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Taliban warlord who united jihadi groups

world Updated: Aug 08, 2009 00:53 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

From a simple madrassa student to the head of the feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud constantly destabilised the nuclear-armed nation of 170 million people in recent years.

The 39-year-old, who declared “war” with the Pakistani government, deployed a wave of suicide bombers across the country, employing tactics rarely used before. Last year, they killed an estimated 2,000 people.

Taliban warlord Mehsud’s greatest achievement was to revitalise Pakistan’s jihadist network, bringing together disparate groups of Pashtun warlords, jihadi fighters from Punjab and Al Qaida fugitives from across the Muslim world.

The significance of his death is comparable to that of the Iraqi Al Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006.

Mehsud was born in 1970 at Landi Dhok village in Bannu district. First he fought against the Soviets invasion of Afghanistan and later joined the Taliban.

In 2005, Mehsud signed a deal with Pakistani army that allowed his fighters to galvanise support and strength. Analysts say it was a tactical move and his militia emerged stronger after every peace agreement signed with the government.

In 2007 he humiliated the army by kidnapping more than 200 soldiers, who were later released —except for three Shia soldiers beheaded on video — in exchange for 25 Taliban prisoners.

He strengthened ties with Al Qaeda fighters. Pakistani officials said between 1,000 and 1,200 Uzbek fighters lived in Waziristan, most on Mehsud turf.

The US placed a $5m bounty on his head; Pakistan later added another $600,000. Now, it appears he has been killed by two missiles fired from a drone. His wife was also killed in the attack.

One recurring question was Mehsud’s links with Pakistani intelligence. “Mehsud is definitely an ally of some elements in the establishment," said analyst Khaled Ahmed earlier this year. “And that includes the army.”

With his death, any such links have been definitively broken.