August 27, 2009

COIN 101

By observing the behavior of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, it seems likely that he'll join Baitullah in the near future. Zahir Shah Sherazi of The Dawn decribes his encounter with Hakeemullah during a journalist summit last November. The man, unless his behavior changes, is a bright red target.

Hakeemullah presents himself as the younger face of the Taliban, the media-savvy side. To this end he put on a show for the journalists, whipping around in an American Humvee then challenging them to a gun-shooting competition. After they tired of this exercise, odd as it must have been, Hakeemullah unloaded a few rounds of an AK-47 and fired an RPG, his "favorite toy." Such displays of force are necessary in Taliban land, but one must assume such shows have ended now with his promotion, if he wants to stay alive.

If Baitullah was located by a Predator, Hakeemullah will have no chance with his past behavior. "While Baitullah was introvert and media-shy, the former is extrovert and media-savvy," reports Shah Sherazi. Hakeemullah is likely smart enough to understand the threat, but changing character is never easy. By all accounts Hakeemullah is at the violent end of the spectrum, outlandish and bold, skilled and daring. These ingredients make for a short life.

Yet the question lingers, as it did with Baitullah, whether Hakeemullah's death would be a blow or boon to the Taliban. His personality plays right into the hands of Waliur Rehman, who essentially became deputy of the TTP when he assumed control of Waziristan; Fariq Mohammed possibly become Rehman's deputy. Rehman, in his 40's, is described as more mature and reserved than the 28 year-old Hakeemullah. While bravado has its place in Taliban recruiting, Rehman's personality is more conducive to staying alive.

Considering that Rehman challenged Hakeemullah for TTP chief, it stands to reason that he wouldn't mind seeing Hakeemullah disappear in a Hellfire missile. Hakeemullah's fighting strength over three provinces, which he primarily built, cannot be underestimated, but Rehman would likely demonstrate the same control with additional leadership qualities. The cards have already lined up for the next Predator strike, Hakeemullah has been replaced before his death.

The US apparently agrees that Rehman is the bigger threat. Today he was targeted by a drone.

But in the end does it matter who leads the TTP? "We are Al Qaeda’s friends as both us the Taliban and the Arab fighters have shown our allegiance to Amir-ul-Momineen Mullah Omar of Afghanistan," proclaimed Hakeemullah. Despite the occasional power struggle, the Taliban are ultimately united in their resistance to America.

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