As reports are confirming the elimination of Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, including Pakistani sources to al-Jazeera, a growing debate is widening in the international media about the "value" of that event.
Some analyses are using terms such as "turning point," while others are describing it as "lethal hit against Pakistan's Taliban." Evidently, authorities in Pakistan and the United States are logically rejoicing for the fact that a tough foe is gone. Intelligence estimates will soon tell how important what that successful drone and what would the field consequences be in the next weeks, months, and maybe a year or two.
But it is important that the expert community help the public and decision makers in making a fair and accurate assessment of the event by understanding of the value of the tactics employed on Pakistan's front with the Taliban. But no excesses should be projected in overestimating the impact on the "war." As the discussion is ongoing in the media and inside government circles, here are eight points to consider: Tactically, the elimination of Baitullah Mehsud as the direct commander of the Taliban terror networks is a real field victory for Pakistan's government and, in perspective, a payback for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, the killing of Mehsud can create conditions for progress of Pakistan's forces in south Waziristan, only for a short period of time, if Islamabad can mobilize enough popular support for the next stage of engagement against the Taliban. It is also a victory to the global United States intelligence and an indicator to current and future successful strikes via the technology employed by American deployment out of Afghanistan. It adds some deterrence to NATO presence in the region, but again, within limitations. It will put some pressure on the Taliban and also on al-Qaida inside Pakistan, and psychological pressure on the Taliban inside Afghanistan It could ease some past tensions between U.S. and Pakistan military authorities regarding the use of missiles and drone attacks against the Taliban across the borders; but it will not transform the current discrete cooperation into a NATO-like open collaboration.
However, on the other hand: We know almost for sure that the Taliban will select a new leader who will replace Mehsud. It may well select or add later a member of his clan, family, or entourage. The assessment will be made by the "war room" of the jihadists in the region. In short, undoubtedly the Taliban campaign will continue. One has to be ready that Taliban Pakistan, or its allies inside the country (and it has many), may try to retaliate by assassinating important figures inside Pakistan. The elimination of Mehsud is a tactical turning point that could be used to provoke more crumbling, but the window is very short. Jihadi media and some al-Jazeera commentators say his elimination will affect but not crumble the Taliban.
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.”
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