Tehrik-e-Taliban Leader Killed by Drone Strike; New TTP Leader ChosenNovember 4, 2013 in Pakistan
Yesterday, Friday November 1st, Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP) was killed by an American drone strike. Though Mehsud’s death has been inaccurately reported in the past, in this instance the TTP has confirmed he was killed and has been buried. Pakistani officials have reacted furiously to the strike, as they were on the verge of beginning peace talks with the TTP in the hope of ending the insurgency. A particularly high degree of security awareness should be maintained in Pakistan, as the TTP has responded ferociously to the targeted killings of leaders with revenge attacks in the past, including against foreigners. Mehsud, reportedly in his mid-30s, was on his way home from a TTP meeting at a local mosque when the car he was travelling was hit, killing him along with 4 others in the vehicle. The attack took place in North Waziristan, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a series of provinces dominated by militant groups. Mehsud had loose control over the more than 30 groups that comprise the TTP. He took over from the group’s founder, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike in 2009. The United States had placed a $5 million bounty on his head if captured alive. Hakimullah Mehsud’s leadership saw a noticeable expansion of TTP activities in Pakistan, and intensified the insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the country. This has increased further in recent months, with regular and major attacks in Pakistan, including those targeting non-traditional victims, such as Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority. The TTP under his leadership was also responsible for the attempted bombing in Times Square in 2010, and the attack that killed 7 CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009. Pakistani officials are furious about Mehsud’s death, with the killing threatening to further damage already strained US-Pakistan relations. The new government of Nawaz Sharif has been pursuing peace talks with the TTP in a bid to end the country’s security situation, already extremely problematic and spiralling out of control in recent years. Reportedly, a three man negotiation team was travelling to meet Mehsud and begin peace talks today. Pakistani officials have accused the United States of attempting to sabotage the nascent peace process, and the two nation’s already troubled relationship will likely deteriorate further as a result. Some local leaders in the FATA have also pledged to cut crucial supply lines to ISAF forces in Afghanistan. However, the peace talks may actually benefit from Mehsud’s death. Though he was in favour of opening negotiations, his conditions and views were seen as relatively harsh and conservative. His successor, Khan Said Sajna, was appointed today and is the leader of a strong TTP faction that is notably more open to discussions with the government in Islamabad. In the long term, the ascendance of more peaceable TTP factions may play in Pakistan’s favour. In the short term however, serious challenges remain. Some TTP factions are reportedly already unhappy with the new leadership, claiming not enough time was taken over the decision. Factionalism in the group may intensify, as it is already a very factional and decentralised organisation facing serious questions surrounding its future and talks with the government. Immediate effects to TTP operations are also unlikely, as the group operates largely without a centralised leadership and has an amorphous organisational structure. The TTP has pledged to carry out revenge attacks for the death of Mehsud, and it is very likely to carry this out. The group possesses a formidable capability for targeted and indiscriminate attacks throughout the country, and security has been stepped up across Pakistan as a result. Particularly concerning, the TTP has reportedly formed a new sub-group designed to target foreigners in revenge for the deaths of leaders in drone strikes – the killing of senior leader Wali-ur Rehman in June prompted the execution of 10 foreigner climbers at the base of Nanga Parbat. An extremely high degree of security awareness should be maintained in Pakistan, as the likelihood of revenge attacks for Mehsud’s death is very high.