Can Mehsud be captured now? Rahimullah Yusufzai

By Rahimullah Yusufzai

Baitullah Mehsud, a larger-than-life figure from the tribal region of South Waziristan, continues to draw attention on the world stage. Recently, Time magazine named him in its annual list of the 100 most influential persons in the world. And a few days ago, the US announced a reward of $5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

In a way, the reward is an indictment against Pakistan for its inability to bring to justice a wanted Pakistani. Now that a precedent has been set, it is possible that more Pakistanis will be placed on the most-wanted lists internationally and monetary rewards announced for their arrests.

Ironically, the government of Pakistan hasn’t offered any such reward for Mehsud’s arrest, even though he and his outlawed organization, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is routinely blamed by authorities for most of the suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in the country. He has been charged in some police cases but has yet to be tried in a court of law or convicted.

It is possible that the US government took Pakistani authorities into confidence before announcing the cash reward for Mehsud’s capture. In fact, government functionaries in Pakistan have been privately complaining and using certain media outlets to highlight the issue of lack of cooperation from the US in targeting and eliminating people like Mehsud. They have pointed out that US drones failed to attack Mehsud and his hideouts even when intelligence information about his possible location was shared with American military commanders. One such occasion was a largely-attended press conference that Mehsud addressed in a government school in a part of South Waziristan inhabited by his Mehsud tribe and was widely reported in the media. By announcing a reward for Mehsud’s capture under its Rewards for Justice programme and including his name in its most-wanted list of Al-Qaeda facilitators, the US appears keen to address Pakistan’s concerns and at the same time further enlist its cooperation in achieving American objectives in its “war on terror.”

After being discarded by the UK, the term “war on terror” has now been abandoned by the US due to the belated realisation that it was misleading and was provoking large sections of the world’s Muslim population who believed it was a war against Islam. However, mere change of wording is unlikely to have the desired effect. Instead, the Western powers would have to change their policy of using unbridled force against those with a different worldview and pursue dialogue while resolving contentious issues. Also, there is need for change in the unconditional American and Western support for Israel and the neglect of Palestinian suffering, their backing for snon-representative rulers in Islamic countries and their urge to replace unfriendly governments in Muslim nations with those behaving as puppets.

It is interesting to note that on the day the reward for Mehsud’s capture was announced, the US State Department also made public two cash awards for those who could help in the arrest and conviction of an Afghan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and a Libyan, Abu Yahya al-Libi. The fact that the US added a Pakistani, an Afghan and a Libyan to its list of most wanted people showed the trans-national character of the enemies of America. Also, all three are young, Mehsud being the oldest at about 35; Haqqani and al-Libi are under-30. This explains the transition taking place in Islamic militant organisations like Al-Qaeda and Taliban with younger people taking centre-stage in place of the older generation of militants. More importantly, the new generation of militants seems to be more radical and better organised. This also shows that killing or capturing older militants such as Osama bin Laden, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mulla Mohammad Omar is unlikely to greatly damage their organisations as younger and equally determined Al-Qaeda and Taliban members are ready to take over the moment the pioneers of these groups are eliminated or apprehended.

The $5 million reward for Mehsud’s capture places him just below Mulla Omar in terms of his importance to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The reward for the latter’s arrest is $10 million and that for bin Laden and Zawahiri $25 million each. Mehsud he has time and again declared that his leader is Mulla Omar, who is Afghan.

The US charge-sheet against Mehsud is rather weak. The State Department statement announcing the reward for his capture noted that Mehsud is “regarded” as a key Al-Qaeda facilitator in South Waziristan and that Pakistani authorities “believe” that the suicide attack against Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was staged by militants loyal to him. The statement also says that “press reports also have linked Mehsud to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the deaths of other innocent civilians.” Further, the US government pointed out in the statement that Mehsud had stated his intention to attack the United States. He was accused of conducting cross-border attacks against US forces in Afghanistan and posing a clear threat to American citizens and interests in the region. It is doubtful if all this would be enough to persuade independent judges to convict Mehsud in a court of law.

The reward for Haqqani’s capture is an acknowledgement of the Afghan Taliban commander’s hitherto underestimated power and influence. Earlier, the reward for his arrest was $200,000. It shows the US has finally recognised the threat the so-called “Haqqani Network” poses to the American, NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. His father, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of the most powerful Afghan Mujahideen and Taliban commanders in the 1980s and 1990s. The younger Haqqani, reverentially referred to as Khalifa by his followers, has built a bigger reputation by spearheading a relentless resistance campaign against the NATO and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan and Kabul and inflicting heavy losses on them. Most attacks, including the daring suicide bombings taking place in Kabul, are reportedly organised by Haqqani’s fighters.

The State Department statement doesn’t provide much grounds to seek his conviction in a court. It refers to an interview that he gave to an American news organisation in which he admitted planning the Jan 14, 2008, attack against the Serena Hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including American citizen Thor David Hesla. He is accused of coordinating and participating in cross-border attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan from his hideout in Pakistan’s tribal areas and of maintaining close ties to al-Qaeda.

The same holds true for al-Libi, who is referred to by the State Department as an Islamic scholar and a prominent member of Al-Qaeda. The reward for his capture is $1 million. The statement recalls that al-Libi was captured in 2002 and imprisoned at the US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan. It doesn’t say that al-Libi and three other Arab fighters escaped from the heavily-guarded prison in Bagram in what was undoubtedly an unprecedented security lapse. The four Al-Qaeda fighters led by Abu Nasir al-Qahtani issued a videotape after their escape and described in detail their miraculous getaway from the maximum-security jail.

The Rewards for Justice programme hasn’t been very successful in netting the wanted men in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The cash awards are huge but not tempting enough to lure those who may have information that will lead to the capture of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Mulla Omar and the 20 or so Asl-Qaeda and Taliban figures on the most wanted US list. Ramzi Yousaf and Aimal Kansi were apprehended in Pakistan with the help of informers who were tempted by the cash reward offered by the US. Certain other low-key, unimportant and, in a number of cases, innocent people were also captured, and according to General Pervez Musharraf’s book, delivered to the US in return for monetary prizes starting from $5,000. Most beneficiaries of the cash rewards were apparently personnel of Pakistan’s security and law-enforcement agencies.

In Mehsud’s case, there would be greater chances of netting him compared with figures like bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Mulla Omar and Haqqani through the offer of cash reward. Unlike the others on the wanted list, his location and hideouts are known and confined to a limited area in South Waziristan and, occasionally, in North Waziristan. Besides, he has earned the enmity of both Pakistani security establishment and rival groups of militants. The suicide attack by one of his suicide bombers against the rival militant group led by Haji Turkestan in Jandola, the gateway to South Waziristan, on March 26 shows the intensity of his battle with militants and tribes that are standing up to him, reportedly at the behest of the government. However, the public announcement of the $5 million reward for Mehsud’s capture would alert him and make him even more careful about his movements. The lure of money is surely a powerful incentive and one comes across bounty hunters who come to our part of the world in the hope of finding bin Laden and his associates. But it seems the people who know the hideouts of these wanted militants are so committed to their cause that no amount of money could tempt them to give away the location of the wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban figures. (The News, March 28, 2009)

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusufzai

بیت اللہ محسود سے بدلہ لیں گے

اس گروپ کی قیادت زین الدین محسود کر رہے ہیں

پاکستان کے قبائلی علاقے جنوبی وزیرستان میں ایک مسلح گروپ نے دھمکی دی ہے کہ وہ بیت اللہ محسود سے جنڈولہ میں گزشتہ دنوں ہوئے خودکش حملے کا بدلہ ضرور لیں گے تاہم عام قبائلیوں کو کچھ نہیں کہا جائے گا۔

کسی نامعلوم مقام سے ٹیلیفون پر بات کرتے ہوئے اپنے آپ کو عبداللہ محسود گروپ کا ترجمان قرار دینے والے شخص طوفان محسود نے الزام عائد کیا کہ بیت اللہ محسود گروپ کے مساجد پر حملوں اور قرآن کو مبینہ طور پر نظر آتش کرنے کے ان کے پاس ثبوت موجود ہیں۔

اس گروپ کی قیادت زین الدین محسود کر رہے ہیں اور یہ کچھ عرصہ قبل قائم کی گئی تھی۔ اس میں ترکستان بیٹنی نامی شخص بھی شامل ہے جس کو ہلاک کرنے کی بیت اللہ گروپ کئی مرتبہ کوشش کر چکا ہے۔

بیت اللہ محسود کی کالعدم تحریک طالبان پاکستان نے جنڈولہ حملے کی ذمہ داری قبول کی تھی۔