“The death of the [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is a signal achievement for the covert CIA program at a time when drones themselves have come under criticism from human rights groups and other critics in Pakistan and the United States over the issue of civilian casualties.”
Thus declares a lead editorial in the New York Times. But wait a minute — this isn’t an editorial. It purports to be a news report. “Signal achievement” is not exactly the language of unbiased reporting.
Only a week ago the Times editorial board, echoing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was challenging the argument that drone strikes can be supported because of their “surgical precision.” Times reporters seem to regard the death of Mehsud as a vindication for the CIA, rebuffing its critics. Needless to say, 24 hours after the attack we have absolutely no way of knowing whether any civilians were killed.
What we do know however, is that the “collateral damage” from this particular drone strike may extend far beyond Waziristan.
The Times reporters say:
Hunted by American drones, Mr. Mehsud adopted a low profile in recent months and was rarely seen in the news media. But in a BBC interview that was broadcast in October, he vowed to continue his campaign of violence. He was aware that the C.I.A. was seeking to kill him, he said, adding: “Don’t be afraid. We all have to die someday.”
Yet for the BBC journalist who interviewed him, Mehsud’s observation about mortality was an incidental detail. The news which the BBC highlighted and the New York Times seems to dismiss, was that Mehsud said the Taliban were ready for peace talks.
Asked about the possibility of peace talks with the government, Mehsud said: “We believe in serious talks but the government has taken no steps to approach us. The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions.”
Mehsud said he was not prepared to discuss conditions through the media.
“The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team, and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions.”
Leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud: “The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions”
Mehsud said he would guarantee the security of any government negotiators.
He said that for any ceasefire to be credible “it is important that drone strikes are stopped”.
The CIA however, has less interest in supporting conditions for peace in Pakistan than it has in retaliating for the 2009 suicide attack on Camp Chapman in which seven were CIA personnel were killed.
Moreover, having been transformed from an intelligence gathering organization into a paramilitary force specializing in drone strikes, the perpetuation of violence in Pakistan would seem to serve the CIA’s interests.
Mehsud’s death not only undermines the chances for the Taliban and the Pakistan government to engage in serious talks but it diminishes the ability of a loosely affiliated group of militants to be able to speak with one voice.
Mehsud’s replacement, Khan Said ‘Sajna’, was chosen in a shura (council) today, but out of 60 members Sanja only had the support of 43. Several senior Taliban commanders are opposed to his promotion.
In the standard rhetoric of counterterrorism, the Taliban have been dealt a major blow — as though men like Hakimullah Mehsud are irreplaceable. The more predictable outcome is that the Taliban’s enemies will understand less about its leadership and those who might be willing to enter negotiations will be outflanked by those who favor more violence.
The Pakistan government insists that it will move forward with peace talks, but with whom they intend to engage in dialogue seems unclear.