(Profile from Wikipedia and other sources)
Baitullah Mahsud (born ca. 1974) is a leading tribal militia leader in Waziristan, Pakistan. He is primarily tribally oriented but also sympathetic to Al Qaeda and is the leader of the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, formed in December 2007.
Baitullah Mehsud was born in the early 1970s in Landi Dhok village in the Bannu District of the NWFP, which lies some distance from the Mehsud tribe’s base in the South Waziristan Agency. He hails from the Broomikhel side of the Shabikhel sub-tribe of the Mehsud and is one of five brothers. He avoids media attention and refuses to be photographed in adherence with his religious beliefs. He has never finished formal schooling although he has received some instruction in a madrassa.
As a young madrassa student, Baitullah would often travel into Afghanistan to assist the Taliban in its implementation of Sharia.
He emerged as a major tribal leader soon after the 2004 death of Nek Mohammad. In a ceremony attended by five leading Taliban commanders, including Mullah Dadullah, Baitullah was appointed Mullah Omar’s governor of the Mehsud area. By 2006, Baitullah Mehsud’s growing influence in South Waziristan led some to label him as “South Waziristan’s Unofficial Amir”.
A Rediff report published in March 2006 asserted that Mehsud runs a parallel government in North Waziristan and parts of South Waziristan. He collects a kind of tax, described as protection money, in areas under his control and even settles disputes among Waziris, who choose to turn to him rather than the government courts. His personal army enforces Sharia, which includes destruction of schools and the prohibition of music and video. An official in the Northwest Frontier Constabulary described his army:
Baitullah’s lashkar (army) is very organised. He has divided it into various units and assigned particular tasks to each unit. One of the units been tasked to kill people who are pro-government and pro-US and support the US occupation of Afghanistan. The last person to be killed was Malik Arsallah Khan, chief of the Khuniakhel Wazir tribe, who was killed on 22 February in Wana (in South Waziristan).
In a January 2007 interview with the BBC Urdu Service, Baitullah extolled the virtues of jihad against foreigners and advocated taking the fight to the U.S. and to Britain.
In December 2007, Mehsud was declared the first leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Mehsud entered into a ceasefire with Pakistani authorities on 8 February 2005. During the meeting at Srarogha, the Pakistani military agreed to withdraw its troops from areas under Baitullah’s control. The removal did not include the paramilitary Frontier Corps, who consist mostly of fellow Pashtuns. In exchange, Baitalluh’s followers would not attack government officials, impede development projects or allow foreign militants to operate within their territory.
Mehsud was offered US$20 million for his cooperation in the ceasefire. He declined the money and told Pakistani authorities that they should use the pay-out to “compensate families who had suffered during the military operation”.
The ceasefire agreement ended in July 2005 when after accusing the government of reneging on the deal, Baitullah resumed attacks on security forces.
Dawn News reported in June 2006 that the Waziri tribes allied with the Taliban were negotiating another ceasefire with Pakistani forces.
In February 2008, Mehsud announced that he had agreed to another ceasefire with the government of Pakistan. The Pakistani military has officially claimed that military operations against Mehsud are continuing. The New York Times, however, reported that anonymous high-level officials in the Pakistani government confirmed the deal.
In July 2008, Baitullah issued a statement that threatened to take action against the government if the NWFP leaders did not step down within five days. The NWFP parliamentary leaders promptly refused
Terrorism Attributed to Baitullah Mehsud
September 2007 Rawalpindi Bombings
Preliminary investigations concerning the September 2007 bombings in Rawalpindi note that Mehsud is the primary suspect behind the attacks. A 18 December 2005 report stated that Baitullah Mehsud, Abdullah Mehsud and Yaldeshev were the subject of a man-hunt.Authorities said they believed that the militants were short of ammunition and would be captured soon.
Benazir Bhutto Assassination
On 28 December 2007 the Pakistan government claimed that it had strong evidence regarding Baitullah Mehsud as the man behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on 27 December 2007.The Pakistani government released a transcript it asserted was from a conversation between Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Sahib (literally “Mr. Cleric”). According to the transcript Maulvi Sahib claimed credit for the attack, Baitullah Mehsud asked who carried it out, and was told, “There were Saeed, the second was Badarwala Bilal and Ikramullah was also there.”
The translation released from Agence France Presse differed slightly from the translation from the Associated Press. According to the transcripts Baitullah Mehsud says he is at, “Anwar Shah’s house”, in Makeen or Makin. The Agence France Presse transcript identifies Makeen as a town in South Waziristan. Subsequently, both Agence France Presse and NDTV released an official denial by Mehsud’s spokesman in which he said that Mehsud had no involvement in the attack, that the transcript was “a drama”, that it would have been “impossible” for militants to penetrate the security cordon around Bhutto, and that her death was a “tragedy” which had left Mehsud “shocked”. Mehsud’s spokesman was quoted as saying: “I strongly deny it. Tribal people have their own customs. We don’t strike women.”
In an address to the nation on 2 January 2008, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said that he believed Maulana Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud were prime suspects in the assassination of Bhutto.
On Jan. 18, 2008, The Washington Post reported that the CIA has concluded that Mehsud was behind the Bhutto assassination. “Offering the most definitive public assessment by a U.S. intelligence official, [Michael V.] Hayden said Bhutto was killed by fighters allied with Mehsud, a tribal leader in northwestern Pakistan, with support from al-Qaeda’s terrorist network.” U.S. President George W. Bush then placed Mr. Mehsud on “a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.”
Relationship with Abdullah Mehsud
Abdullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader who was among the first captives set free from Guantanamo is sometimes described as Baitullah’s brother. Other sources merely assert that they were clansmen, or associates. Islam Online reports that Baitullah suspected that Abdullah was a double agent.
The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan profiles Baitullah Mehsud, the man the Pakistani authorities say ordered the killing of Benazir Bhutto.
Baitullah Mehsud, the 34-year-old pro-Taleban militant commander, fits the part of the Pakistani tribal guerrilla leader to the hilt.
Baitullah Mehsud has an aversion to publicity and photographs
But there is something extra about him as well.
The few journalists who have met him speak of his earnest desire to support his actions by his interpretation of Islamic ideals.
The emphasis here is on jihad (holy war) against foreign occupying forces in Afghanistan and the establishment of an Islamic state.
These include the use of suicide bombers and cross-border attacks on international forces based there.
There is also his aversion to publicity in general, and to photography in particular.
“He does not allow his picture to be taken,” says a journalist who has met the commander.
It is an aversion he shares with Taleban supreme commander Mullah Omar, with whom he is said to have a “good relationship”.
Baitullah Mehsud, as his name suggests, belongs to the Mehsud tribe in Pakistan’s troubled South Waziristan region.
The area is now said to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban.
In this regard, Baitullah Mehsud is said to have played a major role, especially in providing a sanctuary for fighters to operate in Afghanistan.
Commander Mehsud makes no bones about this, and says it is in fact the duty of every Muslim to wage jihad against “the infidel forces of America and Britain”.
Talking to the BBC in an exclusive interview earlier in 2007, he said the militants were dead set on their goal of freeing Afghanistan through jihad.
“Only jihad can bring peace to the world,” he said.
The militant leader on several occasions has openly admitted to crossing the border to fight foreign troops.
When another BBC team visited his area in October 2007, his spokesman Zulfiqar told us he was away fighting in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden link
Since 9/11 he has grown in strength and stature, making him the most important pro-Taleban militant commander in the Waziristan region.
He is said to operate under a legendary Afghan Taleban commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Jalaluddin Haqqani is believed to have helped Osama Bin Laden escape US bombing in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains in early 2002.
Baitullah Mehsud himself is said to command about 20,000 pro-Taleban militants.
A majority of these belong to the Mehsud tribe.
Intelligence reports claim that a large number of foreigners are also present in the number.
However, when this reporter in October visited the Mehsuds, no foreign fighters were visible in the area.
Driving out the army
Pakistan’s military has launched several operations to take control of the Waziristan tribal region.
These were largely unsuccessful and led to the signing of two highly controversial peace accords with the militants.
The second of these was signed by Commander Mehsud in February 2005 and effectively signified his status as the premier militant commander in South Waziristan.
Initially Baitullah Mehsud says he was reluctant to fight the army, which he considered a “national institution”.
His militants have since waged a guerrilla war that has virtually pushed the army out of South Waziristan.
When the BBC visited the area in October, the militants were holding nearly 300 soldiers hostage.
The soldiers were later handed over in exchange for imprisoned militants, some of them convicted of being involved in suicide bombings.
The militant commander is said to be the man who has masterminded most of the recent suicide attacks in the country.
While he has admitted to targeting military personnel in reprisal attacks, he denied attacking any political figures.
In particular, he denied he had anything to do with the attack on Benazir Bhutto on 18 October.
But there was a strong anti-Benazir feeling among the militants when this BBC reporter spoke to them in October, days before the first attack.
Most regarded her as an “American pawn” and some condemned her for belonging to the minority Muslim Shia sect.
As we took our leave, Zulfiqar said Benazir Bhutto would get what she deserved, sooner or later.
Some investigators maintain that extremists from radical groups such as the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi could have been responsible for the October attack.
For the moment, however, the reclusive pro-Taleban commander could well have grabbed first spot as Pakistan’s public enemy number one.
Khaled Ahmed’s Analysis
(FRIDAY TIMES, LAHORE, APRIL 6,2005)
Abdullah Mehsud, who kidnapped two Chinese engineers at the Gomal Zam Dam, was an old Banuri Masjid warrior. After the kidnappers were stormed, one Chinese engineer was killed. Abdullah was helped by five kidnappers, two of them from South Waziristan and three from Afghanistan. Mehsud was released from Guantanamo Bay by the Americans in March 2004 after two and a half years
Baitullah Mehsud is the warlord with whom the government signed its second peace pact in February 2005. Baitullah has complete dominance over North and South Waziristan, registered as two tribal agencies under Federally Administered Territories Act (FATA). He is 30 but was only 22 when he trained as a warrior in Takhar province of Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance
(Tanvir Qaiser Shahid is the rare Pakistani journalist reporting honestly on South Waziristan. He has been harassed by men sent to Lahore by someone in Peshawar. His family too has been harassed in Wah. Considering that two journalists have been gunned down in Wana in January 2005, his research and on-the-spot reporting, presented below, is of great value.)
Pakistan army started its operations in South Waziristan in January 2003 after being alerted to the presence of Al Qaeda elements there. Two years have passed since then but the trouble there doesn’t seem to come to an end although it has been announced officially that out of the 6000 ‘foreign’ terrorists, nearly 600 have been captured, 150 killed, while only 80 are left and are ‘roaming around in bands’. During the operations, 200 of the Pakistan army too have been accepted officially as being killed. The campaign was highlighted by two ‘pacts’ signed with the local tribes, the first one at Shakai with a Wazir warlord Nek Muhammad in April 2004, which he broke and was killed the same year through a laser-guided missile; the second one at Sararogha in February 2005 with a Mehsud warlord Baitullah Mehsud, for which he was paid Rs 2 crore but which he denies.
From Nek Muhammad to Abdullah Mehsud: Writing in daily Pakistan (26 July 2004) Tanvir Qaiser Shahid stated that Al Qaeda commander Nek Muhammad who was killed by a missile in Wana was in possession of great wealth although no one knew where it had come from. In the past he had stolen cars and for a time owned a shop in Wana. After he became linked to Al Qaeda people saw a caravan of air-conditioned double-cabin wagons, land cruisers and bullet-proof cars in his possession. He got this wealth after providing shelter to the fleeing Al Qaeda members. He got married again when he became prosperous. He got Qari Tahir of Al Qaeda to pay him a big fee for getting him out of Wana and abroad. His two lieutenants Dawar Khan and Iden Khan provided two hiding places to Al Qaeda in South Waziristan for $34,000.
After the death of Nek Muhammad, another warrior named Abdullah Mehsud appeared on the scene by kidnapping two Chinese engineers. Tanvir Qaiser Shahid wrote in daily Pakistan (26 October 2004) that the man who kidnapped two Chinese engineers at the Gomal Zam Dam on 11 October 2004 in South Waziristan, was an old Banuri Masjid warrior, Abdullah Mehsud. After all negotiations failed, the kidnappers were stormed, which resulted in the death of one Chinese engineer. Abdullah was helped by five kidnappers, two of them from South Waziristan and three from Afghanistan. Mehsud, who was released from Guantanamo Bay by the Americans in March 2004 after two and a half years, demanded the release of five of his friends from jail in Pakistan as ransom. Abdullah was born in South Waziristan, was educated to FA but could not obtain commission in the army like his cousin who retired as major and is now trading in Wana. After failing to join the army, Abdullah went to Karachi and lived among the Afghan refugees and also arose to the leadership of the Pushtun transport mafia. He was taken into Deobandi seminary of Banuri Masjid by its chief, Mufti Shamzai.
The Banuri Mosque connection: Abdullah stayed there for three years and came under the influence of Mufti Jameel who taught there. Mufti Jameel was a close adviser of Mufti Shamzai and the two were representatives of the Taliban interests in Pakistan. When in 2001, ISI chief General Mehmood took a delegation to persuade Mullah Umar to desist from terrorism, Mufti Jameel was also in the delegation. Fifty-two-year old Mufti Jameel was at that time information secretary of the JUI and was a member of its Shura. He ran 150 Iqra religious schools where 50,000 took instruction. Abdullah Mehsud, after coming close to Mufti Jameel, was given the job of Mullah Umar’s personal bodyguard. Abdullah was already a veteran of the war against the Northern Alliance. In October 2001 when America attacked Afghanistan he was once again at the battlefront, from where he was captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
The Americans failed to link Abdullah to Al Qaeda and released him in March 2004. Upon reaching Pakistan he went straight to Banuri Masjid in Karachi and paid his respects to Mufti Jameel. The Wana Operation was on then and Mufti Shamzai of Banuri Masjid had been murdered in Karachi. While Abdullah lay low in South Waziristan, another incident took place. Someone killed Mufti Jameel on 9 October 2004 along with Khatm-e-Nabuwwat cleric Maulana Taunsavi. Abdullah struck two days later and kidnapped the Chinese engineers from the Dam. Abdullah Mehsud got to know Uzbek warrior Tahir Yuldashev and Ahmadzai Wazir Nek Muhammad intimately during his training in the Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. While the parliamentary opposition is opposed to the Wana Operation, many are in denial about the presence of foreigners in South Waziristan. Jamaat Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad has hinted that Mufti Jameel was actually killed by the state agencies.
The Karachi doctors and Jandullah: While the Operation drew on, President Musharraf announced that attempts on his life had been planned from South Waziristan, that the explosives ‘were carried from South Waziristan to Multan and then to Rawalpindi’. In Karachi the corps commander narrowly escaped death at the hands a terrorist organisation Jandullah whose members too had come down from South Waziristan. In Karachi another pair of doctors were found involved after earlier discoveries in Lahore. The two had also looked after a wounded Abu Musaab Zarqavi as he fled from the war against the Americans in Afghanistan. Later, Zarqavi was to lead the terrorist campaign in Iraq.
Daily Pakistan (12 July 2004) quoted Karachi police as saying that Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed kept Al Qaeda leader Abu Musaab Zarqavi in their house in Karachi and looked after him and then sent him to South Waziristan for onward journey to Afghanistan. Both the Karachi doctors were revealed as Jandullah members by the Jandullah leader, Ataullah. The doctors had admitted that they were members of Jandullah and that they had provided medical aid to Al Qaeda members and sent men to be trained as Al Qaeda agents to Wana, to Nek Muhammad, through his brother. According to Jang the two doctors admitted that they had been members of the Jamaat Islami student wing and had maintained their links with the Jamiat Tulaba Islam till late. Zarqavi went from Karachi to Iraq where he has since been executing attacks on the Americans and the Iraqi Shia. He has also been taking Pakistanis hostage and killing them.
Enter Baitullah Mehsud from the North: As one-legged Abdullah Mehsud hid in the mountains abutting on Afghanistan, another Mehsud warrior named Baitullah Mehsud came on the scene. This is the warlord with whom the government signed its second peace pact in February 2005. Baitullah has complete dominance over North and South Waziristan, registered as two tribal agencies under Federally Administered Territories Act (FATA). He is 30 but was only 22 when he trained as warrior in Takhar province of Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. He was brought close to the Taliban leadership by Nek Muhammad who was already in charge of a training camp in Afghanistan. He also fought against the Americans before fleeing to South Waziristan. The government’s pact of Sararogha with him is an effort to isolate Abdullah Mehsud. The pact did not contain the condition that he must present the ‘foreign terrorists’ taking shelter with him for registration; it simply bound him not to attack the Pakistan army or state assets and not give shelter to foreign terrorists. It did not bind him to laying down arms or not fighting across the Durand Line.
Baitullah Mehsud addressed his tribe after the Sararogha pact and clearly swore allegiance to Mullah Umar of the Taliban. His power over the two agencies is owed to his wealth and his ability to wage war. He goes around in a bullet-proof car and is followed around by 30 armed guards. Like Nek Muhammad, he too has two wives and has three castle-like houses in North and South Waziristan. Although he is not a tribal leader by lineage or by election, he is more respected as a warlord by the people of the two agencies than any other person. Although he denies that he received Rs 20 million (2 crore) from the secret funds of the government without signing a receipt, corps commander Peshawar General Safdar Hussain is on record as saying that the money was indeed set aside for him.
The big two-way payoff: The sociology and pattern of tribal leadership has changed since the Al Qaeda Arabs arrived in the territory. After the Taliban defeat in Afghanistan, the Arabs showed a lot of generosity to the tribal population here. Daily Times Washington correspondent Khalid Hasan reported on 17 February 2005: ‘Christian Science Monitor correspondent in Pakistan Owais Tohid writes, quoting intelligence sources and for some facts, South Waziristan official Asmatullah Gandapur, that al Qaeda lured tribal militants with huge sums of money, and registers were maintained for recording salaries for local fighters. “The fighters used to get a 15,000 rupee (around $250) monthly salary. The commanders used to get advances running into millions for arms and ammunition, communication, and Land Cruisers,” a local intelligence official told the correspondent. Tribesmen benefited by renting out their compounds for shelter and training camps, and providing food to foreign militants.
“A chicken worth 60 rupees (a dollar) would be sold to al Qaeda for 900 rupees ($15) and a bag of sugar worth 950 rupees ($7) would be provided for 9,000 rupees (around $150),” tribesman Mohammad Noor recalled. Similarly, a compound, which is usually rented out for $17 to $25, would be given to al Qaeda as a training camp or hideout for around $10,000. Most of al Qaeda’s money was transferred from Arab countries through hawala . Some locals even witnessed al Qaeda operatives roaming around South Waziristan with bags full of dollars. “Once I visited my cousin in a remote village where everybody was talking about a rich bearded Arab distributing money among villagers. Later I came to know he was a big financier,” said tribesman Farid Khan, referring to Saad bin Khadr, who was killed in a military operation in October 2003.’
This is part one of a two-part report on South Waziristan. The second instalment can be read at weekly: www.thefridaytimes.com