Pakistan Taliban Infighting after the Death of Baitullah Meshud

From Dawn of Pakistan:

"According to sources, commanders Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, the two leading contenders for the chief slot, exchanged hot words at the shura meeting in Sara Rogha over the choosing of a successor to Baitullah.

A shootout followed, leading to the death of Hakeemullah while causing life-threatening injuries to Waliur Rehman."

However, a government official in Peshawar said that both Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman had been killed in the clash.

The names of Hakeemullah, Waliur Rehman and 50-year-old Azmatullah Mehsud were shortlisted at a meeting of senior Taliban leaders from the Mehsud tribe, but a decision was put off following differences over who would succeed the slain leader.

There was no independent confirmation of the reported shooting. A Taliban commander denied that any clash had taken place.`There is a serious power struggle going on,' the government official said.

Hakeemullah had replaced Waliur Rehman as commander in Kurram. He belonged to a rival group led by Qari Hussain, widely known as the Ustad-i-Fidayeen (teacher of suicide bombers).

`I think the Haqqanis will now intervene to resolve the leadership dispute,' the official said, referring to Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar's point man for North and South Waziristan.

If these reports are true, then the Pakistani Taliban seem to be entering a period of fractious infighting. It's clear that the predator drone attacks are having an effect in disrupting the operations of the various Islamist groups operating in Pakistan and are causing dissension in their ranks.

The question still remains can we justify the number of civilian casualties that the reliance on predator drone engenders? While sourcing on civilian deaths is weak and unreliable with the numbers perhaps prone to exaggeration, independent reports suggest that more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, approximately 10 non-combatant civilians have also died. But Abdul Malik Mujahid writing in Truth Out back in May suggests that the civilian to militant kill ratio is on the order of 15 to 1.

Daniel Byman of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute finds:

Killing terrorist operatives is one way to dismantle these havens. Plans are disrupted when individuals die or are wounded, as new people must be recruited and less experienced leaders take over day-to-day operations. Perhaps most importantly, organizations fearing a strike must devote increased attention to their own security because any time they communicate with other cells or issue propaganda, they may be exposing themselves to a targeted attack.

Given the humanitarian and political risks, each strike needs to be carefully weighed, with the value of the target and the potential for innocent deaths factored into the equation. In addition, the broader political consequences must be evaluated; the same death toll can have vastly different political consequences depending on the context. But equally important is the risk of not striking -- and inadvertently allowing al Qaeda leaders free reign to plot terrorist mayhem.

We must not pretend the killings are anything but a flawed short-term expedient that at best reduces the al Qaeda threat -- but by no means eliminates it. Even as U.S. strikes have increased, Pakistan has suffered staggering levels of terrorism as groups with few or limited links to al Qaeda have joined the fray. Al Qaeda itself can also still carry out attacks, including ones outside Pakistan in Europe and even the United States. Thanks to the drone strikes, they are just harder to pull off. The real answer to halting al Qaeda's activity in Pakistan will be the long-term support of Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts. While this process unfolds, targeted killings are one of America's few options left.

A flawed short-term expedient seems accurate.

Tags: pakistan, Predator Drone Attacks, Taliban, US Foreign Policy (all tags)

Comments

5 Comments

Re: Pakistan Taliban Infighting

I am not, in anyway, a proponent of taking civilian lives. That being said, there has always been collateral damage in any conflict that results in military operations and these numbers, while disheartening, do not rise to the level that should cause our military to even consider a change of tactics, the drones are effective, efficient, and keep American soldiers out of harms way. Is it a perfect solution? Of course not, but it is better than any number of options that might have been considered in past conflicts.

There is no such thing as good violence, and there will always be civilian casualties, but we have gotten better at reducing those numbers over the years, and hopefully we will continue to do so.

by JDF 2009-08-08 09:04PM | 0 recs
It beats the high altitude bombing

That had us bombing Canadians and Afghani wedding parties.

Some of the tactics we were using early in the Afghan conflict were uncomfortably close to war-crimes. We could not possibly have had the intelligence we claimed to have after each bombing incident.

Another by-product of pulling Special Forces out of Afghanistan and sending them it Iraq. All we had left was a Death from Above strategy that did us no long-term favors.

by Bruce Webb 2009-08-09 09:44AM | 0 recs
I'm feeling less that Pakistan could fail as a

state. The military drive into the Taliban areas and especially the approving response by the local populaces helped my feeling. I feel terrible about the disruption and death that accompanied the process. Further, I am not a fan of drones.

So while I get the sense that Pakistan is not on a path to failure neither do I sense that they are on a path to success. Rebellions are not overcome by military means, they are merely suppressed.

But I was encouraged by this from Cole:

But the really big news out of Pakistan in the last week was the  finding of the restored Supreme Court that Gen. Pervez Musharraf's emergency decree of November, 2007, was unconstitutional. The ruling has larger implications, in perhaps suggesting that all of Pakistan's military coups have been unconstitutional. This is the first time that the Pakistani Supreme Court has so forcefully stood up to the military.

If the American press and political establishment was serious about supporting democracy in Pakistan and the Muslim World, we'd have seen an avalanche of comment praising the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for democracy. I did a keyword search at Lexis under television transcripts and could not find any evidence that anyone in national television or radio except Julie McCarthy at NPR even mentioned the epochal Pakistani Supreme Court ruling!

There is now a question of whether former dictator Pervez Musharraf would be wise to return to Pakistan from London, since he could be arrested and charged. Saudi Arabia is said to have offered him asylum (a delicious irony, since Musharraf sent his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, into exile in Saudi Arabia in 1999). Musharraf consistently got a pass from the US media and Washington establishment, even though he had been before September 11 a big supporter of the Taliban (it wasn't ideological; he is a secularist). Under his leadership, the Pakistani government took some $10 billion from the United States, some of which it appears to have used to reinvigorate elements of the Taliban so as to destabilize southern Afghanistan and to assert Pakistani power there (at the same time, the Pakistani army was ordered to fight other Taliban, presumably ones threatening Islamabad instead of Kabul). Musharraf even halted a Pakistani military operation initiated by Nawaz Sharif and Bill Clinton to send in a SWAT team to capture or kill Usama Bin Laden. When Musharraf took power, he told the US he wasn't interested. Musharraf, in his arrogance that only he knows what is good for Pakistan, is actually quite scary, but Washington loved him because he said he was fighting Taliban!

Pakistan is not, as is often alleged, a failed state, and the Supreme Court ruling is a big piece of evidence that the country has a functioning judiciary.

And despite it being non-news in the US, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruling is a bigger turning point in Pakistani history than any we have seen since 1947.

by Jeff Wegerson 2009-08-09 06:04AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm feeling less that Pakistan could fail as a

It depends on the definition. Pakistan is a failing state because it fares poorly on various socio-economic measures but it is not a collapsed state like say Somalia where the authority of the central government doesn't extend very far. The Pakistani state still lacks a presence over much of its territory but to your point, Pakistan does seem to have averted implosion. For now at least.

by Charles Lemos 2009-08-09 08:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Pakistan Taliban Infighting

Insurgencies are driven by motivation, not by the quality of the combatants.  B. Meshud was an executive, he provided the decision-making that is necessary for military actions, but he wasn't anything special at it.  What's worrying to me is this--you remember a few years ago how our military and civilian leadership treated counterinsurgency ideas with contempt, and how we're still trying to recover from that stupidity?  Well, where we were then the Pakistani military seems to be now; stupid about guerrillas.  The Pakistani generals are acting like they've killed the anti-Shir-e-Panjshir and everything's going to be alright now, but Beitullah Meshud was no Ahmad Shah Massoud, he was just some bloke who hadn't gotten killed yet.  Same with Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, but the leaders in Islamabad are going to take this as a sign that they're right to be dismissive of a counterinsurgent/rehabilitation mission.

by Endymion 2009-08-09 08:15AM | 0 recs

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