After a US drone strike took out their leader, there are fears in the world community that the Taliban may soon plan to retaliate. The previous second-in-command, Khan Said, known as Sajna, and already promoted to new Leader has vowed that there will be revenge. Hakimullah Mehsud was killed, along with three others, when drones struck their military encampment at Miranshah on Friday. The burial has taken place overnight in secret and in the dark to avoid further targeting.
From Washington, it was confirmed that it had been a CIA drone strike that carried out the mission. Mehsud had a $5 million bounty on him. Others who were killed were named as his driver and his bodyguard. Apparently the bodies were recognizable for identification purposes after the car they were in was exterminated.
Sajna, as he is called, is confirmed as the replacement leader, and his track record is a bloodthirsty one. He is believed to be behind the freeing of almost 400 prisoners from a jail in northwest Pakistan in 2012, and also that year, a co-ordinated attack on an air base in Pakistan. His reputation is hardline, however, there had been some hopes that he may have been amenable to entering talks with the Pakistani government. His vowing that suicide bombings will now occur does not bode well for any peace talks.
The Pakistanis are agitated by this turn of events, and anxious that it is going to have a deletrious effect on their attempts to negotiate with the Taliban. Information Minster for Pakistan, Pervez Rashid, told reporters,”The US has tried to attack the peace talks with this drone but we will not let them fail.” He is not the only one to be upset about it. There have been calls for the all-important US supply lines to Afghanistan to be blocked.
These supply lines are critical for the US and other allies operations in Afghanistan, as mass movements to withdraw from the region are well underway. But the region of Kyber Pakhtunkhwa, the route through Pakistan and into Afghan territory through the famous Khyber Pass, is threatened with closure by officials there. They say they will put forward a resolution on Monday to cut the NATO troops from getting through.
Another Taliban spokesperson, Azam Tariq, has added to the speculation that the Taliban will plan to retaliate, in no uncertain words he has declared that, “Every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber.” His chilling challenge to the west was enforced by a further declaration that, “America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood.”
Mehsud is not the first Taliban leader to be killed by US drones. His two predecessors were also taken out by drone attacks. He was the leader of the Pakistani Taliban since 2009, a group with strong links to al Qaeda. His deputy was also hit by a drone in May, and another of his deputies taken by capture in Afghanistan.
There are some signs that not everyone in the Taliban is happy with the choice of Sajna as the new leader, and it is said that some of the commanders feel the appointment was too rushed. This may lead to divisions and in-fighting in the Pakistani Taliban themselves as they jostle for position in their own membership. Channel 4 news in England have confirmed that there is still considerable disagreement in the ranks, as reported to them by their own Taliban sources. The Pakistani Taliban are allied to the Taliban in Afghanistan but their main aim is to impose the rule of Islam in Pakistan. To this end, they have carried out mass killings of thousands in Pakistan of both security forces and ordinary civilians. They were founded in 2007 by the warlord Baitullah Mehsud (held responsible for the death of Benazir Bhutto) and are officially known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or the TTP. Since then, they have posed a considerable threat to the security of Pakistan. At present, they are said to number around 10,000 men.
One of their most notorious acts of recent months was the attempt on the life of the schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head. She was flown to England for life-saving surgery and has since become an international spokesperson, despite her youth, for the rights of all girls everywhere, to have an education. Malala’s bravery and fearless stand against those who tried to murder her has received universal admiration
In Islamabad, the Interior Minister, Chaudjry Nisar Ali Khan has expressed disappointment as what he sees as a hindrance to the peace process. He had been hoping to announce developments in the peace talks when news of the killing of Hakimullah Mehsid came through. He then had to re-schedule his press conference to make a different announcement. He said that the strike was not about the killing of Mehsud, rather “a murder of the peace process.” He went on to add that the Foreign Office would be summoning the US Ambassador for an explanation. He was clearly annoyed that his announcement of a delegation of clerics en route to invite the Taliban for talks, had been derailed
Peace seems to be the last thing on the minds of the Taliban in Pakistan right now, as they talk angrily about revenge and retaliation. Will they try to retaliate? Or will internal division over the appointment of Sajna as leader deflect them from such kneejerk reaction? The world will have to watch and wait. Anxiously.
By Kate Henderson