Pakistani Taliban Leader Possibly Killed

Pakistani Taliban Leader Possibly Killed

by
Juan Cole

 The
allegation that a US drone strike in Waziristan killed the leader of
the Pakistani Taliban Movement, Baitullah Mahsud, cannot be dismissed
but it has to be taken with a grain of salt
. The strike on the
house of Baitullah's father-in-law, Ikramuddin, killed Baitullah's
wife. But it is now being thought that it may have killed him, too,
since he was visiting and may have been upstairs. The Taliban acted
suspiciously in the aftermath, throwing up a five-kilometer perimeter
to keep people away. But, in the absence of an identified body or an
acknowledgment by the Taliban, there is a speculative element here.

Mahsud
was or is a mass murderer, and likely was behind the assassination of
former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in late 2007, as well as the
blowing up of the Islamabad Marriott in fall of 2008. The Pakistani
Taliban Movement that he heads or headed has by virtue of is brutality
and coercion alienated most Pakistanis. Somewhat to my surprise, the
Pakistani army campaign against them in the Swat Valley elicited
overwhelming support from the public, which is clearly now afraid of
them. Most Punjabi and Sindhi Pakistanis, the vast majority, had long
said they wouldn't want to live under Taliban rule, but they often had
respected the movement for its anti-imperialist credentials. But now
even the private television channels excoriate them as dangerous
extremists (shiddatpasand).

But Baitullah's death in itself
would not necessarily be a turning point. Some analysts believe in the
centrality of leadership cadres in insurgencies. But I'd just point out
that the killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq in May of 2006 had no
effect whatsoever on fundamentalist guerrilla attacks in that country.
The Sharon government in Israel also mounted a campaign of
assassinations against Hamas leaders (including merely political and
religious leaders), which had no success in weakening Hamas. Groups
like Hamas and the Taliban have a complicated relationship to clans and
cliques that easily survive the assassination of even an important
leader.

To read Juan Cole's complete analysis, go here.

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