Will Taliban Head’s Death Further Destabilize Pakistan?

US Insists Baitullah's Killing Makes Pakistan Safer

by Jason Ditz, August 07, 2009

Last Updated 8/8 4:05 PM EST

With the apparent confirmation earlier today of Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud’s killing (though other TTP members continue to deny this) in Wednesday’s US drone strike in a remote South Waziristan town, there is rising speculation about what the high profile tribal militant’s death means for the group, and for Pakistan in general.

Baitullah Mehsud

The White House insists that Baitullah’s death will “without a doubt” make Pakistan a safer place. Yet the theory of organizational decapitation is perhaps a dramatic oversimplification of what is ultimately a vast and complicated group.

The TTP is not organized like the Afghan Taliban, which was a former government and still operates in a very similar command structure, but rather was a loose umbrella organization that had only minimal control over its regional auxiliaries. Baitullah’s influence outside of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan was largely a function of the notoriety he gained from terror attacks in major cities.

Rather than leaving the organization unable to act, Baitullah’s elimination made leave the leaders of the largely independent regional auxiliaries competing with one another to commit the largest revenge attacks so as to assert themselves as a successor. It may also run the risk of eventually leaving the group in the hands of an even more militant leader or worse: no leader at all with which to negotiate.

What remains to be seen is who will end up with eventual control over the powerful militant factions within the Mehsud tribe (Baitullah’s top rival was assassinated in June), but in even this case, the organization remains intact and likely eager for revenge against the US and the Pakistani government.

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