The reported death of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a violent Islamist group with close links to Al Qaeda, leaves the predatory and feared militia effectively decapitated, with its fighters on the run from the Pakistani army and public sympathy running low.
Although the Pakistani Taliban has shown resilience in the past, Pakistani analysts said it would be difficult for the group to quickly recover from the loss of Hakimullah Mehsud, who has reportedly died in a village in northwest Pakistan of burns and injuries he suffered during a U.S. drone missile attack in mid-January.
The group lost its original leader, Baitullah Mehsud, to a drone strike in August. In recent months, it has been driven out of its major sanctuary and become isolated from elders of the Mehsud tribe, who are negotiating with the government to hand over surviving Taliban commanders.
“If he’s gone, it’s a fatal blow,” said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “At one point, the Taliban had a lot of momentum and a charismatic leader. Now they’ve been uprooted and lost all credibility.”
Some commentators noted that despite recent losses, the Pakistani Taliban is a highly motivated, ruthless militia with a strong religious agenda that has demonstrated a repeated ability to recover from setbacks. In the past several years, the group has evolved from a rudimentary tribal force to a sophisticated insurgency, capable of attacking major targets and collaborating with other militant groups, including Al Qaeda.
Some observers warned that if Mehsud has died, the Taliban forces may attempt to launch retaliatory strikes and step up their campaign of suicide bombings in an effort to prove they have not been weakened.
The Taliban once had significant support among a variety of Pakistanis, including religious groups and residents of the tribal areas who felt alienated from the state.
But the group’s cruel repression in areas under its control and attacks on civilian as well as military targets have caused it to lose public support, according to opinion polls and analysts.
Pakistani officials have not confirmed the death, but there were indications that both sides were moving forward under the assumption that Taliban is in search of a new leader.
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