A prominent Pakistani Taliban leader was killed in an American drone strike, prompting commanders to meet Saturday to choose a successor. Hakimullah Meshud, a beloved figure by many in the Taliban, was buried early Saturday with Taliban members vowing revenge for the attack. The $5 million dollar bounty on Meshud’s head made him a target for rival factions and powerful interests. According to officials several missiles hit Meshud’s vehicle as it entered a compound in a small rural village.
The pressure is on for the Taliban to choose a successor as peace talks between the Taliban and the Pakistani government are in the works. Four candidates are waiting in the wings while bitter tribal rivalry within the Taliban has produced tension and heated debate. Among the top choices for Meshud’s successor is Khan Said, a known rival to Meshud. His support from powerful warring factions, the Haqqani network among them, is thought to give him the upper hand in the deliberations.
While moderate forces within the Taliban are seeking to be integrated politically, radical factions still seek to do harm to western interests across the region. Growing radicalization and anti-American sentiment within Pakistan has helped lend a hand in Taliban recruitment, with numbers growing daily. Drone strikes in Pakistan, which blur the lines of national sovereignty, have angered many within Pakistan, as well as members in the government. Pakistan’s Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said “It is the murder of peace in this region,”, speaking about the drone strikes in the midst of tentative peace talks with the Taliban. American officials deny that the prospect of peace talks aren’t being taken seriously by the Taliban.
Meanwhile the Taliban’s role in Pakistani politics is much of a love-hate relationship, with extremist wings of Pakistan’s ISI providing support for radicals despite attacks carried out by the Taliban on Pakistani targets, civilian and military.
In the lawless land of Pakistan’s tribal regions, American drones fly overhead daily, gathering information and data. Once the intelligence is gathered and a target is identified, the drones carry out a form of justice by death, which many in the international community condemn as supra-legal, as well as a violation of basic human rights.
Many in Pakistan are reluctant to declare support for the strikes. A few retired Pakistani military officials talked to the issue, saying the death of Meshud is a step in the right direction to curb the Taliban’s prowess in the country.
Meanwhile Imran Khan, former cricket star and member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, was the most vocal of critics of the U.S. led attack. He went as far as saying he would cut NATO supply lines to Afghanistan which run through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, the province which Mr. Khan’s party represents.
Although American officials are declaring the strike as a victory, members of the Taliban are saying Meshud’s death by drone strike makes him even more of a beloved figure in death, dying as a martyr for the cause of Jihad. A tribal elder speaking on the condition of anonymity spoke about Meshud’s death as a victory for Islamic extremism everywhere.
“One thing is clear: Anyone who is killed in a drone strike becomes a true Muslim holy warrior,” said the tribal elder, “no matter how sinful he is.”
by John Amaruso