By Bismellah Alizada and Matt Propper
The head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, was one of the most respected and esteemed leaders of PT. He was known as Ameer, or chief, among the Pakistani Taliban and has had a $5 Million bounty on his head after he appeared in a farewell video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009. Mehsud was killed in a U.S. Drone Strike together with his body guard and driver in Danda Darpa Khel on November 1st, 5 km from the capital of Miranshah, while attending a gathering of 25 Taliban leaders. According to a Reuter’s journalist, although Mehsud lacked formal education in religion he was one of the most popular members of the Pakistani Taliban and he had a great interest in modern technology. He was a driver for the former PT leader and he proved competent of promotion, eventually rising to the rank of spokesman and then to Ameer after the former leader got killed in a drone strike in 2009.
It took the ruling council several days to reach a decision regarding who will be the next leader of the militant group. Finally, among a heavy celebratory gunfire around Miranshah in North Waziristan, the Pakistani Taliban assigned Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader. Fazlullah led a brutal campaign in Swat in 2008 and 2009 imposing Sharia Law along with burning schools, beheading and publish lashing. He also broadcasted Sharia Law propaganda from his radio station what earned him the nickname ‘Mullah Radio’ or ‘Mullah FM’. He was pushed to Afghanistan (Kunar Province) after the Pakistani Army launched a heavy raid in Northern Pakistan and his radio show was closed. Fazlullah was first a member of a local extremist group named Tehreek-e-Nifaz Shaiat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), led by his father-in-law. His men were blamed for the slaughter of 17 Pakistani soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint in 2012. His men also shot Malala Yousafzai, the well-known teenager who spoke against the Taliban’s restriction on girls’ education. Fazlullah faces many challenges as he begins his tenure because he is not from Mehsud’s clan, making it hard for him to control Mehsud’s fighters who make up a great mass of the the Taliban’s manpower.
The Pakistani Taliban acts as an umbrella for many extremist groups in Northern Pakistan who are independent yet allied to their Afghan complements. They control most of Northern Waziristan and carry out attacks nationally, regionally and even internationally. For instance, they claimed responsibility for an unsuccessful bomb attack at New York’s Time Square in 2010.
In analyzing the prospect of possible peace talks, two points must be taken into consideration: first that the Pakistani Taliban are so powerful that even the Pakistani government has reached an impasse to fight them and second that Fazlullah does not seem to be interested in talks. Fazlullah has threatened revenge attacks on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif mainly focused on Punjab, Sharif’s hometown, a political stronghold, and the most populous part of Pakistan. He additionally blamed Nawaz Sharif for turning Pakistan into a colony of the U.S.
The Pakistani government has not clarified to which fraction of the Taliban it is willing to talk with and if—although seemingly an impossible supposition—talks are successful, whether or not they would lead to peace. Pakistan won’t divide legitimacy nor will it divide sovereignty or territory and without the abovementioned, reaching an agreement would seem out of reach since the Taliban is truly powerful and has proved so in recent years. The Taliban can severely harm national security, sovereignty and the face of the nuclear state of Pakistan as a country that has huge claims regionally and internationally. Moreover, for as long as the Taliban is active and threatening, U.S. drone strikes will continue to threaten the sovereignty of Pakistan as an independent state. Islamabad has angrily responded to the strikes many times; for instance Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar accused the Unites States of sabotaging peace efforts after the drone strike in which Mehsud was killed. He said that the drone strike was “not just the killing of one person, it is the death of all peace efforts”1.