According to the official obituary of Mehsud, released by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) media wing, US and Pakistani officials decided to kill him after they received reports that Mehsud was recovering from the effects of a spell cast on him after the 2009 suicide bombing of a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan.
Many will laugh at this, but the TTP’s obituary of Mehsud narrates in a very serious tone that he felt pain in parts of his body without any outward symptoms of physical illness because of the spell. (Some would, of course, argue that this could be the ultimate effect of restlessness or disordered eating habits amid the constant threat of drone strikes.)
Media reports further strengthened this notion, and claimed that Mehsud would not stay in one place for more than six hours because of the fear of drones.
In the backdrop of the ongoing anti-drone debate in the country, it is very difficult to argue in favour of drones. But nobody can gloss over the fact that the aerial technology proved to be a tactical sort of ‘magic’ that has not only terrorised the militants but also eliminated their top leadership.
Those killed in drone attacks include Qari Hussain, Ilyas Kashmiri, Qari Zafar, Badar Mansoor and Baitullah Mehsud among several others believed to be responsible for carrying out some major terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
No threat assessment is available to understand what the internal security landscape would have been like had these militants been alive.
Apart from drones and the TTP’s notion of black magic, the obituary also quoted from an interview of Hakeemullah Mehsud in which he presented justifications for why he did not participate in the Kashmir jihad despite constant pressure from some jihadi leaders.
He said that he always remained suspicious of the nature of the Kashmir jihad, which was being fought with the help of the Pakistani state that would eventually expand its un-Islamic system in Kashmir and the wider region if it successfully liberated Kashmir. This led him to focus on Afghanistan because he had more hope of the mujahideen’s establishing an Islamic caliphate system there.
This reflects the transformation of the militant mindset after 9/11 under the influence of Al Qaeda and the changing political scenario of the region. This transformation has absorbed all the pro-state jihadi and nationalist tendencies of the militant discourse in Pakistan.
It is paradoxical that the Jamaat-i-Islami, once considered the champion of jihad in Kashmir, is experiencing a growing sense of isolation in this completely changed situation. The recent statement by the JI head Munawar Hasan, which triggered the martyrdom controversy, is a reflection of the JI’s frustration.
As a pioneer jihadist party since the beginning of the Afghan-Soviet war, the Jamaat has been facing a critical challenge from its new generation to reinterpret the concept of jihad, ie how to adjust its ideological narrative of jihad in Kashmir and 1980s’ Afghanistan to the emerging fundamentals of the Pakistani state’s foreign and strategic policy.
This is a complex debate and unfortunately at this important juncture, the JI does not have the required intellectual and theological resources to respond to the challenge.
What makes this interesting is that previously the JI was the most globally connected Islamist party of Pakistan. It had links with both moderate and radical Islamist movements and its networking had helped it muster human and financial resources from across the Islamic world for the Afghan jihad.
In the changing scenario, it is the TTP which is widely connected to global jihadi movements. The JI has even lost connectivity with movements in the Arab-speaking world associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which are in the midst of a power struggle.
The TTP has not only established global contacts but also enjoys the support of traditional and orthodox segments of the Islamic clergy. In particular, Deobandi madressahs are still its strong support base. The obituary released by the TTP also reveals that Mehsud was a student of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s madressah in Dera Ismail Khan. He had left the madressah before joining the militant movement.
In this context, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s reaction to Hakeemullah’s killing should not come as a surprise. It is a known fact that the divide between the madressah establishment and teachers is increasing where teachers are more inclined towards sectarian and militant movements and administrators or principals belong to religious political parties.
This equation provides benefits to both. For instance, one expands its political support base, and the militants enjoy the moral and logistical support from the same base, though for different purposes.
Mehsud’s obituary also addresses the issue of martyrdom and drones. While quoting an Al Qaeda leader that the greatest martyr of this age is the one killed in a drone strike, it claims that all important mujahideen leaders had been killed in drone attacks.
It reflects that the TTP is clear in its approach and has found justification for all its deeds. Unfortunately, the other side is still confused. Clearly, the terrorists are the beneficiaries of the prevailing confusion. They also gain strength from the fragmentation and confusion in society that is displayed by the security, political and civil society leaderships in Pakistan.
It seems that the state and its leadership have been hypnotised by the TTP. This situation is similar to the image of the proverbial cat set amongst the pigeons. The leadership is behaving like a pigeon with closed eyes and praying for mercy but the cat is not kind-hearted. This is neither a dream nor magic.
By MUHAMMAD AMIR RANA; The writer is a security analyst.