last year’s killing of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Afghan government’s chief peace envoy.
With a hardline TTP leadership gone, Pakistan’s security establishment and civilian government can concentrate on only bring peace inside the country by holding meaningful parleys with domestic insurgents willing to renounce violence but may also be in a better position to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process with America’s help and under Afghan government leadership. For peace in Afghanistan is must for peace in Pakistan’s borderlands with the war-torn country. If a viable process aimed to achieve such peace begins and moves forwards, then South Asia can at least be freed from a decade-old enigma: that of acting as a principal source for the horrific phenomenon of international terrorism.