Pakistani Taliban unites under Baitullah Mehsud
Battlemap of Swat operations; blue arrow arrows are the Pakistani Army's advance to date. Click map to view.
As President Pervez Musharraf lifts the state of emergency, the Taliban in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province have united under a single banner, and a single leader. On Friday, a shura, or council, of 40 senior Taliban leaders established the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan -- the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan -- and appointed powerful South Waziristan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud its leader.
The shura was made up of Taliban representatives from the seven tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, Khyber, Orakazi, Bajaur, Mohmand, and Kurram, as well as the settled districts of Swat, Bannu, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohistan, Buner, and the Malakand division.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan demanded the Pakistani military halt operations in Taliban territory and release of their members. The Taliban also stated it would continue the fight against Coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"The meeting participants have demanded an immediate end of the military operation being carried out in Swat, and given a 10-day ultimatum to the government to pullout troops from the area," the Nation reported. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan also demanded "the closure of the military checkposts in North and South Waziristan and release of all Taliban activists including former Lal Masjid Khateeb Maulana Abul Aziz."
"Our main aim is to target the US allies in Afghanistan but the government of Pakistan's ill-strategy has made us to launch a defensive Jihad in Pakistan," spokesman Maulvi Omar stated. "The government of Pakistan would be paid in the same coin now," Mehsud said.
The consolidation of the disparate "local Taliban" movement is a logical step in the Taliban's insurgency campaign in northwestern Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban, while allied with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, has operated as local groups. The creation of a unified Taliban movement in Pakistan will allow them to better coordinate both military and political operations inside Pakistan, as well as with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda.
The meteoric rise of Mehsud stems from his ability to organize and command large numbers of fighters, fend off the Pakistani military in South Waziristan, take the fight to neighboring agencies and districts, and organize a nationwide suicide bombing campaign. The government cut a deal with Mehsud in 2006 to end the fighting in South Waziristan. Last year it was estimated Mehsud commanded an army of 30,000 fighters. He has been directly implicated in a series of suicide attacks on military and government officials throughout the course of 2007.
Mehsud leaps over some able and influential Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan, including Sadiq Noor, Mullah Nazir, and Noor Islam. It is unclear if Faqir Mohammed of Bajaur and the outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law) were represented at the meeting, but it is likely. A representative of Maulana Fazlullah's Swat branch of the TNSM was in attendance. Abu Kasha, a key link between al Qaeda's Shura Majlis and the Taliban, likely holds a senior position in the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.