(First published on personal blog Nov 2nd 2013)
Hopes for dialogue and a route to peace were dealt a bitter blow yesterday when Hakimullah Mehsud, Emir of Pakistan Tehrik -e-Taliban (TTP) was killed in a US drone strike along with several others. I received a message from a contact in Waziristan at 3.35 GMT Thursday which simply read “Hakimullah is killed.”
He and his companions which included relatives and bodyguard were targeted on home soil with missiles striking his vehicle at a compound in the village of Danda Darpakhel, five kilometres north of Miranshah, North Waziristan.
Imran Khan, leader of opposition party Tehrik -e- Insaf was quick to respond to the news stating the following,
“one thing has been proved today, Whenever Pakistan tries Peace Talks, there is a drone strike. We will try to get KPK Assembly to pass a bill to block NATO supplies and I will take the resolution to National Assembly myself.”
Hakimullah who had a reputation for being bloody and ruthless was in his thirties and took over as leader of TTP after Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009. Waliur Rehman, Hakimullah’s second-in-command also fell foul of President Obama’s targeted killing programme in May 2013.
A $5m US bounty was placed on Hakimullah’s head following his appearance in a video alongside a Jordanian who was alleged to have blown himself up killing seven CIA agents in Afghanistan to avenge Baitullah Mehsud’s death. Hakimullah was also known as the mastermind behind attacks on NATO convoys, blowing up tankers along the supply route.
The mercurial militant had been targeted by drones on several occasions and would sometimes choose to lay low for months. I recall a journalist colleague interviewing him at a time when most believed he was dead, he was however busy recruiting and training up future commanders while others speculated as to his fate.
Taliban have now officially announced his death and issued a martyr photograph…. A statement reads as follows…
“We congratulate the Muslims on his martyrdom and we are proud of him. While his death is a tragedy, I would like to tell the enemy that death can never deter us from our mission. Mujahideen must never despair since the cause is the establishment of a Khilafah upon the way of the Prophet. TTP shura has had a session today and it will continue tomorrow. Never fall for the lies of the secular western media. Media aims to spread lies to create divisions between the mujahideen. They will not succeed. TTP shall inform you as soon as a new leader is appointed”
In Washington, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said U.S. officials were not in a position to confirm reports of Mehsud’s death. Obama has been strongly criticized for his drone programme which has killed many civilians and for continually failing to name those anhiliated. Given that Prime Minister, Nawas Sharif had informed both Obama and John Kerry of the All Parties Conference unanimous vote for dialogue, the latest drone strikes appear to be a deliberate attempt to sabotage talks. A process they had claimed to support.
Yesterday’s events have made a mockery of the conspiracy theorists that claimed TTP were funded by the CIA. Taliban had responded to these allegations as recently as the 8th October stating;
“America does NOT fund TTP. America does however carry out a vicious drone campaign against us, using intelligence provided by the ISI. The drones have resulted in the martyrdom of hundreds of our members and leaders such as Nek Muhammad, Baitullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud”
Those who naively believe that drone strikes will put an end to TTP however should reflect on the words of former spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan to journalist Amir Mir after a previous strike aimed at Hakimullah on January 12th 2012;
“Jihad is not linked with Hakimullah alone and wouldn’t stop even if he is killed. We will continue jihad whether Hakimullah Mehsud is alive or dead. There are so many lions in this jungle and one lion would replace another to continue this noble mission”
Ironically Taliban had recently been discussing dialogue with its numerous groups and Interior Minister Ch Nisar indicated a delegation was to have been sent on Saturday for talks with Taliban. However there is a question mark over whether TTP were officially consulted on this move.
Referring to a leaflet distributed in North Waziristan following Hakimullah’s death and a holding off on talks, a contact alleged,
“it seems the peace deal between Mujahideen and American-backed army is going to break down and we will have another war….
to prevent any retaliation, ISI has been making mass-arrests from Southern Punjab , Lahore and Islamabad/Rawalpindi”
Many will not mourn the passing of Hakimullah and refer to the thousands of people that have been killed in bombings and shootings during the last decade blaming the Taliban. However some feel that many of those killed would not have died had it not been for Pakistan government and military carrying out the bidding of the US in the War On Terror. Locals also point to the army as being responsible for some of the death and destruction in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Civilians are reluctant to raise concerns in public about the military for fear of reprisals and the army itself has suffered many losses.
One tribute to the Taliban leader reads:-
“Emir Hakimullah was an agent of Allah and he paid with his blood for it. Pakistan rulers are agents of America and they spill Muslim blood and get paid dollars for it.
Emir Hakimullah was a slave of Allah. Pakistan rulers are slaves of America”
There have been the usual inacuracies in the media reporting with one news programme discussing Taliban attacks against footage of a a bombing recently denied by TTP. There have been concerns regarding attempts to derail dialogue through violent action where the blame from many would automatically be directed at TTP whether or not they were involved.
The drone attack on Hakimullah is viewed by some as short sighted and will only act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban radicalizing more young men and women whom I am told “do more than traditional cookery.”
Most would also prefer to ignore the fact that the Pakistan military is divided on the drone issue. The week before my journalist colleague Saleem Shahzad was kidnapped, tortured and killed he had been speaking on this issue with those within the armed services. He was never able to write up the second part of an article which was to have discussed the alleged ACTIVE recruitment of insurgent sympathizers into the military.
The Afghan Taliban posted a tribute to Hakimullah online as follows:-
“With great sadness we have learned that yesterday the leader of Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Hakimullah Mehsud, was martyred as a result of a cowardly US drone attack, surely to Allah we belong and to Him is the return.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan condemns this barbaric and unlawful attack by America. We consider the martyrdom of Mullah Hakimullah to be a great loss and offer our heartfelt condolences to his family, relatives and friends. Muslims consider martyrdom a lofty objective and we all strive to achieve this status. If America believes that by martyring Mujahideen they will somehow create a void and reach their selfish aims then they are greatly mistaken.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan also calls upon the Government and the people of Pakistan to take all steps necessary in order to stop these barbaric and illegal American attacks so the innocent people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, suffering from these brutalities, can free themselves from the evil of America and determine their future destinies without outside interference”
The funeral of Hakimullah took place today at Miramshah with drones spotted overhead and tribesmen reported fired for an hour at the menace in the skies over Waziristan. It is part of Pashtun culture to avenge killing so it’s likely that there will be “blowback” and possible retaliation attacks for his death. One sympathizer gave his opinion saying;
“Please be clear that Taliban were very well positioned when the idea of talks was floated. Talks favored the army and not the Taliban. But Taliban had given talks a chance to win the hearts and minds of people. However, many did fear that this talk thing will not bring good news for Taliban. That is why very senior people opposed the idea of talks.
Now that the Pakistani Army has struck with the help of its friends, Allah will give the strength to Taliban to strike back hard”
As someone that had recently interviewed a member of Taliban, Political Commission there had been a sense of hope and a feeling they were prepared to engage on a path for dialogue. For those still serious about peace, there is a now an increasingly long and difficult road ahead!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.