droning hakeemullahDUST AFTER THE DRONE

By Brig Samson S Sharaf

Hakim Ullah Mehsud’s death, reiterates more US imperial outreach in Pakistan than imaginable. State Department finds it impractical to shift Drone Operations to Pentagon as an unattainable goal with remarks that ‘reality has set in’. This means more covert strikes that bypass Pentagon and Pakistan.

There is now a new chessboard of instability. The burning issue of the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan is eclipsed with the argument that it killed Pakistan’s most wanted enemy. Sovereignty aside, a large segment of the Pakistani sentiment terms it positive. Notwithstanding peace, instability in Pakistan remains a plank of pliability, a thesis I floated over a decade ago. The ‘so called war’ will eat into Pakistan like maggots.

TTP a group of over 30 militant organisations is notorious for linkages with RAW, Afghan Intelligence and Middle Eastern sources of funding. They are Indian and CIA assets. Interdiction of some leaders of this group led to Salala. This group fraternises with the CIA controlled Afghan-US Counter Terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT). Latif Mehsud, a close aide of Hakim Ullah snatched by US forces from Afghan intelligence raises many questions.

This hardliner group and its sectarian killers bleed Pakistan. Destruction of Holy Shrines, beheadings of soldiers, display of human body parts in Kurram or repeated attacks on the Hazara community reflect their exclusive ideology. They destroyed four surveillance aircrafts, attacked GHQ and killed two general officers. The group has its sanctuaries in Kunar where they blend with skeleton Baloch liberation groups to destabilise Balochistan.

Given the nature of its alliance and lose command, factions double crossing US interests is possible. In a post US withdrawal scenario each group is trying desperately to hedge its interests. CIA, Afghan Intelligence, Afghan Taliban and Pakistani intelligence are the direction they look at. With PMLN in power, Punjabi Taliban assumes an important role in positioning TTP at an advantage and created acrimony within the Mehsud TTP ranks.

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Intelligence assets are sensitive and bumped off at the slighted suspicion. In the past, CIA had taken out leaders of TTP for double crossing or Pakistani pressure. Why was Hakim Ullah Mehsud suddenly in the cross hairs of CIA? Was it double crossing, Pakistani pressure or both?

The group pledges token allegiance to Mullah Umar of Afghanistan. The killing of Colonel Amir Sultan Tarar (Imam) in cold blood is an incident where good Taliban and familiar interlocutors failed to cajole the bad. Hakim was not in favour of executing Colonel Imam but was forced to comply with the orders of its Shura. His reconciliatory efforts met stiff resistance from hardliners. This put him at odds with Afghan Taliban. With 2014 approaching, Hakim wanted to keep his options open viz a viz Hamid Karzai, Afghan Taliban and the military establishment. He was creating a new strategic space.

Khan Said Sanjana and Wali Ur Rehman in mutual rivalry fought each other to a standstill in Karachi, till Wali, Hakim’s contender turned closest aide finally fell to a drone strike for double crossing. Early this year, a TTP leader critical of both Wali and Hakim was killed by a suicide bomber in Miran Shah. Talk was rife in Miran Shah that internal disagreements may escalate into violence. Amidst these infightings, Hakim hedged his bets in favour of negotiations with Afghan Intelligence, Afghan Taliban and Pakistan. He was doomed.

The government resigned the significance of John Kerry’s visit with demands of eliminating militant havens to distant memory.  The Prime Minister and Interior Minister failed to convince USA. It appears that some verbal agreements were reached on high profile side-lines during the Prime Minister’s visit to USA. Figures on civilian casualties were deliberately fudged to provide grace to the detested symbol of imperial outreach. Why did the government give away valuable information and persist with a mission doomed to failure?

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In a world wrapped in NSA’s surveillance, even a whisper with interlocutors is bugged. The government and TTP set respective echelons in motion under watchful eyes. The processes warranted a fail-safe execution whose absence became the crucial missing link. CIA was watching every move.

Wading in alligator infested waters and ignorant of the world of intelligence intrigues, ‘this was a grievous fault’ that Chaudary Nisar played truly to a Shakespearean tragedy. The government rushed into negotiations neither comprehending the cobweb of widow spiders nor the pathology of conflict. Populism and simplifications impose limitations on statecraft. This euphoria coupled with lack of capacity led to foolhardy attitude.

Army’s plans to fight the militancy met political disapproval. Taliban surrogates were pushing the negotiations option. It provided Pakistani intelligence an opportunity to create splits within TTP. The government bypassed the system and ignored formulating a counter terrorism policy crucial to conflict management and calibrated peace. Select audience of All Parties Conference was never updated. The government restricted itself to 30 odd groups and not 69 as briefed by the intelligence. With a supposed trump card in their hands, Pakistan’s centrist and rightist political parties wanted to give peace a shot as a political stratagem. Like Brutus’ best intentions the government forayed into a hornet’s nest.

As engagements began, so did the intensity in violence. The idea that USA was disrupting peace talks had holes. The Federal and KP government should have factorised the reality that besides USA, segments within TTP were not interested in peace.  These segments led by Fazal Ullah now control TTP. This means that Fazal Ullah with support of Gujjar elements in Afghanistan and Swat has become stronger in the new power game. Neither Afghan Taliban nor TTP can ignore him.

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Were Hakim Ullah’s intentions grandiose? Was he, like the legendary Mirza Ali Khan Faqir of Ipi choosing his moment in history? He was approachable and used the media to portray himself a normal individual at picnic, enjoying by a stream, talking to select journalists, showing inclinations of reverting to a settled life and dreaming. Whatever, events prove that he was hanging by a straw out of his reach.

Hakim Ullah Mehsud assured by the government (in turn assured by USA?) let down his guard. With the ugly having taken over from the good and bad Taliban, there is no room for negotiations now.

TTP clouded in internal competition and external surveillance will become fiercer. Some will fall into Al Qaeda Influence. The ugly will raise the stakes becoming counterweights to the good Taliban. Pakistan will be hit hard from sanctuaries in Kunar. The government in guilt may continue to persist with peace efforts; but who will believe it? It is now time to get serious about counter terrorism policy and educate itself on the many faces of terrorism.

Dynamics make US retrograde from Afghanistan peripheral. Winds and cinder will ensure the pyre keeps burning. To quote from my OPED in 2007, ‘We neither know when the war began nor have control over when it will end’. The battle has yet to strike Gawadar and Punjab, a prelude to the fortress crumbling. Dust after the drone will take years to settle.

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