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Now is the time: TTP leader’s death

May 31, 2013

IN death, Waliur Rehman has caused almost as much controversy as he did when he was alive. The TTP second-in-command appears to have been taken out by an American drone strike, triggering consternation in public and more considered cost-benefit analyses in private. For all the cries about yet another violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, however, one fundamental point must not be overlooked: it appears that the US knew how and where to find the militant, whereas the Pakistani security and intelligence apparatus did not.

Waliur Rehman had in the past been cast as a ‘moderate’ Taliban, someone the state here could do business with, but the truth was that he was a moderate only in that he was determined to attack inside Afghanistan too — meaning his attention was split between Pakistan and Afghanistan, unlike, say, Hakeemullah Mehsud who is known to focus most of his attention on attacks inside Pakistan. So here was a highly dangerous, highly motivated and highly effective militant leader in the form of Waliur Rehman and the Pakistani state appears to have had little clue of his whereabouts, appearing to believe that he would likely be hiding out on the border between North and South Waziristan. This is where the role of the security establishment should be questioned.

The drone argument also has the unhappy effect of deflecting attention to a far more serious issue: what the Pakistani state intends to do about North Waziristan, now the last redoubt of militants in which they can operate and plan largely unmolested. The incoming civilian leadership has talked up talks again while the military leadership has tried to indirectly warn about the futility of negotiations — but then the army high command has not shown any decisiveness when it comes to North Waziristan for years now either. Now, with the Taliban once again ‘suspending’ their offer of talks in the wake of Waliur Rehman’s killing, there is one of two ways to proceed: flounder in the face of a continuing threat or take strength from the decisiveness showed by the electorate in rejecting the Taliban path. For all the reasons for inaction, to avoid a military operation in North Waziristan, to further delay establishing the state’s writ there, there is a simple truth: the TTP and Pakistan as imagined by its people, and endorsed in the recent elections, are incompatible. How to take on the TTP militants in North Waziristan is an important question but it is secondary to the need to take them on now not later.