The United States offered a $5 million reward for his capture. He succeeded his mentor, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009. Hakimullah Mehsud, the young, ferocious and vengeful chief of Pakistan’s most feared militant group – the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – survived at least two US drone strikes in the past. However, on Friday, his luck might have just run out.
Several intelligence, army and militant sources confirmed that Hakimullah, who was in his thirties, had been killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan Agency on Friday evening. On record, however, government officials refused to confirm the death of Hakimullah, who emerged largely unscathed from previous attempts to kill him.
Officially, the government was quick to denounce the deadly drone strike which, analysts believe, could scuttle an embryonic peace process with the TTP. A team of government negotiators was scheduled to leave for Waziristan to kick-start formal talks with the militants.
“A remotely piloted US aircraft fired two missiles at a house in the Dandi Darpakhel area, one kilometre north of Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, around 7:15pm,” a security official told The Express Tribune. The account was corroborated by an official of the local political administration.
They said six suspected militants were killed and two others injured in the strike. They also confirmed that Hakimullah was among the fatalities. Local tribesmen identified the other victims as Hakimullah’s cousin Tariq Mehsud, his driver Abdullah Mehsud and his personal guards.
A militant source said the drone fired two missiles on Hakimullah’s double-cabin SUV while it was driving into his newly constructed house. Two militants sitting in the front seat and three in the back seat were killed, while two guards sitting on the rear cargo bed of the 4X4 were critically wounded.
Soon after the attack, TTP insurgents swarmed over the attack site, the source added. They shifted the mutilated bodies that they recovered to the house and covered them with sheets. They also surrounded the house and barred people from going inside.
Security and intelligence officials also confirmed the news to AFP and Reuters. However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who has been tasked by the prime minister to make peace with the Taliban, said there was no confirmation of Hakimullah’s death.
The local political administration imposed a routine weekly curfew in North Waziristan, informing tribesmen to remain indoors.
Earlier Friday, the Shura of the Mujahideen in North Waziristan warned tribesmen living in Dandi Darpakhel, Miramshah, Dattakhel, Tol Khel, Tabbi, Danday and Machis to leave their areas within a week. Pamphlets distributed in these areas read that a peace agreement between the group and the government would remain intact. The warning was prompted by the recent skirmishes between the TTP and security forces.
North Waziristan is the stronghold of militants which, US officials believe, is used by the Haqqani Network, the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban factions, as a springboard for launching attacks on foreign forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The attack came a day after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that peace talks with the Taliban were already under way – a claim denied by TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid earlier Friday.
Earlier, credible sources said the government had finalised the makeup of a team that would negotiate with the Taliban. “The team comprises government officials, politicians, clerics, intellectuals and defence experts,” one source told The Express Tribune.
Sources added that formal talks were expected within a couple of weeks. And during the talks, both sides would observe an unannounced ceasefire. However, after the drone strike interior ministry sources said a three-member government team leaving for Bannu via Peshawar on Saturday has been asked to suspend their trip till further instructions.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, in his immediate reaction, said the drone strike was aimed at sabotaging the peace talks with the Taliban. In order to control damage, he called up Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawwar Hasan and JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
“The drone attack took place at a time when the government was about to send negotiators to formally engage the Taliban in talks,” sources quoted him as telling the two politico-religious leaders. Interior ministry officials were not available to confirm the phone calls.
Officially, the government condemned Friday’s drone strike.
Foreign Office spokesperson Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said in a statement that drone strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. There is an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2013.