Decisive offensive against Baitullah Mehsud?

Posted on June 15, 2009
Filed Under >Jauhar Ismail, Politics
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Jauhar Ismail

The Pakistan government on Sunday announced a “decisive offensive” against the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) chief and Pakistan’s public enemy number one, Baitullah Mehsud. Baitullah is widely “credited” for dozens of brazen and spectacular attacks across Pakistan, the most recent being the Pearl Continental (PC) bombing in Peshawar and the killing of a prominenet anti-Taliban cleric Dr. Naeemi in a suicide attack at Jamia Naeemia in Lahore.

Announcing the operation, the NWFP Governor, Owais Ghani, described Baitullah as the “root cause of all evils”. The federally administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) have a long history of warlords but Baitullah’s nexus with Al-Qaeda has brought enomorous death and destruction to Pakistan. Based in the biggest tribal agency of South Waziristan, approximately the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, Baitullah commands ten to fifteen thousand well armed battle hardened militants.

A significant percentage of his warriors are non-Pakistani foreign elements including Uzbeks, Chechens, Afghani and Arabs. Unlike some of the other warlords hailing from FATA that are more interested in fighting the NATO and U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan, Baitullah’s primary focus has always been the Pakistani state. He is also widely suspected to be behind the murder of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

While the military analysts disagree on the timing for this operation, there is no disagreement that crushing Baitullah and his militant network is a prerequisite for curbing the tsunami of terrorism engulfing Pakistan. In addition to providing sanctuary to top level Al-Qaeda leadership, TTP is also running several suicide training camps in South Waziristan. He has also made successful attempts to fuse together various terrorist groups to fight their “common enemies”.

The current operation will be Pakistan army’s forth attempt to deal with Baitullah Mehsud. All the previous attempts failed to achieve their objectives and government ended up signing truce agreements with the warlord which only served to increase his clout and power. While the history may not be on their side, there are several factors that make the latest operation different from the past:
1. Despite the high cost of 2.5 million refugees, the operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat has achieved considerable success especially when compared to previous attempts. The Swat branch of TTP led by Moulana Fazlullah is largely destroyed. Although the top leadership of Swat Taliban has avoided death or capture, a number of mid to low level commanders has been killed or captured. More importantly the army has secured all the major cities and towns in the Swat valley and the remaining militants are mostly confined to their mountain hideouts.

2. The public opinion in Pakistan has turned decisively against the Taliban. While some political parties such as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) , Jamat Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan continue to show sympathy towards the Taliban, they are now in a distinct minority. Almost all major political parties back the current operation in Swat and want to take it to its logical conclusion.

3. The security establishment in Pakistan has finally come to realize the threat posed by Taliban. According to Riffat Hussain, a professor of defense and strategic studies at Qaid-i-Azam University at Islamabad, military’s perception of Taliban has transformed from “Pakistan’s second line of defense against India” to a serious threat to the state itself in the last 6 months.

4. For the first time, the Pakistani intelligence services has had some success in their efforts to create divisions inside the Mehsud tribe. The daily Telegraph reported that a significant Mehsud commander Qari Zainuddi is now openly challenging the rule of Baitullah and is poised to fight against him. There are also reports that other key tribal commanders in the adjacent FATA agencies have vowed to remain neutral instead of siding with Baitullah as the final showdown looms in South Waziristan. It is believed that Baitullah’s focus on [attacks inside] Pakistan and the brutality of his and Al-Qaeda accomplices are largely responsible for this change.

The coming days and weeks will show the seriousness of Pakistan in battling some of the very people once nurtured by the state but all indications point to a tougher, messier and prolonged battle. The daily carnage of terrorist attacks is likely to surge and test the will of Pakistani people. One can only hope that this time, it will be different for this is a fight for the very future of Pakistan.

9 responses to “Decisive offensive against Baitullah Mehsud?”

  1. Aqil says:

    There needs to be a decisive operation against Baitullah sooner or later. The only question is that of timing.

    Arguments in favour of doing it now:
    Since the Taliban are on the run in Swat and have already been given a beating in Bajaur, this is the right time to build on the advantage. The public opinion is also in favour of military action against Baitullah and finally the people are supporting the army. Delaying action could give the fighters on the run from Swat an opportunity to regroup to put up a bigger fight in Waziristan, making it harder for the military to take out Baitullah’s forces.

    Arguments in favour of carrying out this operation at a later time:
    Since there are already millions of displaced refugees from Swat, immediately going into Waziristan would make the humanitarian situation even harder to manage. Therefore, the govt should delay action in Waziristan untill the refugees from Swat start returning. Also, starting too many operations at the same time can overstretch the military.

  2. Meengla says:

    1) As I see it, finally the ‘Moderate’ Talibans are being almost given birth against the ‘Extremist’ Talibans. We may remember Musharraf’s press conferences with Powell post-911 where Mush managed to get Powell’s public support for the ‘Moderate’ Talibans in the new Afghan setup but that did not materialize then.
    2) Divide the militants by pouring in money to different factions as well as decimating other factions–a la Iraq post-2006 and the results are already in front. There is no question that in at least short term the ‘extremist’ Talibans are going to get a severe beating and will see crippling loss of territory and influence. Perhaps even a mortal blow.
    3) It may have taken the flogging of the 19-year old girl to finally change the public opinion but then equally horrible incidents did not move the people: Lal Masjid goons, the Marriot bombing, the Benazir Assassination….. What has really turned the tide against the militants militants now? I don’t know. Perhaps the national consensus through an elected parliament. Perhaps the tipping point has reached….? Perhaps Buner was being too close to Islamabad…? Perhaps some ‘re-assurances’ from Obama to the Pakistani govt. and Army vis a vis India?
    4) Of course there needs to be extreme caution in pampering up one group of militants against the other. “He who fights the monsters should see to it then he does not become one himself. And when you look into an abyss the abyss also looks onto you”. (F. Nietzsche. Paraphrased).
    5) It gives me no joy to see even the extremist militants being slaughtered. So I shall not personally wish death upon anyone. These misguided human beings too were once loved by their parents, played cricket, and may have even listened to Iqbal or Faiz or Noor Jehan….Let’s not wish for anyone’s death.

    Good luck Pakistani Nation and Pakistani Military.

  3. readinglord says:

    It was over 70 years ago that the British army was fighting with Faqir Ippi leading the very Mehsud Tribe now led by Baitullah Mehsud. How the history is repeating itself today. The Pak army is today fighting the Mehsud Taliban with the help mainly of the American and the British armies and the governments. I wonder if this tribal area will ever remain a lawless region (commonly called ‘Yakistan’) providing hotbed for international terroristic activities when ,ironically, their representatives sit in our National Assembly as law-makers for us. The British pampered them by their ‘stick and carrot’ policy for their own imperialistic agenda and today Paky government is doing the same by providing free electricity to the tribals by taking on itself the payment of billions of electricity charges due to them. Why not put an end to all this and make the tribals as responsible citizens of Pakistan or let them form an independent government which can be dealt with politically and diplomatically. It is perhaps time to think about it and solve this problem for ever politically.

  4. Ghazala Khan says:

    How foolish and greedy, the Taliban in Swat have proved. They had got an ideal deal out of their militant activities and they had literally succeeded in blackmailing the government, and they had a dream come true and they had their parrallel government in the whole of Malakand Agency, an arrangement they really couldn

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