With the news yesterday that Hakimullah Mehsud, the second chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, may be alive after months of reporting suggesting he had been killed in a drone strike in January, Mansur Khan Mahsud profiles the militant leader.
The most recent chief of the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud, was around 30 and of the Woji Khel clan of the Ishangi branch of the Mehsud tribe. He was the son of Abdullah Din Mehsud, and had at least four brothers-two of whom, Ijaz and Kalimullah, died while fighting Pakistani forces in South Waziristan in 2008-and four sisters.[i] Hakimullah was originally from the Kotkai area, in the Spinkai Raghzai region in South Waziristan. The TTP leader had two wives, one from his natal Ishangi tribe and one from the Afridi tribe in Orakzai.
Hakimullah received his early education from age 5 at the madrassa of Dar-ul Aloom Sharia in the Sarwakai tehsil (or administrative subdivision) of South Waziristan. He also passed his middle school exams in Kotkai. However, he left his religious education incomplete as he joined the local Taliban organization in South Waziristan in the fall of 2003, then went to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where he spent approximately four months. Hakimullah’s first combat experience was under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud in Afghanistan; the two were extremely close, and Hakimullah served as Baitullah’s official spokesman for a time in 2006. Along with Maulana Sangeen, a Taliban commander in Afghanistan’s Paktika province with links with Sirajuddin Haqqani’s militant network, he was part of a force that attacked the Masha Kund military check post in Khost province in 2004. During his time in Afghanistan, Hakimullah also spent many weeks fighting coalition forces in the southern province of Helmand in the district of Sangeen, on the border with Kandahar. He is believed to have been involved in recent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, and has targeted NATO convoys and hundreds of trucks taking supplies there. In a December 2008 attack orchestrated by Hakimullah, dozens of Humvees were burned near Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province.[ii]
After his return from Afghanistan in early 2004, Hakimullah turned his attention to the Pakistani forces in the Kalosha area of Wana, where the army had recently launched an operation against Nek Muhammad, then head of the Taliban in South Waziristan. Hakimullah also fought against Pakistani forces in 2006 and again in 2008, when the army launched operations against the local Taliban movements. Hakimullah was by then a commander, leading between 100 and 150 Mehsud Taliban fighters. Both times the Pakistani army was forced to sign peace treaties with the Taliban militants. Hakimullah also provided shelter and bases for members of al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in South Waziristan, and is said to be still doing so.[iii]
Hakimullah was 23 when he joined the South Waziristan Taliban; within a year and a half the group was fully organized in the agency.[iv] The TTP shura first made him head of the Mehsud Taliban in the Kurram agency, then added Orakzai and Khyber agencies to his portfolio. Hakimullah, a very active leader and the only one to be in charge of three agencies at once, strengthened the TTP in these areas while they were under his control. The militant chief also headed up the Mehsud Taliban in Mohmand and Bajaur agencies for a short time, but had to focus on building the Taliban in Kurram, Orakzai, and Khyber.
Hakimullah, who hated Shiites and considered them heretics, also had close links with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a pro-Taliban, anti-Shiite militant organization. As the head of the Taliban in Kurram, he fought against the Shiites and took part in sectarian clashes in Hangu district in early 2007.[v]
Temperamentally, Hakimullah was a hothead-he angered very easily, did not tolerate opposition, and was reputed to be arrogant and prone to emotional outbursts. He was rumored to have shot several men, including some in the Taliban, who disagreed with his orders.[vi] He was also more media-friendly than his predecessor Baitullah, and appeared in several videos and audiotapes released to the public, including a video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who attacked a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, on December 30, 2009.[vii]
Hakimullah’s ascension to the TTP’s leadership came at a time when the umbrella group had lost support from local tribes across South Waziristan and the rest of the FATA, having been weakened by Pakistani military operations. This makes it unlikely that the TTP will be able to open more fronts against the Pakistani government in the near future. The organization may also be reluctant to attack local Mehsud Taliban opponents, for fear of starting "blood feuds" among area tribes.
The Khost attack may have been a turning point, however. Hakimullah asserted responsibility for the suicide bombing, in which seven CIA officers and a Jordanian intelligence agent were killed and others were injured.[viii] The TTP released a video of Hakimullah and the bomber, Humam al-Balawi, sitting side-by-side, and al-Balawi claimed the strike was to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud in an August 2009 drone attack; some of these drones are reportedly controlled by CIA teams in Khost.[ix]
In the following weeks, an unprecedented number of drone-fired missiles slammed into various locations in North Waziristan, one of which reportedly injured Hakimullah. U.S. and other officials say they are almost certain he succumbed to his wounds, but the TTP continues to issue denials.[x] Hakimullah put out audiotapes on January 16 and 17 in a bid to quell rumors of his death, but has not been heard from since.[xi] Despite the Taliban’s denials, he is generally believed to have died since then.
Mansur Khan Mahsud is the research coordinator for the FATA Research Center, an Islamabad-based think tank. He is from the Mahsud tribe of South Waziristan and has worked with several NGOs and news outlets as a researcher. He holds a masters degree in Pakistan studies from the University of Peshawar. This is excerpted from a longer research paper on militancy in South Waziristan, and is part of the New America Foundation’s "Battle for Pakistan" series.
[i] Hakimullah handwritten profile of himself, given to Sailab Mehsud of the FATA Research Center.
[ii] Jeremy Page, "US and Nato Humvees destroyed as Islamists attack Afghan supply bases," Times (London), December 8, 2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5303861.ece?print=yes&randnum=1151003209000
[iii] Interview with Sairaj Mehsud, deputy of Shamim Mehsud, TTP leader in Ladha, January 20, 2010, in Frontier Region Jandola.
[iv] Hakimullah handwritten profile.
[v] "Violence mars Shiite procession in Pakistan," International Herald Tribune, January 30, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/30/world/asia/30iht-pakistan.4403718.html
[vi] Sailab Mehsud interview, November 22, 2009, in D.I. Khan.
[vii] Zahid Hussain, "Attacker of CIA Is Linked to Taliban," Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126305287870523271.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLTopStories
[viii] Saeed Shah, "CIA suicide bomber appears in video with Pakistani Taliban leader," McClatchy Newspapers, January 9, 2010, http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20100109/wl_mcclatchy/3396117_1.
[ix] Steven Farrell, "Video Links Taliban in Pakistan to C.I.A. Attack," New York Times, January 9, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/world/middleeast/10balawi.html; Joby Warrick and Pamela Constable, "CIA base attacked in Afghanistan supported airstrikes against al-Qaeda, Taliban," Washington Post, January 1, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/31/AR2009123100541_pf.html.
[x] Katherine Tiedemann, "Daily brief: Rumors fly over fate of Pakistani Taliban chief," Foreign Policy, February 1, 2010, http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/02/01/daily_brief_rumors_fly_over_fate_of_pakistani_taliban_chief; Andrew Lebovich and Katherine Tiedemann, "Daily brief: Pakistani Taliban chief reported ‘wounded’ in drone strike," Foreign Policy, January 15, 2010, http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/01/15/daily_brief_pakistani_taliban_chief_reported_wounded_in_drone_strike.
[xi] Alamgir Bitani, "U.S. drone attack kills 15 in Pakistan’s Waziristan," Reuters, January 17, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60E3FO20100117; http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100117/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan.