They got him just like they got Osama bin Laden. They got him just like they promised they would get him, smoke him out and get him dead or alive. It took the United States several years to gather intelligence, several botched attempts and dead leads but on November 1st, Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban who had ties with al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Afghan Taliban and all the bad guys you can think of was killed in a drone attack. Jamshed Mehsud, who gave himself the name of Hakimullah or ‘the Knowledgeable One’, had no clue that he would not die in a battlefield but would be ingloriously killed by a remotely piloted drone in Darpa Danday Khel in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Mehsud was on the US Specially Designated Global Terrorists List and was on Pakistan’s Most Wanted list with a bounty of Rs 50 million.
Hakimullah sent a Jordanian jihadist, a suicide bomber, who killed seven CIA officials and US security personnel on December 30, 2009 at Combat Outpost Chapman in Afghanistan. He later released a video with the Jordanian triple agent. Hakimullah also claimed credit for an attempted car bombing in Times Square in May 2010.
For the US, it is a strategic accomplishment. One Mehsud down in a stable that produces hundreds of thousands. The US has killed close to a hundred Taliban leaders in Pakistan and yet the amorphous grouping of terrorists who know no geographical or political boundaries have acted at will in the area.
Taking out Mehsud will temporarily demoralise the rank and file of the TTP and cause some degree of internecine warfare but with the fertile breeding ground that Pakistan provides for radicals, there will be nary a hiccup before it renders another spectacular strike on its ‘enemy’. A spokesperson of the TTP said, “Every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber…America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood.” One would think that Pakistan would be rejoicing over the taking down of its number one enemy. But wait, does Pakistan ever do what you expect it to? The man who was supposed to usher in Naya Pakistan, Imran Khan, actually denounced the attack calling the drone attack an act of sabotage by the Americans. Khan was referring to the doomed peace talks that were supposed to take place between Pakistan’s political parties and various ‘stakeholders’ which include the Taliban factions. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan bemoaned, “This is not just the killing of one person…it’s the death of all peace efforts.”
While the strike is actually good for Pakistan it is a huge embarrassment for Nawaz Sharif, coming barely a week after the Pakistani Prime Minister returned from Washington DC after his awkward meeting with President Obama in which he claimed he had asked for US drone strikes to be stopped.
The drone attacks in Pakistan are not going to stop till the US has eliminated its targets or till Pakistan eliminates them for the US. One can’t but secretly hope that a few American drones mistakenly target some of India’s most wanted roaming around in Pakistan openly with blasé confidence.
Not that we could take proactive measures ourselves as that seems beyond our realm. But if anything, this week we should recollect one of our least remembered overseas military successes: Operation Cactus. Twenty five years ago, on November 3rd, the Indian Navy was called in to rescue Maldivian hostages taken by Sri Lankan mercenaries who were attempting to overthrow the government in Maldives.
The Indian Army in an overnight rescue mission prevented the coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The Malidivian President requested help from the US, UK and India. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dispatched an Ilyushin II-76 with Indian army soldiers who were airdropped in Male Airport barely twelve hours after the appeal by the Maldivian President. Two frigates of the Indian Navy captured the mercenaries and we had one of the fastest military successes of our times.
All countries are conflicted about military interventions in friendly countries. It goes against the tenets of friendly international relations and good neighbourliness. Interventions however become necessary either to protect the lives of our own citizens or to eliminate mass murderers and terrorists.
There are limits to the efficacy of peace talks and humanitarian measures. However skeptical one may be of use of military force, sometimes it is the only option. Pakistanis will have to wake up to that fact sooner or later.