The Post-Baitullah Environment


The Pakistan armed forces and law enforcement agencies viewed Baitullah as their most important enemy, the embodiment of terrorism. He was responsible for dozens of suicide attacks on the country’s sensitive installations, army convoys and public places (including landmarks), which claimed the lives of hundreds of people and injured thousands more. He was also allegedly behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. His expertise included the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-borne explosive devices (VBIEDs). His death, therefore, was a great relief to everyone in Pakistan, especially the armed forces.

Baitullah’s death could have major implications not only for Pakistan but for the region. For the first time, top leadership figures of the Taliban’s ‘irreconcilable’ elements are not only being targeted but eliminated, largely as a result of cooperation between Pakistan and the United States. And this even has been followed up by the arrest of a number of high-level TTP leaders and widespread reports of dissent in the ranks of the Taliban regarding succession issues. Now that Baitullah is no more, the focus of the Drone Attacks appears to be shifting to the Afghan Taliban.


External Links

The AfPak Channel – Inside the War for South Asia (Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation)

US Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan – Listen to The Diane Rehm Radio Show from NPR

The AfPak War – Special coverage of The Washington Post

The following are a list of potential developments produced as a result of PoliTact’s detailed assessment of the post-Baitullah environment:

Establishing Credibility and Revenge Attacks. Attacks on Pakistan’s major cities could decline in number. However, the danger remains that the newly appointed TTP chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, could attempt a string of suicide attacks in urban Punjab, the largest Pakistani province, to show he is worthy of his predecessor and also to avenge the elimination of Baitullah and the successes of Swat and Waziristan. There are also media reports of senior politicians being targeted. Unfortunately, past experience with FATA suggests that, given enough time and space, a new leadership will emerge. A period of infighting is usually followed by emergence of a leader who has proven himself, by killing or sidelining potential rivals.

The late TTP chief openly stated the he intended to launch attacks against the United States and the West. While he apparently lacked the resources for such a task, the danger shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. Muslim Khan, the spokesman for the Swat Taliban in Swat and now reportedly for TTP, claimed in his May 2009 interview that attacking the United States was a justifiable act.

There is reason to believe that Baitullah amassed several billion rupees through kidnappings and extortions, real estate in Dubai and inflows from the Gulf and Europe. He had the money to pay his fighters 20,000 to 30,000 rupees a year. While the Taliban has still not openly admitted that Baitullah is dead, whoever eventually replaces him will probably possess the financial resources needed for expertly conducted terrorist attacks.

Decline for Taliban Support among Religious Groups of Pakistan. Up to now, the Taliban has enjoyed a measure of support in some of Pakistan’s religious circles. For example, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamaatey Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) have criticized the army’s operation in Swat and other tribal agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The death of Baitullah, however, is expected to result in diminished support for Taliban among these groups.

An Improved Image for the Pakistan Army. The demise of Baitullah in a drone attack has lent increased credibility to the Pakistani Army’s campaign against the militants in Swat and FATA. True, the army was unable to capture or kill any of the senior leadership of the Taliban in Swat. But the death of Baitullah, an even bigger target, will provide a much-needed psychological boost for the armed forces, which in the past have faced strong criticism for making deals with the likes of Baitullah Mehsud. Moreover, the Pakistan Army had now proved to the West that given cutting-edge weaponry, it can competently handle formidable terrorist threats.

Increased Support for Drone Attacks. The death of Baitullah could deliver this message: hardcore terrorists are the chief casualties of drone attacks, not innocent women and children. However, although opposition to America’s drone attacks will be somewhat reduced, it will not end altogether. A case in point: Interior Minister Malik’s statement to a Pakistani journalist that “even if Baitullah Mehsud is killed, I condemn US drone attacks in Pakistan.” But that statement and similar ones by other politicians may be more for public consumption than for any other purpose.

A Change of Focus for the Drone Attacks. The Al-Qaeda’s grand strategy for Pakistan has been to keep the nation’s army engaged and distracted via its Taliban proxies, so that Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are freed up to attack US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. If the elimination of Baitullah actually results in the kind of disarray in its ranks currently reported by the press, then one of the objectives of the AfkPak policy will have been achieved. Now the focus of these drone attacks will swing back towards the Afghan Taliban.

Good and Bad News for the Afghan Taliban. The death of Baitullah will also definitely impact the Afghan Taliban, which was already opposed to Baitullah’s Jihad against the Pakistani armed forces. Led by Mullah Omar, The Afghan Taliban believes that the deluge of suicide attacks in Pakistani cities and on its armed forces have cost them the good will of elements of Pakistani society it wants as allies. For this reason, Mullah Omar had recently formulated new guidelines for the Taliban, forbidding it to launch suicide attacks on Pakistani cities. Followers of Baitullah ignored the edict while other Taliban commanders embraced it.

With Baitullah dead, the Afghan Taliban leadership could achieve a more coordinated alliance, with formerly independent elements falling in line. Fears that with the death of Baitullah more Pakistani Taliban, disenchanted with internal fighting among his successors, could cross into Afghanistan to take on NATO and American forces, might be justified. Lieutenant General Jim Dutton, International Security Assistance Force Deputy Commander in Afghanistan, had earlier warned that the operation against Baitullah Mehsud was “extremely important in defeating the Taliban on both sides of the Pak-Afghanistan border”. At the same time, however, the Taliban leadership will face a hard time holding meetings to plan and coordinate attacks, as the fear of the drones, which have made them vulnerable, grows.

The death of Baitullah will also increase pressure on the irreconcilable elements, at the same time enhancing Pakistan’s influence on various Taliban factions and escalating the politics of the good and bad Taliban.

Increasing Operational Coordination between NATO, the US and Pakistan. There now appears to be a higher level of coordination between the armed forces of the NATO, United States and Pakistan. This was evidenced by recent visits to Pakistan by Generals McChrystal and Patraeus, as well as the US Naval Operations Chief, Admiral Gary Roughead. No doubt the aim of these visits is to appraise first hand the post-Baitullah environment and understand how well Pakistan’s approach to the anticipated operation in Waziristan is working. An Israeli web site recently reported that Pakistan is worried that if the operations of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, i.e. In Kandahar and Helmand, fail to produce results, it will face an uphill battle with its ground operations in Waziristan. {loadposition postbaitullah1}

The meeting with the US Naval Operations Chief was probably intended to calm the waters before the upcoming major maritime combat exercises between the US and India, to be held in October. Their purpose is to enhance interoperability between the armed forces of the two countries and will also be accompanied by the largest ground combat exercise that they have ever held together.

The Indian Cost Guards recently intercepted two cargo ships headed to Myanmar from North Korea, under suspicion of conducting proliferation of nuclear material, and in violation of sanctions imposed on North Korea. Indian strategists have been seriously concerned by the presence of China’s maritime reconnaissance and intelligence station on the Coco Islands. These Islands are believed to be used by China to monitor Indian naval and missile launch facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and are also instrumental in tracking maneuvers of Indian Navy in the eastern Indian Ocean. {loadposition postbaitullah2}

A Possible Hold on the Waziristan Operation. Meanwhile, Pakistani military sources have denied western media reports claiming that after the death of Baitullah, the army will not launch an operation in Waziristan and will also end air strikes and blockades of the area. In the present geopolitical environment, however, it seems likely that the Pakistan Army has in fact, at present, no intentions of taking on powerful Taliban commanders like Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Jalaluddin Haqqani of North Waziristan, and Maulvi Nazir of South Waziristan. All are opposed to fighting against the Pakistan Army. This could hamper the increasing rapport between Pakistan and the US. Pakistan will wait to see the outcome of the Taliban infighting and Afghan election, and observe the regional and global geopolitical environment, before progressing further.

Regional Implications

As the Taliban feels the pressure from Swat, Wazriristan and other areas of FATA, a number of outcomes are possible.

  1. The Pakistani Taliban is likely to head for Southern Punjab, where they enjoy a measure of support from local Jihadists. Such an alliance could have the most dangerous consequences for India. Aware of the dimensions of this threat, especially in the post-Mumbai environment, India wants Pakistan to deal effectively with outfits like LeT, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and JuD. Pakistan has in recent days been carrying out raids against these Jihadi’s across the nation.
  2. The Uzbek and Tajik forces, which drew support from Baitullah, are now more likely to return to Central Asia, in the process fanning support for Islamic Movements in Central Asia like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Moscow and China are both believed to be already on the alert for such developments, including NATO and US.
  3. If, as some believe, Baluchistan hosts the Taliban Central Council, it could become a hot spot. The next drone targets could very well reside in Baluchistan, which is also the epicenter of Pipelinistan and the focus of geopolitical tussles between China, the United States, India, Iran and Afghanistan. Just this last weekend, Inspector General Frontier Corps Baluchistan, Major General Saleem Nawaz denied the claims of the western media that Mullah Omar and the Taliban’s Central Council were present in Baluchistan.

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