Consequences of Abdullah Mehsud's Death

Pakistan: The Implications of a Jihadist Commander's Death
STRATFOR; July 28, 2007

One of the most senior Pakistani Taliban commanders active in the
country's tribal belt, Abdullah Mehsud, killed himself July 24
during a raid in the province of Balochistan. Mehsud's rank, along
with the timing and location of his death, provide several insights
into the problems that thwart effective counterjihadist efforts. In
the past, the elimination of a high-value target helped Pakistan
satisfy U.S. concerns; however, Mehsud's death will increase the
pressure on Islamabad to show more progress.


Perhaps the most publicly renowned Pakistani Taliban commander,
Abdullah Mehsud , killed himself July 24 by detonating a hand
grenade in order to avoid capture from a house in the town of Zhob
in Balochistan province. Mehsud's two brothers and a third Taliban
leader were arrested in the raid provincial police conducted on the
house, which allegedly belongs to a senior leader of the country's
main Islamist political coalition, the Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal

Mehsud's status, the circumstances of his death and the timing of
the incident point to a number of problems associated with
counterjihadist operations in Pakistan. For starters, it is hard to
swallow the idea that authorities just happened to stumble upon the
intelligence pertaining to Mehsud's whereabouts and then caught up
with him within hours of U.S. threats of unilateral action against
jihadists in northwestern Pakistan. The likely reason the
government was able to track down Mehsud quickly is that Pakistani
intelligence has at its disposal certain resources that it brings
to bear in a very selective and limited manner in response to
domestic and foreign policy needs.

The historic links between jihadist forces and Pakistani
intelligence have led to contacts that both sides recently have
been using in their war against one another. The jihadists have
been aggressive in using their connections to the state's security
and intelligence apparatuses to conduct their operations. The
state, however, is only now beginning to employ its connections
within the murky jihadist universe to undercut the militants.

Clearly, Pakistani intelligence has been in touch with elements who
had information concerning Mehsud's whereabouts. These elements
with ties to both sides were called upon to offer their assistance
at a difficult time, and they obliged. This is not the first time
this has happened. As recently as May 14, Pakistani authorities
made a similar demonstration of abilities when they relayed
intelligence to Afghan and NATO forces about the whereabouts of the
Afghan Taliban's senior-most commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was
then killed in an operation .

While not as illustrious as Dadullah, Mehsud was the best-known
Pakistani Taliban commander operating in the Waziristan agencies of
the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The
30-something-year-old Mehsud, who lost one leg while fighting
alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan before the extremist movement
seized Kabul in 1996, had quite a jihadist career. He was among
those jihadists who surrendered to northern alliance forces in the
city of Kunduz in late 2001, after which he was transferred to the
Guantanamo Bay detention facility. U.S. military officials released
him in March 2004 after concluding that Mehsud did not pose a

After returning to the tribal belt, Mehsud resumed his old
activities and, after the killing of another top Pakistani Taliban
commander, Nek Mohammed , emerged as a major figure. Mehsud was
behind the abduction of Chinese engineers in 2004 shortly after
his return and a rash of suicide attacks against Pakistani security
forces. Like his predecessor, Mehsud struck and then scrapped a
peace deal with Islamabad. He was also reportedly engaged in the
recent fighting between jihadists and pro-government tribal
militias. In the wake of the Red Mosque operation , Mehsud
declared war against the Pakistani state and is believed to have
been behind the latest wave of suicide attacks against security

There are two noteworthy aspects of the location where Mehsud was
tracked down. First, it is in the Pashtun corridor in the
northwestern part of Balochistan, which runs roughly between FATA's
South Waziristan agency to the north and the provincial capital of
Quetta in the south. The town of Zhob -- the likely location of
Taliban leader Mullah Omar -- is in this area. Second, the house
where Mehsud killed himself belongs to Sheikh Mohammed Ayub, who is
allegedly the district leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazlur
Rehman (JUI-F) -- led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the
opposition in Pakistan's parliament. JUI-F is not only the largest
component within the MMA alliance, it also holds the majority of
Cabinet positions in Balochistan's coalition government with the
pro-Musharraf ruling Pakistan Muslim League party. The leader of
JUI-F in the province, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, who has a
close relationship with the Musharraf government, said the house's
owner was no longer with the party since he had been expelled four
months ago because of indiscipline.

Regardless of whether Ayub is still part of the JUI-F, Mehsud's
capture from Ayub's house is a classic representation of the fluid
nexus involving radical Islamists of various shades and the
Pakistani state. These complex relationships are what allow
jihadists to sustain themselves and their activities and at the
same time prevent the Pakistani state from effectively pushing
ahead with counterjihadist efforts.

Pakistan's elimination of Mehsud -- just days, if not hours, after
the highest political offices in Washington threatened Islamabad
with unilateral military action against jihadists in northwestern
Pakistan -- will not elicit as much praise from the United States
as it will trigger increased pressure to "do more." This is
because, from the U.S. viewpoint, it is clear that the Pakistanis
can do a whole lot more in the war against jihadists. Also, Mehsud
was more of a threat to the Pakistanis than to Afghanistan , NATO
or the United States. There is still the matter of going after al
Qaeda and the real Taliban in Afghanistan, and there will be both
more action against high-value targets and more jihadist attacks in
the coming days.


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