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Mourning a murderer


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, November 08, 2013


“It is surprising that he would be so missed in death when he was so despised in life,” a British friend based in New York said about Hakimullah Mehsud.

This friend – quite sympathetic to Pakistan’s sufferings in the last decade or so – and many diplomats in Islamabad are amazed at the reactions to the killing of the chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a drone strike last Friday.

Drones are illegal, they say, but equally bad are the militants that they hunt down. The US would not deploy drones if Pakistan would act against those militants, and there are no signs at all that Islamabad or Rawalpindi are moving in that direction.

Many are already amazed that in order to target Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, we are ready to vindicate the two brothers who ran Lal Masjid – despite the fact that they had illegally constructed the entire extension of the complex, held Islamabad hostage for over six months, and attempted to enforce vigilante justice by ransacking video rental stores and rounding up policemen and Chinese citizens – at the behest of people sympathetic to Pakistani auxiliaries of Al Qaeda. In July 2007, before the law-enforcement operation against them, politicians and the media were criticizing the president for not moving against the rebel cleric. But when the army acted, they began a vicious anti-Musharraf campaign accusing him of killing “hundreds of innocent students”.

The same people – driven by political expediency and with little regard for the rule of law – are vindicating Hakimullah Mehsud.

Let us analyze the American action against Hakimullah and the Pakistani reaction in its historical perspective.

Firstly, the military often implied that the CIA deliberately avoided hitting those militants with drones that were targeting Pakistani soldiers and Pakistani interests. With the August 2009 elimination of Baitullah Meshud, the CIA disproved that notion. It then continued to remove any doubts by killing Irfan Mehsud in September 2009, the dreaded suicide-bombing trainer Qari Hussein in October 2010, and TTP South Waziristan leader Waliur Rehman in May 2013. This was in line with the CIA’s conclusion that Al Qaeda and TTP were in a symbiotic relationship, with the latter serving as the facilitator and protector of Al Qaeda operatives (including Arabs, Arab-Africans and Uzbek militants) and their interests in the region.

Hakimullah personally slaughtered the elderly Col (r) Sultan Amir Tarar on camera in 2011, after months of captivity, alleging he was a CIA agent. The colonel was revered by most Afghan Taliban as their trainer and mentor. The ruthless Hakimullah declined all requests for his release.

Secondly, the desperation to jumpstart the peace process in Afghanistan brought ties between the United States and Pakistan back from the brink of breakdown to a more accommodating and collaborating engagement, reflected first in the mid-October arrest of TTP envoy Latifullah Mehsud in Afghanistan. The American media covered the incident, quoting Afghan officials that Latifullah was visiting Afghanistan on the invitation of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which was trying to create some leverage against Pakistan, in line with the Pakistani military’s “deep suspicion”.

American marines practically snatched him from the Afghan security forces because they probably viewed the apparent nexus between NDS and TTP detrimental to its own and Pakistani negotiations with the Taliban. The precise, real-time information on which the CIA moved against the target, suggests a close CIA coordination with assets on ground. The string of information on TTP’s internal power struggle and assessments on the possible successors suggests there might have been institutional collaboration.

Thirdly, TTP commanders have arrogated upon themselves the role of the pious mujahedeen who would Islamize Pakistan. Almost all the print and electronic publications of the TTP’s media wing Umar Media smack of utter contempt for the entire state of Pakistan. From at least three gruesome videos released by them since late 2011, we can draw three clear conclusions. First, that Mullah Omar in Afghanistan remains TTP’s avowed supreme leader, which means the fight in Afghanistan remains the primary driver for the TTP. Second, that Hakimullah Mehsud kept reiterating his resolve to rid Pakistan of the law that the “infidel British” imposed on it and replace it with Sharia. In fact, Hakimullah even spells out two primary objectives of “our great mujahedeen tehrik” – force Pakistan to abolish all contacts and cooperation with the United States, and enforce Sharia in the country, which the video commentary says “is being turned into a fiefdom of Aga Khan, the way Israel stands in the middle of the Arab Muslim world.” Third, that those cooperating with the US are infidels and liable to be executed. This narration is superimposed with images of slain soldiers, and civilians presumed to be Shias and followers of Aga Khan.

Fourthly, the Afghan Taliban described Hakimullah’s death as a great loss of a brave mujahid. That is a wakeup call for all those Pakistanis who used to draw a distinction between Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. It signifies the commonalities among all the gun-toting retrogressive militants who operate under the pretext of Islamization of the society.

Viewed against this backdrop, one must ponder as to whether last week’s drone strike represents a terminal blow to the peace process, or to an organization that has been committed to indiscriminate terrorism across Pakistan. Why would Hakimullah agree to peace if he was a proxy for external forces? His pre-condition that Pakistan should make the US stop drone attacks was proof that he was not interested in the talks. He would have used the time to re-gather, reorganize and re-strengthen his militant group.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk