Tehreek-i-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud seems to be Pakistan’s own version of Freddy Krueger of Friday the 13th fame. After much speculation over whether he was killed in a January drone strike on the border near Afghanistan, an ISI official told Declan Walsh, The Guardian correspondent in Islamabad last week, that Mehsud had been injured but survived.
The Obama administration had earlier said it was 90 per cent certain that he had died after the January 14 drone strike, a view later corroborated by Interior Minister Rehman Malik. This wasn’t the first report of Mehsud’s death. After Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in August last year, Hakimullah Mehsud was reported killed in a war of succession within the ranks of the Taliban by Waliur Rehman.
That report died because Mehsud did not. He went on to become as fearsome, if not more, than his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud. Under his leadership the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan became Pakistan’s most feared entity, carrying out multiple suicide bombings that left hundreds dead across Pakistan. He also took credit for last December’s suicide bombing at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven people of whom at least five were CIA officials.
It now appears that Mehsud has risen from the dead like a Hollywood style evil killer in unending and nauseating sequels. But where is he? Reports suggest that he has lost much of his influence within the ranks of the Taliban after he disappeared following the January attack. Could he possibly be in the custody of intelligence agencies, either domestic or American? These questions are likely to remain unanswered for now given Pakistan’s rather hysterical reaction to reports of him still being alive.
The knee-jerk reaction of the federal government to reports that Hakimullah Mehsud is alive took me more by surprise than the report that Mehsud was still alive. Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira lashed out at me in a live television show saying I shouldn’t even be discussing Mehsud, dead or alive, arguing that he was a criminal. With me on the show was Declan Walsh, the journalist who broke the story. I repeatedly tried to convince Mr Kaira that we were not lionising Mehsud but were discussing the impact this information would have.
But the icing on the cake was Mr Kaira suggesting that my raising the issue that Mehsud was still alive would “scare people.” Scare people? Mr Kaira, the people are scared all the time whether we discuss Mehsud or the weather. We live under a perpetual fog of uncertainty and fear. We suppress the fear because life must go on and we cannot cower in our homes surrounded by high walls and a platoon of guards. Our lives will not change whether Hakimullah Mehsud is discussed on TV or not.
We will not feel more secure if the government tries to wave away hard facts or tell us half-truths and, more often, outright lies. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is a Hydra-headed monster. No matter how many heads are cut off, there will be more that will grow. That is the hard truth we have accepted, albeit reluctantly. We know that we are in for the long haul and this war will not go away overnight. What I wish would go away is the unending capacity of the government to fool itself and the people.
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