Pakistan Taliban leader killed: another drone, another Mehsud. At what cost?

by Maryyum Mehmood

MQ-1 Predator

Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was reported to have been killed in an American drone strike early Friday morning. According to conversations between TTP spokesmen and Pakistani news outlets,  Mehsud, along with two of his bodyguards, was killed in the village of Dade Darpakhel in North Waziristan, Pakistan. This article outlines some of the key consequences of his death for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s overtures for negotiation with the TTP and more broadly for Pakistan.

33 year old Hakimullah Mehsud succeeded Baitullah Mehsud, when his predecessor was slain under similar circumstances, in a US drone operation in the troubled regions in August 2009. Mehsud’s killing has been wrongly reported on several occasions in the past. Details surrounding the circumstances of Mehsud’s actual killing are still emerging. A bounty of $5million had been offered by the FBI since 2010.

Lacking in any formal education and dropping out of a Madrassah in his early teens, Mehsud can be seen as an archetypal TTP foot soldier. Mehsud persevered, working his way up through the ranks of the Taliban; despite his humble beginnings as one of the outfit’s truck drivers, Mehsud climbed the ladder of the Pakistani Taliban’s hierarchy. Being in charge of suicide bomb training and later becoming a spokesman for the TTP, media savvy Mehsud never failed to amuse international reporters but was also considered to be eccentric and often described as reckless. Amongst his many infamous plots, Mehsud is said to have been the mastermind behind the 2009 suicide bomb attack on the CIA officers stationed in the eastern region of Khost, Afghanistan.

The news of Mehsud’s killing comes only a day after the Pakistani government officially vocalized its desire to negotiate with the TTP. Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif, said on Tuesday that Pakistan was committed to holding unconditional talks with the Taliban. Mehsud echoed this statement in early October 2013, following the capture of the TTP’s second in command by US forces in Afghanistan.

The timely killing of Mehsud has definitely tossed a spanner into works, showing once more the premature failure of diplomacy in the region. Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, condemned the drone strikes, branding them as a deliberate attempt to “sabotage” his government’s plans to engage in peaceful dialogue with the Taliban. While Pakistani officials consider this to be a great step towards defeating the Taliban, the government’s stance for the time being will not err from its demand in halt for drone strikes. The government has officially issued a statement following the events on Friday, in which it  “strongly condemns the US drone strike,” lambasting drone attacks as “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” which “have a negative impact” on bilateral ties, regardless of the drones’ high profile targets.

In a somewhat similar fashion, much of Pakistani civil society, whilst rejoicing at the end of Mehsud, will take issue with the use of drones for their notorious track record of civilian casualties. Estimated figures show that civilians bear the brunt and for every, ‘victory’ such as the killing of Mehsud, hundreds of innocent Pakistanis are killed and labelled ‘collateral damage’. Many question whether the lives of hundreds of innocents is really a price worth paying. They demand justice. They demand accountability. Most importantly, however, the killing of Mehsud has led many frustrated by the Taliban’s reign of terror in Pakistan to question why now, and not sooner? At the other end of the spectrum, conspiracy theorists in Pakistan will condemn Nawaz Sharif for being embroiled in a charade of peace talks whilst he was allegedly aware of the plan to kill Mehsud.

Hakimullah Mehsud, like his predecessor Baitullah before him, is no more. However, the menace of the TTP, its ideology and militants very much remain. Inevitably a new leader will be announced in the coming days. Rumors suggest that Mehsud’s replacement will be a toss-up between Maulvi Omar Khalid Khurasani, of the Mahmand region and Maulana Fazlullah, leader of the Swat Taliban. Regardless of who is to take up leadership of the TTP, one thing is certain: the only way to prevent the repetition of this continuos cycle of killing and bloodshed is revolt from below, from the people on ground. In the Pakistani political context, air strikes carried out by foreign forces are certainly not a sustainable long term solution to eliminating Pakistani Taliban insurgency, putting an end to terror and establishing effective peace.


Maryyum Mehmood is a first year PhD candidate at the department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her research focuses on mechanisms of racial and religious prejudice, and responses to stigmatisation. She is also interested in South Asian security issues.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan Taliban leader killed: another drone, another Mehsud. At what cost?”

  1. Ms. Mehmood makes excellent points. Even if Hakimullah Mehsud’s death has not been, yet again, exaggerated the underlying issues remain untouched in Pakistan, having to do with the relationship between the state such as it is, the national periphery, and the great powers intervening in the region. A larger issue still is the use of drones as a form of ever-imminent capital punishment: who should have the right to administer such in this imperfect world?

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