International Terrorism Monitor--Paper No. 552
Baitullah Mehsud, the dreaded chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is no more. On August 23, 2009, he succumbed to injuries sustained by him in the US Drone strike on the house of his father-in-law Ikramullah in South Waziristan on August 5, 2009. Hakimullah Mehsud, who was till now one of the deputy chiefs---- the other being Waliur Rehman Mehsud---- and in charge of operations in the Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber Agencies, is the new Amir as decided unanimously by the TTP Shura at a meeting in the Orakzai Agency last week.
2. This was reportedly stated on August 24, 2009, by Hakimullah and Waliur Rehman in calls made to some sections of the media independently of each other. They have thus sought to put an end to rumours floated by Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Interior Minister, about a fierce succession struggle in which, according to him, Hakimullah was killed and Waliur was injured.
3. If the earlier US and Pakistani claims that Baitullah was killed instantaneously on August 5 after the Drone strike is correct----there is no reason to believe otherwise---- it is intriguing that the TTP took 19 days to admit his death at the hands of the US and even then attributed his death to injuries and projected it as not instantaneous. These 19 days were probably taken to decide on the successor and to identify those who had allegedly betrayed Baitullah to the Americans---either directly or through Pakistan. This long time shows that the Shura, which met in Orakzai and not in South Waziristan as claimed by Rehman Malik, needed time to sort out differences.
4. Waliur Rehman is a Mehsud of the soil. He had spent his years as a jihadi in South Waziristan, where the native place of the Mehsuds is located, and became a trusted confidante of Baitullah, his cousin. He was the man who controlled the coffers of Baitullah, who trusted him with money and wanted him to succeed him so that he would continue to have the control over the money.
5. Though Hakimullah was born in South Waziristan, grew up and had been known for his legendary exploits against the Pakistan Army there, he did not enjoy the confidence of Baitullah to the same extent as Waliur Rehman. Baitullah did not trust him with money and sent him away to Orakzai to co-ordinate operations in that Agency as well as in the Khyber and Kurram Agencies. Of the many tasks which Hakimullah performed, three need special mention: first, disruption of logistic supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan from the Karachi port; second, the organisation of suicide strikes in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the non-tribal areas of Pakistan with the help of suicide volunteers trained by his cousin Qari Hussain Mehsud; and third, operations against the Shia extremist Sipah Mohammad members headed by Hussain Ali Shah in the Kurram Agency.
6. Many successful attacks on NATO convoys in the Khyber Agency gave Hakimullah large quantities of arms and ammunition and other equipment. He shared some of these with Baitullah for use in South Waziristan, but kept a large quantity for his own use. He also captured large quantities of arms and ammunition during attacks on posts and convoys of the Frontier Constabulary and other Pakistani para-military units. Thus, after Baitullah, while Waliur Rehman will control the coffers of the TTP, Hakimullah will control its weapon holdings and its reserve of trained suicide volunteers. In terms of men, the "Daily Times" of Lahore (August 24, 2009) had estimated the total number of trained and armed followers under the command of Hakimullah in the Orakzai-Khyber-Khurram areas as 8000 as against 30,000 under the command of Baitullah in South Waziristan at the time of Baitullah's death. These 30,000 armed men in South Waziristan are now expected to be loyal to Waliur Rehman.
7. Thus the Mehsud component of the TTP, which has been the most dominant till now and which has been in the forefront of the operations against the Pakistani security forces, will now have about 30,000 trained and armed men owing primary loyalty to Waliur Rehman and another 8,000 armed men plus an unquantifiable number of suicide volunteers owing primary loyalty to Hakimullah. Waliur Rehman will have to depend on Hakimullah for weapon replenishments and suicide volunteers and Hakimullah will have to depend on Waliur Rehman for funds replenishments.
8. For the present, the two have chosen to project a picture of unity and solidarity to all the units of the TTP---Mehsuds as well as non-Mehsuds. Whether this will last remains to be seen. Ever since the TTP made its appearance in 2007 after the Lal Masjid raid in Islamabad in July of that year, the Mehsuds under Baitullah have been its driving force. This will continue at least in the short term. An interesting feature of the post-9/11 scene in the Af-Pak area has been that whereas there were splits in the Pakistani Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) with one group under Maulana Masood Azhar forming the Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2000, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), with a group owing loyalty to Zafar Iqbal and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi forming a separate organisation in 2004 which called itself the Kairun Naas (Welfare of the Masses) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) with some elements coming out of it and forming the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Al Qaeda, the Afghan Neo Taliban under Mulla Mohammad Omar, the TTP, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI),the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan (IMET) have maintained their unity in the face of pressure from the US. One should not, therefore, be surprised if the TTP maintains its unity even after the death of Baitullah.
9. While organisationally remaining intact, the Mehsud component of the TTP has been suffering attrition in the form of individual elements letting themselves be tempted by American offers of huge rewards for betraying their leaders. It is such individual elements which have been behind the impressive success rate of the US Drones in South Waziristan. Gnawing suspicions over US moles in their midst will impose an increasing strain on this unity. There are already reports of the TTP detaining Ikramullah, the father-in-law of Baitullah, and some membes of the family, who allegedly absented themselves from the house when it was attacked by the Drones on August 5.
10. Of the Punjabi terrorist organisations, three have been closely collaborating with the TTP components---- the JEM has been collaborating with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) headed by Fazlullah in the Swat Valley of the NWFP, the HUJI headed by Qari Saifullah Akhtar was collaborating with Baitullah's men in South Waziristan and the anti-Shia LEJ with Hakimullah in Kurram, Khyber and Orakzai. While the collaboration of the JEM and the LEJ remains intact, there is a question mark over the HUJI. According to reliable police sources, the TTP now suspects that he was another mole of either the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the CIA or both and it was to protect him that the Pakistani authorities have again taken him into custody.
11. After the success of their hunt for Baitullah in co-ordination with the ISI and the Pakistan Army, the Americans have started a similar hunt for Serajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Drones have started going after places, which were in the past known to be among his hide-outs. Surprisngly, almost the entire focus of the US covert operations, of which the Drone strikes are an important component, were initially against the TTP and now against the Afghan Taliban.When the Drone strikes initially started under former President George Bush the focus of their hunt was on Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda leaders. After a number of unsuccessful strikes against suspected Al Qaeda hide-outs due to incorrect human intelligence, the focus has now shifted to the two Talibans. While the flow of correct human intelligence has been good in respect of the TTP, it is still poor in respect of the Afghan Taliban.
12. It remains to be seen whether Hakimullah as the new Amir will choose to co-ordinate the operations of the TTP from Orakzai or will shift to South Waziristan.Most probably, he will remain in Orakzai because of the suspected CIA penetratiion of the Mehsuds in South Waziristan. He will focus on identifying all the moles and getting them eliminated, continuing to disrupt NATO convoys, stepping up attacks on Shias in co-ordination with the LEJ and targeting the leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) in the NWFP. The ANP is his sworn enemy.
13. Will there be an act of retaliation to avenge the death of Baitullah? If so, will it be directed against the Americans or the Pakistani Army and the ISI? If against the Americans, will it be in Pakistan itself or outside? These are important questions, but it is difficult to answer them now.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)