Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Image courtesy of AfPax Insider.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, is certain that al Qaeda military commander Qari Zia Rahman and Bajaur Taliban commander Faqir Mohammed, as well as a mid-level Swat Taliban leader named Fateh Mohammed, were killed in air and helicopter strikes in Bajaur on Friday. But as with all of the other reports of deaths of senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the tribal areas, Pakistan cannot provide any evidence. According to Daily Times, it appears that Rehman is basing the claim of their deaths on reports from local residents, who said the Taliban surrounded the attack site. Here is the key statement:
“The Taliban surround attacked sites when they lose important leaders or commanders and that is why we believe Rehman and Faqir are among the killed,” the officials said, asking not to be named.
As anyone who closely follows the US airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas can tell you, the Taliban always cordon a site after an attack. Given that the government and the military have claimed several times over the past year that they control Mohmand, it is curious that they don’t just go in and find out for themselves.
Also, Rehman Malik in particular and the Pakistani establishment in general have a horrendous track record with declaring senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders dead. As noted the other day, both Rahman and Faqir have been reported dead in the past. Here is a list of other blown calls, which sorely needs updating; Rahman, Shah Doran, Mullah Nazir, Waliur Rehman Mehsud, and several others need to be added. Outside of Baitullah Mehsud, there are no other instances I can think of in which Mailk has called it correctly. The case of Hakeemullah Mehsud, Baitullah’s successor, is still up in the air.
The reality is, due to the Taliban’s near-control of much of the tribal areas, the best indication that a leader has been killed will come from the Taliban or al Qaeda. For instance, no one had any idea that Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, was killed in a US strike until the information was divulged in a martyrdom statement where Mustafa Abu Yazid praised the Jordanian suicide bomber who had killed seven CIA officials in Khost province, Afghanistan.
Malik has already stepped back from the claims that Faqir and Rahman were killed. From Dawn, which also provides some background on Fateh and why he was in Mohmand:
“Our sources confirm the death of Fateh Muhammad. We have an eyewitness account of his body being pulled out, but there has been no confirmation of the death of Maulvi Faqir Muhammad,” Malik told Dawn.
Fateh Mohammad was a deputy to Maulana Fazlullah, the TTP chief, and carried a reward of Rs10 million on his head.
Omar Rehman alias Fateh had escaped to Bajaur after a military operation in Swat and had taken shelter with Maulvi Faqir Mohammad.
Intelligence sources are sure that Fazlullah and another of his key commanders, Ibne Ameen, had also taken shelter in Bajaur.
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