Mourning a villain

November 05, 2013


THE death of a man who waged war against the Pakistani state and was responsible for the slaughtering of thousands of innocent men, women and children should have come as a great relief to this strife-torn nation.

Instead, our political leaders are mourning the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud in a US drone strike describing the incident as an “attack on peace”.

From being public enemy No.1, the chief of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has virtually been turned into a hero after his inglorious death. A mass murderer who ordered the beheading of our soldiers and claimed responsibility for killing a Pakistani general just a few months ago, is now being elevated to the status of a martyr.

Instead of seizing this moment of opportunity to dismantle a fragmented terrorist network, a frightened political leadership has shamelessly prostrated itself before the militants. As a result, the extremists and their allies are now dominating the public narrative despite their crimes against the people of Pakistan. It is an extremely dangerous situation for a country facing the existential threat of spiralling violent extremism. A narrow self-serving leadership is taking the entire country towards a suicidal path.

With few exceptions, all political parties have joined the chorus that the fatal drone strike on Hakeemullah was a conspiracy to scuttle an illusory peace process. While the interior minister has called for reviewing relations with the US, an agitated Imran Khan has threatened to block the Nato supply line in protest. The bravado may just be public posturing, but the irresponsible rhetoric could lead to some unintentional consequences, plunging the country into more dire straits.

It is a pity that even the killing of young women and children in a suicide bombing in a crowded Peshawar bazaar or the massacre of Christian worshippers in the church bombing has not shaken the great Khan as much as the death of the leader of the militant outfit that perpetrated those heinous attacks. He even refuses to accept that the Taliban were behind those bombings despite their endorsement of the attack.

Seemingly, all the tumult is about the timing of the US action and the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty once again. According to the interior minister, the attack was carried out hours before a three-member delegation was to meet the TTP leadership and extend to them a formal invitation from the government for talks.

Notwithstanding the questionable legality of America’s drone strikes on Pakistani soil, it is hard to believe that the targeting of the TTP chief was part of a plan to sabotage the talks as alleged by our political leaders.

One should not forget that the TTP leader was on the US’s most wanted list with a bounty of up to $5m on his head. He came on the US radar after a video showed him talking to Hummam Khalil Abu-Mulal al Balawi, a Jordanian doctor with Al Qaeda connections who blew himself up inside a CIA operating base in Afghanistan’s Khost province, killing seven intelligence operatives in 2009. The incident also confirmed his close ties with Al Qaeda.

Soon after, Hakeemullah claimed to have trained Faisal Shehzad, an American of Pakistani origin who was involved in a failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.

Hakeemullah had narrowly escaped several drone strikes in the past three years. He was also reportedly injured in one of them that kept him out of action for several months. Significantly, the fatal attack on Friday came a couple of weeks after the US forces had snatched from the Afghan intelligence agencies Latif Mehsud, a close confidant of the TTP leader.

It is quite plausible that the information gleaned from Latif might have led the CIA to Hakeemullah’s hideout. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has confirmed that American officials had informed him that the TTP leader would not be spared if tracked down.

For sure, the drone campaign has remained a major irritant in the troubled relations between Islamabad and Washington. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also raised the issue during his meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington last month. Indeed, Pakistan’s objection to the violation of the country’s sovereignty is fully justified on legal and ethical grounds. There are no two views about the negative political impact of the collateral damage caused by the drone attacks.

But it is also a fact, that the drones have eliminated many high-value Pakistani militants running their terrorist operations from North Waziristan. Prominent among those killed in the last two years are Waliur Rehman, who was deputy chief of the TTP, Ilyas Kashmiri, Qari Hussain, Qari Zafar and Badar Mansoor. They were all masterminds of attacks on Pakistani security installations.

Pakistan has also decided to contact the five permanent members of the UN Security Council on the killing of Hakeemullah in the latest drone strike. The move will certainly make Pakistan a laughing stock and only weaken the country’s case on the drone issue.

Leave aside other countries, Islamabad cannot even convince its closest ally China on the matter. The militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan are a cause for concern to the entire international community. It is certain that the way Pakistan is dealing with the issue of terrorism will find no takers.

It was questionable from the outset whether the government’s peace efforts could succeed given the uncompromising attitude of the TTP. In his last interview to the BBC, Hakeemullah had rejected any dialogue under the Pakistani Constitution, saying that it envisioned a secular democratic system.

Now with his death that may lead to further fragmentation of the TTP, the possibility of any purposeful negotiations has become even more remote. But the danger is that the current state of policy disarray may provide a conducive environment in which the militants can revitalise their activities. It is perhaps, the most critical point in the country’s struggle against the rising militant threat.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain