From body-builder to militant chief: the man with a price on his head

By Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:12

Waziristan may be home to Osama bin Laden, but it is the much younger Baitullah Mehsud who is the target of the new military operation being launched there, one intended to crush him.

The son of a poor potato farmer, Mr Mehsud, a former fitness instructor, has grown into the most feared militant leader in a country regularly rocked by violence and terror. His age is unclear – perhaps no more than 35 – and no distinct photograph of his face has yet surfaced, but he is blamed for many spectacular and bloody recent attacks, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He has used peace deals and alliances to advance his position and in late 2007 was named "emir" of a new coalition of Taliban groups in Pakistan, promoted over several rivals. Earlier this year it was announced two of those rivals, Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, had put aside their differences to work with Mr Mehsud, following a call for unity by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Mr Mehsud was largely ignored by US drones hunting for militant leaders because it was believed there were more pressing targets carrying out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. On three occasions, he signed ceasefire deals with the Pakistani army. On one occasion he held more than 200 Pakistani troops hostage for two months while negotiations for their release dragged on.

In recent months his status has been transformed as a result of representations by Islamabad to Washington. Now the former madrassa student, who may suffer from diabetes, is the target of increasing attention from the US and Pakistan.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments