The elimination of Hakimullah Mehsud through another pinpointed US drone attack on his newly built, lavish farmhouse at Danday Darpakhel, near Miramshah on 01 November evening indicates that his recently arrested cousin, Latif Mehsud must have sung like a canary before US interrogators in Kabul.
The fact that this farmhouse was located quite near a 7 Division garrison in North Waziristan confirmed again that the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) remain well aware of the whereabouts and movements of most militant leaders in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but are reluctant to act against them for fear of spreading discontent within their own ranks.
The timing of the attack may frustrate, at least in the short-term, belated measures to set the peace dialogue rolling with the TTP. A delegation of ulema led by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman was about to leave for North Waziristan for talks with the TTP Shoora when the drone strike occurred. This led Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali to allege that the US had nixed attempts at a peaceful resolution of the problem.
Whatever the current high pitch of anti-American rhetoric spouted by him and other politicians like Imran Khan, Pakistan’s relations with the US are not likely to be majorly derailed. The Army may perhaps secretly welcome the killing of as brutal and ruthless an insurgent leader like Hakimullah, who had earlier resisted moves from his late deputy, Waliur Rehman, to make peace with the military establishment.
Though Hakimullah had maintained good relations with the two major pro-establishment groups in Waziristan led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and late Maulvi Nazir (now succeeded by Bahawal Khan Wazir), he had encouraged newly emerging die-hard ideologues like Adnan Rashid, the escaped Bannu jail detainee accused of plotting the Musharraf assassination attempt in 2003, to escalate the profile of recent Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) militant actions against the Establishment. Adnan Rashid now heads a new wing of the TTP that calls itself ‘Adnan al Aseer’, specially dedicated to freeing Taliban prisoners and planning insurgent actions.
Hakimullah’s death would definitely be a major setback for the TTP and weaken its capacity to take on the military, especially in case the new leadership in the Army after Kayani’s retirement decides to take them on. Even otherwise, the TTP is likely to face increasing fragmentation now, much on the pattern of other die-hard ideologically motivated terrorist outfits which lose their top leaders in quick succession.
The TTP Shoora has appointed the hitherto not too well known Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani as interim leader but there is talk within their ranks of selecting Khan Saeed Mehsud alias Sajna, a low profile operations strategist credited with planning the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak, as their new leader. The Swat Taliban leader, Maulana Fazlullah, currently in Kunar, Afghanistan, Malik Noor Jamal alias Toofan who hails from Orakzai agency, and Abdul Wali of Mohmand, have also reportedly thrown their hats in the ring for the TTP leadership. Each of these contenders may try to resort to daredevil reprisal actions against the state in the short-term, if only to enhance their own leadership credentials.
The Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani network, reacted predictably, describing Hakimullah’s ‘martyrdom’ as a big loss; praising the latter’s ideological commitment and condemning the American ‘terror act’ intended to create a ‘global vacuum’ of Islamic leadership. They urged Pakistan to take up the matter of ending drone strikes with the US authorities more forcefully. This type of response may be intended for rhetorical purposes, to acknowledge the safe haven provided to them for so long by the TTP. However, it would belie expectations aroused by Mullah Omar’s recent Eid messages, professing to have no outside agenda beyond Afghanistan and tacitly signalling a willingness to break links with terrorist outfits like al Qaeda, in case their proxies can emerge in power-sharing arrangements in Kabul brokered by Pakistan, post-US withdrawal.
Administrative arrangements in FATA remain a halfway house, with political agents still reporting to the Governor while the Maliki system has broken down almost completely. Local warlords call the shots in all 7 agencies and large swathes of territory remain ‘no-go areas’ for district development officials and the police. The Political Parties Order, 2002 was extended to FATA by President Zardari in August, 2011 amending the Frontier Crimes Regulation, 1901, but the reforms remain on paper. None of the mainstream national political parties have set up branches there. 12 FATA legislators were elected as independents in the 2013 elections as before. They continue to align with whichever party is in power at the centre. None of them can claim to enjoy special credibility with the common people or access to the local maulanas/warlords, to serve as intermediaries on behalf of the state.
What FATA needs even more are civilian reconstruction programmes, investment in education, public health, water supply and sanitation programmes to lift the masses from the morass of backwardness and poverty. This type of assistance can only be provided to the cash-stricken state exchequer by the US, which makes all the criticism against it quite self-defeating. Without a concerted approach to such reforms in FATA, any olive branch for peace may amount to ineffectual appeasement of warlords without enforcing the writ of state.