He’s Dead, Then He’s Alive Again
I’m starting to get really confused about what is actually going on in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Reporting in that part of the world has been so bare-boned and lacking in substance that most Americans don’t even know which stories to believe.
A case in point is the supposed death of Hakimullah Mehsud, who subsequently became the head honcho of the Pakistani Taliban movement after his predecessor- Baitullah Mehsud (no relation by the way)- was killed by a U.S. drone strike last August.
Ever since a suicide-bomber in Khost, Afghanistan claimed the lives of seven CIA officers, enemy number one for the United States in Pakistan has been Hakimullah Mehsud.
And with good reason. This was the man believed to be behind the deadliest attack against America’s Intel agency in decades. In fact, this suspicion only amplified when a video was released by the Pakistani Taliban a few weeks after the attack, portraying Mehsud in full gear next to the man you actually blew himself up, a Jordanian named Abu Malala al-Balawi. This, of course, was the only evidence the CIA needed to put a missile through his compound.
And that’s exactly what happened. In January, the U.S. launched a missile from a drone aircraft that slammed right into the middle of Mehsud’s home. U.S. officials expressed “95 percent confidence” that he was dead. Their Pakistani counterparts went a step further by declaring him “100 percent” dead.
Unfortunately, months after these assurances, it appears that Mehsud is still alive and well (minus a few injuries from the blast), proving that U.S. and Pakistani intelligence is far from perfect in a war zone. This, by the way, is the second time Mehsud has been reincarnated. Last August, he was thought to have been killed in an ensuing fight between rival Islamic militias. That too proved to be a fallacy.
So what to make of all this?
First off, this case study shows how difficult it is to verify a death in the tribal regions. Months after the Pakistani Military drove out Taliban militants in Swat and South Waziristan, foreign journalists are still barred from entering the area. With no independent observers in the area, the United States can only rely on what the Pakistanis say, which has limited Washington’s ability to obtain accurate first-hand intelligence from the ground.
Anyway, this debate over whether Mehsud is still alive or not is really just one of semantics. The Pakistani Taliban has been operating with new leadership since the beginning of this year. The same Pakistani intelligence agents that are claiming that Mehsud survived the attack are now saying that he has been demoted and replaced by his rival, Wali ur-Rehman.
The killing of Mehsud meant a lot more in January than it means today. The Pakistani Taliban has already moved on, while we still wonder if a sidelined leader is still breathing.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Newsweek’s Declassified**