x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Mehsud’s killing will not end the real problem

The drone killing of the Pakistani Taliban's leader will not solve the underlying problems.

American generals and policymakers exulting in the killing on Friday of Hakimullah Mehsud will not have long to enjoy their remote-control triumph: even before the Pakistani Taliban’s chief was buried yesterday, news reports said, his senior deputies were working out who would replace him.

Mehsud was beyond doubt a “high value” target, as the Americans say: in his four years heading the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) his daring and leadership produced many bloody attacks, including assaults on Nato road convoys traversing Pakistan en route to Afghanistan. There was a $5 million (Dh18.4m) price on his head.

His death has been reported more than once before, but this time there is little doubt – and even less doubt that the North Waziristan drone strike that did the job will infuriate many in Pakistan’s leadership. Just the day before the drone struck, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said that dialogue with TTP “has started”. Earlier last week Mr Sharif was in Washington, where he once again called on the US president, Barack Obama, to end the drone campaign.

Mr Sharif and other prominent politicians were elected on a platform that included negotiating with TTP, as an alternative to endless insurgency and counterinsurgency. That approach appeals to many Pakistanis, of course, but a deal with TTP is a slippery fish. Our columnist Shaukat Qadir asserts that since TTP “seeks to claim political space through the use of violence … there should be absolutely no space for negotiations unless the government is in a position to dictate terms”.

Repeatedly, TTP has agreed to talks when in trouble militarily, as a way of getting the government to reduce pressure; when TTP has rebuilt, it strikes again, talks fall apart, and TTP’s demands swell. This kind of “negotiation” may convince the Pakistani public that their leaders want peace, but it is in fact a dead end.

If the TTP is that cynical about peace, what can Pakistan’s government gain from playing their game? This policy does indeed reward violence with political legitimacy, exactly the opposite of what is needed.

There will soon be a new TTP leader to whom Mr Sharif can send envoys. And as long as the US keeps filling Waziristan’s skies with drones, it will have few friends on the ground. Mehsud is gone, but the problems he personified are not so easily killed.