February 10, 2010
Pakistan confirmed today that the Taleban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has died of wounds sustained in a US drone strike last month.
The death of Pakistan's most feared militant commander with close links with al Qaeda is a serious blow to the Pakistani Taleban movement and has triggered an intense battle over who will succeed him.
Pakistani federal interior minister Rehman Malik said there was credible information that Mehsud was dead. It is the first official confirmation of his death following days of speculation over his fate.
"I have credible information that he's dead but I don't have any confirmation," Mr. Malik said. A senior Pakistani army official said there were some credence to the reports about Mehsud’s death. He said the absence of any ground intelligence from the area had made it difficult to gather information.
Mehsud, 30, was seriously wounded when missiles fired by a US drone struck his vehicle in the Shktai area on the border between South and North Waziristan on January 15. Reports suggested he was hit on legs and abdomen.
National television reported his death last week saying he was buried in Orakzai tribal region but the report was denied by a Taleban spokesman.
Rumours of his death resurfaced on Tuesday after a Taleban official told journalists that Mehsud died when being transported to southern port city of Karachi for medical treatment.
Mehsud was targeted after a video showed him with a Jordanian double agent bomber who killed seven CIA agents in eastern Afghanistan on December 30.
Mr. Malik said the security agencies were also investigating reports that Qari Hussain, a deputy of Mehsud, had also been killed. If confirmed, Hussain's death would be a further blow to the group. Hussain was in charge of training suicide bombers and was seen as major contender for the leadership. It is not clear when and where he was hit.
The death of the two top commanders, if confirmed, would leave a huge void in the Taleban leadership. Some reports say commanders are already lining up to vie for the role of Taleban chief.
Among the potential successors are Waliur Rehman, the deputy Taliban commander who oversaw operations in the South Waziristan region and Maulvi Noor Jamal, also known as Maulvi Toofan, a little-known commander. Both are believed to be in their mid 30’s.
Mr. Rehman hails from the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan. The region and the tribe is the power base of the Pakistan Taleban, but the militants have lost much of their territory there in a recent offensive by Pakistan's military. Mr. Jamal hold sway in Orakzai tribal region where Pakistani troops have recently launched offensive.
Mr. Jamal is known as a confidant of Mehsud and shares the latter's reputation for brutality. According to a Pakistani newspaper report he himself announces punishments and also himself punishes people with his own hands,
Mehsud's death could temporarily disrupt the Taleban campaign of bomb attacks and cities across Pakistan, but the network which has a presence in northwestern part of the country is likely to stay intact.
Mehsud is the second leader the Taleban has lost in less than six months. Another US missile strike last August killed Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of Pakistani Taleban movement which is an offshoot of the Afghan Taleban.
Pakistan forces have cleared most of South Waziristan lending a serious blow to the Taleban who had turned the region into their main stronghold drawing militants from across the country.
Pakistan’s latest military successes in the border region has boosted its confidence as it sought to play a more central role in resolving Afghan war. Pakistan has also offered to the United States to mediate with the Afghan Taleban factions who have been operating from Pakistani side of the border.
Pakistan army chief General Asfaq Kayani, has told American and NATO officials that his country was ready to play a mediatory role. "Pakistan wants to be actively involved in the peace process in Afghanistan," he said in a rare press briefing last week.
A senior Pakistani military official told the Times that the issue might come up in General Kayani’s meeting with General James Jones, the US National Security Advisor. The US official arrived in Islamabad, Wednesday, for talks with Pakistani civil and military leaders as the US forces launched a fresh offensive in southern Afghanistan’s province of Helmand.
General Kayani also spelled out Pakistan’s terms for regional stability. "Our strategic paradigm needs to be fully realized for stability of the region," he said.
Pakistan has ignored American pressure to start a military offensive in North Waziristan which is being used as base by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the top Taleban commander who is been leading the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. Analysts said Pakistan could use its influence to persuade Afghan insurgents leaders to open negotiations with the US
Click to view image: 'Mehsud Firing MG'
In: Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: taliban, taleban, leader, killed, dead, hakimullah, mehsud, pakistan, UAV, drone, strike, hellfire, predator, reaper
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