If Hakeemullah Mehsud is dead, it is good news for Pakistan. If his deputy Qari Hussein Mehsud is also no more, it is even better. This would mean fatal a triple blow to the vicious, al-Qaeda affiliated Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Confusion still surrounds at to – if at all – whether both Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussein were killed in the Jan 14th strike or in the one on Jan 17th. The remoteness of the area and the absence of adequate ground intelligence in Waziristan usually make the verification of such high-profile casualties very difficult.
Although the TTP sent out an audiotape purportedly by Hakeemullah Mehsud on Jan 17th, it helped little in clearing doubts as to whether he was alive at all. The mere fact that instead of a video message only a brief audio message came out of South Waziristan also fueled speculation that Hakeemullah was probably dead.
Yet, if the both Hakeemullah and Hussein don’t exist any more, this would denote the third serious most blow to the organization since August 5, 2009, when a Hellfire missile fired off a CIA-operated Reaper brought an abrupt end to the diminutive and stocky founder of TTP – Baitullah Mehsud. Similar strikes mid January in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan put down Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy Qari Hussein Mehsud.
Shaktoi village sits on the border between North and South Waziristan and most TTP militants apparently were using this remote area as their sanctuary after the military operation in October last year evicted them from their strongholds in south Waziristan, particularly the villages of Makeen, Laddah, and Sararogha.
The TTP had turned into an icon of a sustained and brutal assault on the interests of Pakistan, its institutions and people. The organization was behind almost all the 87 suicide attacks that struck Pakistan during 2009 and killed over a thousand, most of them between October and December. These attacks appeared to be a reprisal for the killing of Baitullah Mehsud.
Who was Hakeemullah Mehsud?
Hakeemullah Mehsud, 28, rose to prominence for his terrorist activities out of the Khyber and Orakzai tribal agencies. He also spearheaded the anti-Shia campaign in the neighboring Kurram agency, where the presence of TTP zealots was wreaking havoc on the Shia minority Pasthoons.
During an interaction with journalists he had invited in November 2008, Hakeemullah had named President Asif Ali Zardari and his allies among his targets for what he called “their pro-America policies.”
Hakeemullah, over six feet tall, radiated a certain charisma, and had also been threatening to cut off supplies to American forces in Afghanistan if U.S. drone attacks continued. He had also driven one of the two American Humvee military vehicles his group had hijacked in Khyber Agency a few days earlier.
Hakeemullah suspected that Pakistan’s central and provincial governments were out to “break up Pakistan in collaboration with the US,” and thus believed attacking the interests of these governments was legitimate.
That is why Hakimullah’s men not only unleashed a string of vicious attacks on the US-NATO military cargo vehicles destined for Afghanistan, particularly between November 2007 and March 2009, but also carried out several suicide attacks across Pakistan. Hakimullah owned up many of these attacks, which involved TTP-trained bombers.
Hakimullah, who studied in a madrassa for some years but didn’t graduate as a mullah, has been commanding a couple of thousand fighters in Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber agencies but would probably have to rely on Wali ur-Rehman for both manpower and resources to run the TTP in the Waziristan region.
If Hakimullah and Qari Hussein are confirmed dead, that would mark a significant move forward in the war against pro-al Qaeda Pakistani militants.
Firstly, Pakistan’s military establishment, which was the avowed enemy number one of the TTP and also suffered the most at its hands, would most likely rejoice the elimination of Hakimullah’s and Qari Hussein. Both constituted the core of the TTP, which also includes Waliur Rehman, a cousin of Baitullah Mehsud, responsible for the TTP operations in the South Waziristan region.
Secondly, the US military establishment, would also be happy that at least one more al Qaeda facilitator has been put to sleep; about a week after the Dec.30th deadly suicide attack on CIA’s forward base Chapman in eastern Afghanistan, a video aired by Al Jazeera TV showed Hakimullah Mehsud sitting to the left of Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian doctor, who ended up killing seven CIA officials including the base chief Ms.Elizabeth Hansen.
The emergence of the video instantly turned Hakimullah Mehsud into CIA’s prime target because his group had first hosted al-Balawi and then facilitated his onward journey into Afghanistan to hook up with the CIA.
Thirdly, the duo’s death has certainly shaken the TTP to the core; following the disruption it suffered because of the army’s advance into south Waziristan, and arrest of several dozen TTP-trained suicide bombers even from cities such as Islamabad and Peshawar, the organization had relatively little space and sanctuary to plan and train for terrorism.
Fourthly, the TTP had primarily been a Mehsud movement, with almost the entire top tier leadership coming from the Mehsud tribe, historically notorious for high-way robberies, abductions for ransom and mercenary crimes. The issue of succession and preserving the TTP as a lethal terrorist outfit will be a daunting challenge.
Fifth, Qari Hussein’s death (although not confirmed yet) would mean an end to the brain behind the TTP’s terror strategy that also included training of suicide death squads until the Pakistan army swept into South Waziristan Mehsud region, where the maverick militant Baitullah Mehsud had founded the TTP middle of December 2007. Hussein, according to sources privy to the nucleus of TTP, served as the master strategist for the terrorist outfit.
A TTP without Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussein represents yet another golden opportunity for the Pakistan army to intensify its military-intelligence campaign against terrorists operating in the region.
Decapitating terror outfits coupled with precise intelligence-based operations remains the only option to demobilize hundreds of trained suicide bombers and demoralize those misled militants who had been deluding themselves with the thought of subjecting the state of Pakistan to their whims and wishes. In October 2009, the state reversed its physical retreat by wresting its territories in Swat and South Waziristan from terrorists. And the events in 2010 this far offer it with much greater reason to extend its writ as far as possible.