Pakistan: Taliban Leader Baitullah Mehsud Appears Dead
By Ravi Khanna
08 August 2009
Pakistan says intelligence sources confirm that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by Wednesday's missile strike in the country's tribal region.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad Friday authorities will travel to South Waziristan to verify Mehsud's death.
"Based on my information the news coming out about Baitullah Mehsud is correct, the intelligence reports confirm the news is correct," he said.
An intelligence officer in South Waziristan told Reuters that Mehsud's funeral had already taken place.
The reaction in Pakistan was mixed.
MAZHAR USMAN: "It is very good [the death of Mehsud]. For many years, uncertainty spread throughout our country, and we prayed to Allah for peace. Due to him [Mehsud] there were suicide attacks happening, people lost their lives and our country was defamed."
MOHAMMAD AHMAD: "This is all about the system. One Baitullah will die, but another one will be born."
Some Pakistani analysts say it is a clear demonstration of a well-organized joint effort by U.S. and Pakistani forces to crush the Taliban militancy in South Waziristan.
They say it will now legitimize the use of Drone attacks on Taliban hideouts.
And that, Pakistan can now convince its people that the Drone attacks are effective.
Mehsud declared himself leader of the Pakistan Taliban, a loose grouping of some 13 factions in the northwest in late 2007.
Most of his focus had been on attacking Pakistan's government and security forces.
Mehsud held a rare news conference last year to declare his mission.
BAITULLAH MEHSUD: "I want a Sharia system in Pakistan. That is what our movement is all about."
Analysts say Mehsud's death will trigger divisions among the 13 factions.
Diplomats in Islamabad doubt it will help Western troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Pakistan had accused Mehsud of having al-Qaida connections and of being behind the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, a charge he denied.
U.S. missile attacks on Mehsud territory became more frequent after Pakistan ordered a military offensive against him in June. They were never confirmed by the US because Pakistan never openly permitted the attacks.
Thursday, President Obama's counterterrorism expert John Brennan spoke about the the U.S. Pakistan joint efforts.
"In partnership with Pakistan, which in the face of unrelenting brutality from al-Qaida and its allies has shown new resolve in this fight, we are confronting al-Qaida directly, inflicting significant losses to the Taliban and al-Qaida," he noted.
For years, the U.S. had considered Mehsud a lesser threat to its interests than some of the other Pakistani Taliban.
But that view appeared to change in recent months as the US became concerned over the increasing violence in Pakistan blamed on Mehsud, saying it could destabilize the country and threaten the entire region.
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