Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, the TTP mastermind and architect of incidents surrounding the raids on US military convoys in 2007 and numerous acts of terror that have wreaked havoc on peace and tranquility in Pakistan died in a US drone strike in North Waziristan. This fact was confirmed by a senior Taliban source, and had immense ramifications on an already tumultuous relationship between the US and its major non-NATO ally. It has stoked debate in a country, which has been at the vortex of counterterrorism efforts for over a decade, and despite Mehsud’s death taking place in a region where the US has consistently pressed the Pakistan government to launch military strikes as it was a suspected strong hold for TTP elements, the furor which accompanied the event was unwarranted from a nation which remains deeply divided over what constitutes acts of terror in the first place.
Ideally, Mehsud’s free mobility in a restive region, should have elicited a response which centers on the castigation of the state’s ability to strike him down and launch an operation in North Waziristan. Yet the rhetoric which followed from an array of stakeholders in the country, ranging from political parties, media channels to the general public, was devoid of any line of action to be adopted in terms of beefing up intelligence capabilities or redefining the contours of the relationship with the United States. However, unlike the usual calls of a ‘brazen violation of state sovereignty’ littering the mainstream media, the US was actually censured for adopting a policy of ‘hypocrisy’ and in the process, thwarting the fragile negotiation process initiated by the PML- (N) led federal government. In addition, an array of analysts and prominent policy experts reprimanded the drone strike which killed Mehsud, as contributing or fomenting the animosity which exists between a ‘stake holder’ and the state of Pakistan, where the latter is adamant in ensuring that the TTP gets a fair share of a slice, of an ‘inflated pie’, something that the Balochistan Liberation Army which has launched an insurgency in the country’s largest province, actually deserves. On the other hand parties considered to be ‘right’ in the political spectrum, such as the JUI-F, began to equate Mehsud’s death with ‘martyrdom’, a fact echoed by rival parties in the restive KPK province, which until recently, witnessed a blast on a church in the provincial capital which was condoned by the very same outfit which is considered to be a stake holder.
The rhetoric which oozed from such quarters, actually shape and mold perceptions in a country, where an overwhelming majority consider US policy overtures to be responsible for threatening peace and tranquility for more than a decade. Hence it came to no one’s surprise that the ‘Centrist’ political party, the Pakistan Tehrik-I-Insaaf, considered cutting off NATO supply lines to be the best possible line of action to ensure that drone strikes do not take place in the near future. The supply line which stretches from Karachi to Chaman and into Kandahar in Afghanistan is the life line for NATO forces pursuing counterterrorism efforts, which if put into perspective, would have had a spillover effect on the restive North Waziristan region. Yet this line of action was considered as the ideal response for reckless US adventurism. However oblique they may be, these narratives can be challenged on factual grounds, which highlights the intellectual dearth in the parties, which come up with possible policies which act as a guideline for the future course of action.
Firstly, Mehsud, was included in the list of ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorists’ by the United States and the TTP ( a stake holder nowadays for some reason, in a fragile peace process), in the list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations’ according to the US State Department’s Press Release in 2010. Hence, it was inevitable that Mehsud was going to be targeted by US forces, which in this case came in the form of a drone strike which resulted in his death in the village of Danda Darpa Khel. This is despite the fact that the PML N government’s efforts of harboring the TTP in a negotiation process was initiated based upon a nationwide consensus. Hence the unilateral strike to dislodge Mehsud was a well calculated plan, which neither contradicted earlier calls for the US to reserve its right to exercise coercion on the premise of national security, nor did it qualify as a US line of action which was inconsistent with Pakistan’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban which was an internal matter.
Secondly, calls for stopping NATO supply lines from political a party, which was met with severe criticism from the NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is an argument which has serious loopholes in it. The United States and Pakistan have entered into an MOU which replaces the only arrangement that was made regarding the supply routes prior to the Salala Check Post Incident in 2010 which resulted in the death of 24 Pakistan soldiers. The terms of the MOU, which includes the allowance of non-lethal cargo and is valid till 31 December 2015, means that any calls for resorting towards cutting off supplies are unwarranted.
These arguments can thus be explained as a “knee-jerk” reaction to realities which have unfolded in front of the country in broad day light. Ironically, Mehsud is a vilified figure in Pakistan as a whole and the large majority of the country’s diverse population denounces him and the ideology of the TTP. Yet policy makers and breakers, of which many consider him a ‘martyr’ are the ones who matter and the narratives given by them could well and truly spell out future security scenarios in Pakistan and the contours of US- Pakistan relations, which have swayed like a reckless rickshaw.