Hakimullah Mehsud, the ‘chief’ of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who had a USD five million US Government bounty on his head, was killed along with four other TTP cadres in a US drone strike in the Dandy Darpakhel area, five kilometres north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on November 1, 2013. Intelligence officials said Hakimullah and his associated were leaving from a meeting at a mosque when the drone targeted their vehicle. Those killed included Abdullah Bahar Mehsud and Tariq Mehsud, both key ‘commanders’ and close aides of the TTP chief.
Hakimullah Mehsud had been declared dead earlier as well, once on January 14, 2010, and again on January 12, 2012, only to resurface on both occasions. This time his death was confirmed by the TTP itself, which had denied his demise in the earlier incidents. Meshud was buried at an unknown location in NWA on November 2, 2013.
Hakimullah Mehsud had succeeded his mentor and clansman, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike on August 5, 2009. Significantly, the TTP had been formed under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud in December 2007. Since then, the group has emerged as the deadliest of all terrorist formations operating within Pakistan.
Since TTP’s formation in December 2007, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Pakistan has recorded at least 43,264 fatalities, out of which 5916 have been claimed by TTP. Of the 2952 major attacks (each resulting in three or more fatalities), 797 have been claimed by the TTP. 86 suicide attacks have also been claimed by TTP out of a total of 301 over the same period. In one of the worst of these attacks, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in Yakka Ghund tehsil of Mohmand Agency in FATA, killing at least 108 persons and injuring another 69 on July 9, 2010. The most recent high fatality attack for which TTP has claimed responsibility was at Parachinar in the Kurram Agency of FATA on July 26, 2013, in which at least 62 persons were killed and another 180 were injured.
TTP also repeatedly targeted International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops operating in Afghanistan. In a major attack on December 30, 2009, TTP militants executed a suicide attack on CIA facilities in Camp Chapman in Afghanistan, in which nine persons were killed and another six were injured. Seven of the dead were Americans working for the CIA. TTP has also claimed responsibility for the failed bombing of Times Square in New York on May 1, 2010.
This is the second significant blow to the TTP within a month, following the capture of senior ‘commander’ Latif Mehsud by US forces in Afghanistan on October 11, 2013. Latif Mehsud had served as a trusted confidante of Hakimullah Mehsud.
Since 2007, several top TTP leaders have been eliminated, the most prominent among them including:
January 3, 2013: Maulvi Nazir, a top ranking TTP ‘commander’, was killed along with 10 other TTP terrorists in a US drone strike in the Sarkundi area of Birmal tehsil (revenue unit) in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA).
May 29, 2013: Waliur Rehman, 'deputy chief' and number two in TTP, was killed along with at least five other TTP terrorists in a US drone strike at Chashma village near Miranshah town of NWA.
October 7, 2010: Qari Hussain Ahmad Mehsud, chief of the group's suicide bombing squad, was killed along with another four TTP terrorists in a drone strike on a terrorist compound in the Khaisoori area of Mir Ali in NWA. He was a cousin of Hakimullah Mehsud.
January 16, 2010: Asmatullah Muaviya, one of the main 'commanders' of TTP’s Punjab chapter, was among 10 persons killed in a US drone strike in SWA.
The drones have also been successful in eliminating the top leadership of al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, most significantly including Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, May 1-2, 2011; Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda ‘second-in-command’, June 4, 2012; Badr Mansoor, al Qaeda's Pakistan chapter ‘commander’, February 9, 2012; Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al Qaeda leader and ‘operational commander’ of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), June 11, 2011; Sangin Zadran, the senior most ‘commander’ of the Haqqani Network, September 5, 2013; Akhtar Zadran, senior ‘commander’ of the Haqqani Network, July 2, 2013; and Badruddin Haqqani, a top ranking ‘commander’ of the Haqqani Network, August 24, 2012.
Evidently, the drones have been the most effective means to take on the top leadership of terrorist outfits operating out of Pakistan. This remains the case despite the strong opposition of the Pakistani political class, under the influence of radical forces, who have argued that the drones have claimed many innocent civilians. Recently, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Masood Khan had argued that civilians suffered “inhumane” deaths and the strikes had “radicalised” public opinion in Pakistan. On October 30, 2013, Pakistan's Ministry of Defence, however, conceded that 317 drone strikes within Pakistan had killed 2,160 Islamist terrorists and 67 civilians since 2008, discrediting claims of overwhelming civilian fatalities. The Ministry also claimed that no innocent civilian had been hit by the drone strikes since January 2012, while more than three hundred terrorists had been neutralized in the strikes.
While the issue of drone strikes continues to be debated, not just in Pakistan, but also in the US and in international fora across the world, the assessment of the impact of the latest incident has more urgent significance. Hakimullah Mehsud's killing is, of course, a major achievement for the Americans, but it is unlikely to affect the TTP capabilities and operations in the long run. TTP's Markazi Majlis-e-Shoora (Central Advisory Committee) has already appointed Khan Syed Mehsud aka Sajna as the new chief, and there is no doubt that he will continue to carry forward the ‘agenda’ of his predecessors. Within TTP, Khan Syed Mehsud is revered for his bravery in the battlefield
Indeed, there is every probability of an escalation of violence within Pakistan in the aftermath of Hakimullah Mehsud's killing, as TTP vows to take revenge for his death. Abu Omar, a TTP ‘commander’ in NWA, thus declared, "Our revenge will be unprecedented." Claiming that the Pakistani Government was "fully complicit" in the drone strike, Omar asserted, "We know our enemy very well."
Hakimullah Mehsud's killing will certainly disrupt the purported 'peace process' between the Pakistani government and the TTP. Indeed, on October 31, 2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced that the process to initiate peace talks with TTP had been started. After Hakimullah Mehsud's killing, however, Federal Minister of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar noted, “We are examining different aspects of this incident. The attack has severely damaged the expected TTP-government talks. We condemn it. I am in touch with the Prime Minister to sort out ways to control the damage. The Americans don’t want peace in Pakistan. We will devise some concrete policy on drone attacks. Pakistan will have to talk to US to seek explanation of its actions from US Ambassador in Pakistan.”
Other political parties have also strongly condemned US drone strikes, and have described the hit on Hakimullah Mehsud as America's effort to sabotage peace talks with TTP. Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, on November 1, 2013, demanded that the Government block NATO supplies going through the country. Imran Khan further asserted that the US drone attack was as a conspiracy to sabotage peace efforts. Earlier, on October 31, 2013, Imran Khan had issued a warning that his party would block the NATO supply line if the US executed any drone strikes against TTP. His party is set to table resolutions in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly and National Assembly on November 4, 2013, in this regard. However, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak on November 3, 2013, clarified that NATO supply routes would be blocked only after consulting all political parties.
The latest drone strike, and the certainty that there will be others in future, will undoubtedly derail Islamabad’s plan to buy peace with the terrorists who have been on a killing spree across Pakistan, and will adversely impact Pakistan's plans to shift focus to Afghanistan and Kashmir, taking advantage of the imminent US drawdown from Afghanistan.
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal