Saturday, 8 August 2009

After Baitullah Mehsud: What Next for Pakistan?

News reports indicate that the most wanted Islamic militant leader in Pakistan is dead and buried. In the last few years Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Mehsud tribe, transformed a local militant movement in the Northwest Frontier Province into a national security challenge for the Pakistani state.

Reaper Aircraft Flies Without Pilot From Creech AFB

Drone technology has changed the nature of the war against Islamic militants

After the storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, suicide bombings attributed to his Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group became a routine feature in the Pakistani landscape. It is widely believed that Baitullah is responsible for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (what was she doing with her head out of the specially provided armoured vehicle anyway!).

Celebrations among the Pakistani security establishment will be short lived. There is no indication that Baitullah's death means that the hostility of tribes in Waziristan towards a Pakistani military presence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) will diminish.

Apparently, a tribal shura has been meeting for three days now to choose the new 'Emir.' All three frontrunners for the position are existing local commanders within the Baitullah network.

The sad reality is that once the new leader of the TTP has been annointed he will wish to brandish his credentials among his followers with a new deadly campaign against the Pakistani state. The calls for revenge among the foot soldiers will be loud.

The Pakistani government has either to renegotiate a peace deal with Baitullah's successor and convince him to focus his efforts on fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan or the government can attempt to strike the group militarily while it is in a weakened state due to the leadership vacuum / transition.

My recommendation, keep the military pressure cooking but do not send ground troops into the battle (at least not just yet). Military pressure means continued coordination with the US on the use of drones and regular attacks by fighter aircraft or helicopter gunships, as dictated by the target. Specialized mobile ground troops can be inserted for specific action if necessary, but in this era of drones when is that a necessity?

Pursuing a major ground offensive is setting the military up for failure. The Pakistani military has just redeemed itself through the Swat operation and another failure in FATA will have negative repercussions throughout the nation. Questions about the state's ability to take on Islamic extremists may develop into feelings of acquiescence and seep into the political debate.

Along with the stick a carrot must be offered, to some tribes at any rate.

Those tribes which may see an opportunity to break away from the hegemony of the Mehsuds' should be encouraged to go their separate way. The tribal chiefs, like all genuine leaders, want to see development of their region as a way to appease the constituency. Promises (and ultimately delivery) of massive amounts of money poured into schools, roads and other basic infrastructure may help in isolating the extremist groups from the tribes willing to work with Islamabad.

The next few months will be critical in determining the new security environment for Pakistan. The military's dilemma is real � strike quickly while the iron is hot and risk alienating some tribes further or sue for peace from a strengthened position knowing full well that ultimately the tribes will always determine their own fate.


  1. Well it seems they found Baitullah's successor and he is even more deadly than his predecessor. That's just great. A many-headed hydra. Now they got to spend another $50 million to track the new leader down before he blows up another hotel, and send in a drone to bomb a wedding feast he is attending and kill the bride and groom along with him.

    If the US and Pakistani govt really want to neutralise the militants, they should use that $50 million to bring genuine development to the Swat valley.

  2. Hi Gerald,

    I am really happy that you took the time to comment on this post as most of my readers tend to focus purely on the Singapore related posts.

    As someone who has spent vacations in the Swat Valley as a teenager it really saddens me when I think of the current situation. It is shameful that the extremists were allowed to spread their poison so extensively that it requires so much killing to 'save' the Valley.

    Swat, as a district, had one of the highest literacy rates within the Northwest Frontier Provice and the younger generation (especially femaless) has lost almost two years due to the current unrest.

    I am a firm believer that foreign aid into Pakistan is better channeled through NGOs and the private sector as there are too many leakages when it goes via Islamabad. There are now several specialized NGOs, including the Citizens Foundation (, which have achieved the critical mass to handle large amounts (in the millions of dollars) of donations.

    If the US is serious about winning hearts and minds in Pakistan then donating or helping to establish electricity generating units will also make a serious difference. There is an energy shortage of a few thousand megawatts in the country and ordinary people's lives will be positively affected if more electricity generating capacity comes online.

    It is really nice of you to take the time to visit / comment on my blog and I hope to see your comments again in the future.

    Kind regards,