On the morning of 24 July, one of the most feared and devoted radical Islamist leader of South Waziristan, Abdullah Mahsud, died when the security forces shot him dead in the house of a JUI (F) leader Aslam, with whom he was staying in Zhob, Baluchistan. Does his death mark a change in the attitude of the Pakistani government to deal more firmly with the radical forces in the country? Alternatively, was it an operation to offer the U.S the death of a high level Jihadist when the threat of a U.S physical intervention is high? Only time will tell what is the truth if ever.
Abdullah Mahsud died as he lived – bravely and with a certain disdain for life. Rumour has it that he killed himself rather than allow capture. He was in his early 30’s. It is always sad when someone dies, but what is very tragic in his case is that things could have been so different for this person. Fate could easily have dealt him a different hand.
After graduation, Abdullah Mahsud applied to the local education department to be recruited as teacher in a primary school near his home. His application was rejected.
Dejected with his circumstances he wandered for a while to find meaning for his life and found it in Afghanistan, where he joined the Taliban who were in the process of consolidation. Soon after 9/11, fate overtook Abdullah Mahsud and he fought against the U.S alongside the Taliban. He was injured by a mine and lost a leg. Later he was detained by the Northern Alliance after the fighting in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan in 2002.
Later, Abdullah Mahsud was interned for two years at Guantanomo Bay. After his release in 2004, he reached Pakistan and quickly entered the rapidly expanding Islamist radical movement then underway in South Waziristan. Those close to him say that it was a vengeful response to his detention by the U.S authorities.
The Pakistan military was carrying out unsuccessfully the pacification of South Waziristan. An exercise, which was embarrassing for its many fiascos.
Gen. Safdar Hussein, the commander of the operation obtained the services of two JUI (F) parliamentarians from South Waziristan, Maulana Merajuddin Qureshi and Maulana Abdul Malik Wazir, who brokered a cease-fire with the radicals.
Facing the military was a group of 500 , 600 radicalized Mahsud youth led by Baitullah and Abdullah Mahsud. They established bases with stockpiles of ammunition and bomb making workshops. They also established training camps to indoctrinate the youth.
The activities of this band of radicals caused plenty of headaches for the military. It breathed a sigh of relief when a 10 days truce was reached with Baitullah Mahsud on 5 October 2004. Mediators were brought to settle the matter of foreigners living in the area. The military followed an appeasement policy, when it offered safety to both Abdullah and Baitullah Mahsud.
In late 2004, Baitullah and Abdullah Mahsud broke the terms when they kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on Gomal Dam. One hostage died during the operations by security forces. This terminated the amnesty.
However, the cat and mouse game went on and in February 2005, the JUI (F) yet once again assisted in the surrender of Baitullah Mahsud who endorsed a six-point peace agreement. Baitullah promised not to attack government installations or its functionaries, he and his associates promised not to shelter or assist Al-Qaeda and further agreed to assist the government in its war on terror!
This agreement is significant not for its sanctity but for its point-by-point violation by Baitullah Mahsud subsequently. It is pertinent to note that after the finalization of this pseudo undertaking the gathering chanted anti-American slogans – in one sense Baitullah conveyed to the military that his war was not against them but America!
During all this elaborate game of make believe neutralization of the threat from South Waziristan no material change was noticeable on the ground and radicalization was sweeping Waziristan at a rapid rate.
Abdullah Mahsud did not participate in the Baitullah Military charade and continued his activities by mobilizing more Mahsud youth for the cause of Islamists. He formed more training camps and revitalized the Jihadist network.
It became apparent that the clever ploy by Baitullah Mahsud of obtaining amnesty for himself was to permit time for re-organization of his fighting capacity. While he was the public face, Abdullah like Trotsky, was the real organizer and arch revolutionary.
There was another game that the two Mahsud were also playing quiet adroitly. While matters were relatively peaceful in the Mahsud country, the new recruits were baptized in Jihad in Afghanistan, fully secure in the knowledge that their rear was protected due to the truce with the Pakistani army.
It is also obvious that in order not to step on the toes of their traditional rivals, the Wazirs, Abdullah Mahsud and his band battled NATO forces by entering Afghanistan through Zhob in Baluchistan. Were they returning from Helmand when the security forces surrounded Abdullah Mahsud? It is significant that Abdullah Mahsud died in Zhob at the home of a JUI (F) supporter. The links between the two have been close.
This operation again proved that as in the death of Mullah Dadullah a few months ago the Pakistani intelligence services have the ability when pressed to terminate some of the high valued targets leading the insurgency. Does it point to a deeper link? Is it also possible that other high level Al-Qaeda or Taliban individuals could also be dealth with similarly? Secondly, does this belt of the country of confused administrative responsibilities between tribal areas, NWFP and Zhob in Baluchistan, contain other important wanted personalities?
This incident clearly establishes a close link between the religious JUI (F), with Abdullah Mahsud. It has always acted as the political arm of the radicals. The circumstances of Abdullah Mahsud’s death at a JUI leader’s home are thus significant. It looks that a game of sort is underway. On the one hand, the JUI runs two provincial governments in NWFP and Baluchistan respectively, while on the other it has links with the radicals!
This incident has important lessons for the Governor NWFP, who is using the JUI (F) for re-establishing the North Waziristan agreement, another unworthy instrument of appeasement. He will be embarrassed.
Abdullah’s death looks wasteful in the context of his initial desire to become a teacher. Had fate been kinder or more employment oppurtunities existed, he would have been an instrument of peace and knowledge as a teacher rather than a weapon of pain and hate. Strange is the way of fate indeed!
Soon Abdullah’s friend and companion Baitullah Mahsud will unleash another wave of retaliatory suicide attacks and the cycle of death will go on in a region where life is cheap.