The Multiple Implications of Baitullah’s Demise

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With confidence levels running in the 90th percentile, it is all but certain that Baitullah Mehsud did die in the August 5th Drone Attack. Now all sides are scrambling on what to make of this. As they do, events continue to unfold, with news of infighting amongst the ranks of the TTP (Tehrike Taliban Pakistan) on succession issues.

Prior analysis from Politact has suggested that there was some kind of deal in the works between the TTP and Pakistan. There continue to be reports that this was indeed being pursued through Baitullah’s father-in-law, Mowlana Ikramuddin, at whose house Baitullah is believed to have been staying on the night of the attack. We had also pointed to the tightening juggernaut around Baitullah in our August 3rd report on the status of Pakistan’s Waziristan operation. In any event, we at Politact continue to believe that the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban will have a much harder time than before. For us, the phrase, “irreconcilable elements” refers to those Taliban factions which are unwilling to deal with the state of Pakistan, the United States or Afghanistan and are pursuing an independent political agenda.

The demise of Baitullah Mehsud will have important consequences, locally, regionally and internationally. Among them: for Al-Qaeda’s strategies regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan; the future of the TTP; the status of Pakistan’s Waziristan operation; the future of militancy and extremism in Pakistan; the Afghan Taliban and the war in Afghanistan; America’s AfPak Strategy; the domestic politics of Pakistan; The Pakistan-India relationship; Pakistan’s Counter-Insurgency Strategy; the views of the United States, NATO and Pakistan on the appropriate use of military force; and the future of controversial Drone Attacks and Drone technology.

Analysis

To begin with, the death of Baitullah is a significant blow to the morale of the Pakistani Taliban and other extremists. If indeed Baitullah is no more, the prospect of developing a leadership of similar caliber will be difficult, if not impossible.

Without strong leadership it will be hard to hold the TTP together and Al-Qaeda will try its utmost to remedy this. To Al-Qaeda it is critical to keep Pakistan distracted so as to allow the support lines for the Afghan Taliban to continue flowing. Therefore, the Afghan Taliban’s claim that this incident will not have any impact on the Afghan insurgency is a false one. It remains to be seen how those Taliban leaders, which use Pakistan for operating in Afghanistan, will react to this incident. Mowlawi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur will now feel more vulnerable than ever and this could make them more open to reconciliation. The Haqqani’s, meanwhile, would want to keep the momentum going in Afghanistan, as there is now more talk of negotiations and an exit framework by allies. Politact will be monitoring how these new dynamics plays out.

At the same time, the death of Baitullah vindicates the Pakistani Army’s strategy in the Waziristan operation. This incident, occurring as it did in the aftermath of the Swat operation, reflects favorably on the success of the nation’s new counter-insurgency strategy; it shows that the army is seizing the initiative from the Pakistani Taliban. It is also a sign of the high level of trust and coordination between Pakistani and American military forces (dismaying to the Indians). In the post-Baitullah environment, however, how the Pakistan military will react against the Taliban operating across the border in Afghanistan is still a question mark. This variable will be the ultimate challenge to the effectiveness of America’s AfPak policy.

Meanwhile, the Indians want to deploy the new zeal displayed by the Pakistanis against the Kashmiri Jihadis. It appears, however, that Pakistan’s current priority is to develop a soft corner with the United States before expecting any reciprocity on the Kashmir issue. This strategy seems to be working, as evidenced by statements from India’s Prime Minister at the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh last month. Prime Minster Singh agreed to the resumption of composite dialog between Pakistan and India and did not link it to the issue of terrorism; for this he had to take considerable flak back home.

We believe that both Pakistan and the United States should devote their energies to developing a more coherent stance on the drone attacks. With the passing of Baitullah, the improved relationship between the two countries has the potential to result in a more amicable solution. It should be pointed out, however that although Pakistanis in growing numbers believe that the drone attacks are beneficial to the country, the majority still see them as an infringement on national sovereignty.

The efficacy of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology has become increasingly apparent, especially in the context of an asymmetric warfare environment. That the United States is investing in production of more drones and reports indicates that they will be used more in Afghanistan as well. Meanwhile the Russians have also ordered drones from Israel, apparently as a result of their successful use in last year’s conflict with Georgia.

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