Pakistan Taliban Infighting after the Death of Baitullah Meshud
by Charles Lemos, Sat Aug 08, 2009 at 08:35:35 PM EDT
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.