Andrew Buncombe: The emir is dead, but can drones end the insurgency?


Related Topics

One man does not a militancy make, but the killing of Baitullah Mehsud – Pakistan's most wanted man – marks a major strike in the fight against extremists. For Islamabad and Washington it may also open a window that allows them to bring other leaders of the Pakistan Taliban to their side.

The assassination of the former fitness instructor by a missile fired from a CIA drone, following as it does close on the heels of the Pakistan army's success in the Swat Valley, could scarcely have been imagined just six months ago.

Then – with Pakistan facing a wave of suicide attacks directed by Mehsud, and the former tourist haven barely 60 miles from Islamabad under the control of his Taliban allies – the momentum appeared firmly with the militants. With Mehsud now dead, parts of Swat cleared and the army pressing at the militant stronghold of South Waziristan, the balance has shifted. "It's a great boost to the morale of the security forces," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a Lahore-based analyst.

The death of the man who emerged from a lesser branch of the Mehsud tribe to be named in 2007 as the "emir" of a loose coalition of militant groups known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) undoubtedly leaves a vacuum.

While his image as public enemy number one may have been partly created by the US and Pakistani governments, the man who refused to allow his face to be photographed was more than just a figurehead. He was both a skilled tactician and a ruthless leader ready to strike against both "enemy targets" and potential rivals. Earlier this year an assassin dispatched by Mehsud killed Qari Zainuddin, another Taliban leader trying to position himself as a challenger.

He was also a consummate networker of militant groups. Several attacks carried out earlier this year in Lahore, including the assault on a police cadet academy for which Mehsud claimed responsibility, involved extremists from the Punjab – something that revealed a perilous militant nexus between the tribal areas and the country's heartland.

Mehsud's death may be followed by a wave of revenge attacks – just as the siege of Islamabad's Red Mosque in the summer of 2007 and the death of its militant cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi led to a spate of such assaults by Mehsud and his followers. Farzana Shaikh, a fellow at Chatham House and author of Making Sense of Pakistan, said: "Taliban groups may well want to exact revenge for Mehsud's death.That could mean ... a new wave of terrorist attacks against security forces and vulnerable targets in the capital, Islamabad, and elsewhere in the country's major urban centres."

At the same time, his killing may allow an opportunity for Pakistan to reach out to other Taliban elements who may previously have felt obliged to offer fealty to Mehsud. The army and the security services have already been trying this tactic with varying levels of success.

Certainly, the assassination has renewed attention on the US policy of drone strikes. Publicly condemned but privately supported by Pakistan, such strikes have markedly increased since Barack Obama came to office with a new policy of targeting not just militants responsible for cross-border raids in Afghanistan but those who threatened havoc within Pakistan and, as a result,the wider region. It was this switch in tactics that directly led to Mehsud's killing.

His death means there will no let-up in such strikes. Whomever is selected to succeed the militant leader will be very aware that they too could face a similar fate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Chemistry Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: [ Megan Smith 22/09/2014 17:00:...

Foundation and KS1 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Foundation and Key Stage 1...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments