Pakistan: After Mehsud, Mullah Omar in the cross-hairs?

August 17, 2009

Bruce Riedel, who led a review of the “Af-Pak” strategy for the Obama administration, says the United States must now target Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, following the apparent death of the chief of the Pakistani Taliban this month.

The one-eyed, intensely secretive founder of the Afghan Taliban is a much more elusive and important player in the “terror syndicate” attacking Pakistan, Afghanistan and the NATO mission in Afghanistan than Baitullah Mehsud, reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike, Riedel says.

 

“Under his leadership, the Afghan Taliban has returned from near total defeat in 2001 to threaten the survival of the NATO effort in Afghanistan and indeed the future of the alliance,” Riedel, a former CIA officer and now a scholar at Brookings, writes here.

In 2003, the Taliban was active in only 30 of Afghanistan’s 364 districts; now it is a player in 160. “For too long the self-described Commander of the Faithful has been on the rampage. Now is the time for Washington and Islamabad to cooperate to shut him down.”

Going after Mullah Omar and other leaders with strong links to al Qaeda such as Jalaluddin Haqqani is Pakistan’s next test, the Los Angeles Times wrote on Monday.  Both these leaders have directed their efforts at Afghanistan, rather than Pakistan, and Islamabad as a result or otherwise hasn’t really focused on them, it said.

So does this mean the United States is building a case for widening military operations inside Pakistan to include Baluchistan, where Mullah Omar is believed to have long operated from, heading a leadership council known as the Quetta shura? U.S. drone strikes have so far been confined to the sparsely populated Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the northwest and even these have evoked such revulsion among Pakistanis that America is now considered the number one threat to Pakistan, as a poll we wrote about earlier showed.

And so to take the covert “Predator war” to Baluchistan would seem to be crossing another red line in the minds of a majority of Pakistanis already seething at the assault on its sovereignty. “The moral, legal and political dimension of it  (drone attacks) remains a dilemma for the government and parliament. It is difficult for national pride of a nascent nuclear power to swallow that it allows frequent infringement of its sovereignty by an ally,” former Pakistani army lieutenant general Talat Masood wrote in The News

 Riedel doesn’t obviously spell out how the United States should go about taking on Mullah Omar, but is a drone strike possible in  a city such as Quetta ?  The risk of civilian casualties would seem to be high in any such operation either in Quetta or the teeming Afghan settlements and refugee camps in and around the city and nearby the Afghan  border.

And above all the use of such missile strikes remains a matter of debate. Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council of Foreign Relations, says if you were to measure the strikes against President Barack Obama’s stated objective of disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda and those responsible for 9/11 then the strikes must be judged to be ineffective. At best, he argues, it can be part of a national strategy toward Pakistan, and that is something that still hasn’t been put on the table.

“There’s almost no U.S. military policy on Pakistan. There’s limited foreign internal assistance in terms of counterinsurgency training. There are a very small number of [U.S.] troops [inside Pakistan]. The other part is large payment for the Pakistani army to conduct operations. That’s the extent of our military policy.”

[File photograph of a newspaper notice of the most wanted men including Osama bin laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar and  2) Baitullah Mehsud at a news conference last year]

12 comments

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The message is : “If you won’t/can’t enforce the law in your own territory then stand aside while we do it”.
If Omar is organising a war against NATO from Baluchistan then he’s fair game. I wouldn’t stand too close to him

Posted by Pedro | Report as abusive

It’s time for the US & the NATO alliance to move ahead, full steam. After the elimination of Mehsood, Mullah Omar should definitely be targeted, as should the leaders of other terror outfits like LeT, JeM, JeV etc etc. The Pakistani Punjabi Military mafia & it’s evil offspring ISI will most certainly try to save Mullah Omar & leaders of other terror outfits, who are involved with terror related activities against Pakistan’s neighbors (Afghanistan & India) but the US & NATO have to realize (& I think, to a great extent they do) that terrorism is terrorism, no matter who it’s directed towards & in order to rid the world of terrorism, all terror outfits based in Pakistan have to be eliminated & the Pakistani military & the poisonous ISI have to be defanged so that they never rise to bite again.
So, go ahead full steam & drone any & every place inside Pakistan wherever terror resides, be it Quetta, Rawalpindi, Muzafarabad or Islamabad. If Pakistani leaders & Generals make noise (which they will), just stuff their faces with some $$$ & some US visas and they’ll shut up!

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive

Since when has something as unimportant as the feelings of a duplicitous ally ever stopped the CIA from doing anything and rightly so. I’d rather hurt Pakistani feelings than have a bomb go off back home in the States. If the Pakistanis really had any dignity left to hurt they wouldn’t be begging us for money every 30 seconds.

If I was Mr Omar I would buy a nice big umbrella.

Posted by Ian Blackwell | Report as abusive

If anyone seriously expects Pakistan to go after Mullah Omar they have a long wait ahead of them. He seems to be operating with impunity from Quetta and could have been neutralised years ago. As far as the Pakistanis are concerned he is waging war in Afghnaistan and is now part of the ‘good’ Taliban as opposed to Mehsud who was waging war in Pakistan and became the ‘bad’ guy.

Instead of working with the US and NATO, if it comes to taking on the real big boys, Pakistan will raise hell about drones and being a sovereign nation and make more demands for drones being given to them to wage war on terror. If they don’t get them, they will gladly settle for a few more $$$.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

we shouldn’t even take the pakistanis seriously in the claim that mehsud is dead. last year there was report that he had died of kidney failure and what happened? he showed up launching even further attacks. the root of this evil is not in pakistan or afghanistan, but actually is saudi arabia. that is where this fascists and radical version of islam arose and that is where all this funding comes from. the pakistani government, ISI, taliban, are all just pawns of the saudis, jordanians, egyptions. wahabbi islam is what is creating this chaos, its wahabbi islam that is causing secterian divides in islam. of course we wouldn’t expect the U.S, britian, or the U.N to do anything about it, considering those “moderate muslim” countries are considered allies.

Posted by hassan | Report as abusive

@Sanjeev,

Yes, next target should be Mullah Omar. He cannot survive and thrive without without direct assistance and support from Pakistani State Agencies, Rogue or non-rogue.

In fact the entire nexxus of Af-Pak terrorism cannot survive without support, help, training, arming and mentoring by the Pak Army and ISI.

All Af-Pak terrorism continued to be supported and grown and harnessed for almost 28 years, after the Soviets and U.S. left!

Osama Bin Laden was used by the U.S. to fight the Soviets, but it was an un-intended consequence that Osama would go rogue and start his own agenda and Pakistan stood by, all those years until Sept 11, 2001 and did nothing. Pakistan knew where he was all along and probably knows where he is now. Bill Clinton tried to strike at OBL, but he was getting help and protection.

It seems that terrorism is a symptom of the continous nefarious efforts put forth by Pakistani state agencies.

The question then becomes, should the crosshairs(not necessary military crosshairs) be pointed at the symptom (militantism), or the cause of terrorism, itself, the Pakistani state agencies?

In the mean time, it seems, Pak Army and ISI are happy not going after Mullah Omar as their inaction is curiously enabling his bad behavior.

Even the notorious and insidious Rt. Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul bragged recently that he would be willing to broker a truce between Mullah Omar and the U.S. If Gul even had half sincerety, he would have handed Mullah Omar over on a platter to the U.S.

In Obama’s speech yesterday to the U.S. Veterans, he said that terrorists who want to harm the U.S. are hiding in Pakistan and that his most important duty as President is to safeguard U.S. lives by taking the fight to the Af-Pak terrorists. He said that he will not stop until Al-Qaeda, Taliban and all terrorist in that region are finished. He also said that he is willing to use all the force necessary to achieve that objective.

Time will tell if Pakistan is with the U.S. or against them.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

@Instead of working with the US and NATO, if it comes to taking on the real big boys, Pakistan will raise hell about drones and being a sovereign nation and make more demands for drones being given to them to wage war on terror. If they don’t get them, they will gladly settle for a few more $$$.
- Posted by Dara

-Dara, I agree. And remember those night vision goggles that Pakistan always ask US. But they are available, as one reports says, in Peshawar market and Taliban is using them. Talk about being resourceful!

Recently Pakistan said that negotiations can be arranged with Mullah Omar, consistent with your thinking that use him like they did pre-9/11. Pakistan can have Omar anytime but hey he is not a terrorist since he kills Afghans. Omar is as secure as OBL or jawahiri. It is stupid using butchers like Omar to counter Indian efforts of reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

The people posting on this message board are naive at best. The US does not have the ability to defeat the Taliban militarily; do you people read the news? The only way we can win here is dialogue. We must negotiate with these people. Pakistan has done what we have been unable to do for the last eight years in Afghanistan, which is to push the Taliban back. So let’s give them credit. The go-it-alone guns blazing attitude has consequences; and it usually doesn’t bode well for us. We are the ones that created this monster in the 80s in the first place, so let’s be deliberate in trying to eliminate it.

Posted by robot2 | Report as abusive

“pakistan” army and ISI are not going to fully co-operate in elimination of terrorism in AfPak. Western & Japanese aid money has to be tightened drastically and China should be persuaded to stop being an abettor of terrorust enterprise.

Having a droning-wishlist after Mehsud is like living in a dream land, the fellow escaped numerous times and US has just hit the target after a zillion attempts. It is ridiculous to think that other high value targets can be taken at the drop of a hat.
Nobody really cares for the real reason why the Afghan-Pak harbors so much terrorists/Sqkm, it is just poverty, unemployment, injustice, landlords, Mullahs, etc. Take these and the targets would be turned in by the people. Afghan Govt hardly has any control of the country other than Kabul and northern areas. Unless the people see some economic improvement along with security by doing some useful productive work in the AF-PAK Region, the paradox will continue. Reigning in ISI/Pak Army under an democratic govt is also important to get some stability in the region.

Posted by Praveen | Report as abusive

@robot2

@The people posting on this message board are naive at best. The US does not have the ability to defeat the Taliban militarily; do you people read the news? The only way we can win here is dialogue. We must negotiate with these people.”
= OK. So negotiate with Mullah Omar Inc. you mean? I hope out of helplessness you are not thinking that Mullah Omar et al are some unemployed guys forced to join Taliban. They have a disorder to kill people if people do not have their way. US and allies have not lost lives for nothing and an injured animal is more dangerous; this region cannot be left to these Taliban and other animals in the name of “negotiation”, an equivalent of Swat peace deal of pakistan with TTP, and that was a disaster we kno now. Negotiation is a poor exit strategy. In anycase what about Afghanistan–how would it look like after the suggested negotiations? And how about UBL and the gang?

@Pakistan has done what we have been unable to do for the last eight years in Afghanistan, which is to push the Taliban back. So let’s give them credit. The go-it-alone guns blazing attitude has consequences; and it usually doesn’t bode well for us. We are the ones that created this monster in the 80s in the first place, so let’s be deliberate in trying to eliminate it.”
=True and credit given to Pakistan for the great job. But this suggests that Pakistan, when it wants, can eliminate any terrorist they want. ISI knows the language of the region, the culture, the hiding places and has the informers and you think nice guys can hide in Quetta etc. without Pakistan’s knowledge? NO. Let us feed pakistan bit more $$$ and get the work done. Pakistan these days has severe energy crisis, if you are reading and Holbrooke is promising to help. Use can play that as a card and get all the top leadership of all the militants organizations–no exceptions, all the area commanders no exception, kill whosoever raises the gun and use the remaining softened guys to get rid of the residual militants.
In anycase what about Afghanistan–how would it look suggested negotiations? And how about UBL and the galike after the ng?

@Pakistan has done what we have been unable to do for the last eight years in Afghanistan, which is to push the Taliban back. So let’s give them credit. The go-it-alone guns blazing attitude has consequences; and it usually doesn’t bode well for us. We are the ones that created this monster in the 80s in the first place, so let’s be deliberate in trying to eliminate it.”
=True and credit given. Great job by Pakistan. But this suggests that Pakistan, when it wants, can eliminate any terrorist. ISI knows the language of the region, the culture, the hiding places and has the informers and you think nice guys can hide in Quetta etc. without Pakistan’s knowledge? NO. Let us feed pakistan bit more $$$ and get the work done. Pakistan these days has severe energy crisis, if you are reading and Holbrooke is promising to help. Use that as a card and get all the top leadership of all the militants organizations–no exceptions, all the area commanders no exception, kill whosoever raises the gun and use the remaining softened guys to get rid of the residual militants.
Pakistan should be made to fight until Omar et al also see Pakistan as an enemy, not friend. Exiting with negotiation means Omar is Pakistan’s friend and have free hand in Afghanistan—pretty much like the Afghanistan before US landed for Tora Bora. No way, US is trapped to fight but it is not easy.

Posted by Hmmm.... | Report as abusive

@robot2

@The people posting on this message board are naive at best. The US does not have the ability to defeat the Taliban militarily; do you people read the news? The only way we can win here is dialogue. We must negotiate with these people.”
= OK. So negotiate with Mullah Omar Inc. you mean? I hope out of helplessness you are not thinking that Mullah Omar et al are some unemployed guys forced to join Taliban. They have a disorder to kill people if people do not have their way. US and allies have not lost lives for nothing and an injured animal is more dangerous; this region cannot be left to these Taliban and other animals in the name of “negotiation”, an equivalent of Swat peace deal of pakistan with TTP, and that was a disaster we kno now. Negotiation is a poor exit strategy. In anycase what about Afghanistan–how would it look like after the suggested negotiations? And how about UBL and the gang?

@Pakistan has done what we have been unable to do for the last eight years in Afghanistan, which is to push the Taliban back. So let’s give them credit. The go-it-alone guns blazing attitude has consequences; and it usually doesn’t bode well for us. We are the ones that created this monster in the 80s in the first place, so let’s be deliberate in trying to eliminate it.”
=True and credit given. Great job by Pakistan. But this suggests that Pakistan, when it wants, can eliminate any terrorist. ISI knows the language of the region, the culture, the hiding places and has the informers and you think nice guys can hide in Quetta etc. without Pakistan’s knowledge? NO. Let us feed pakistan bit more $$$ and get the work done. Pakistan these days has severe energy crisis, if you are reading and Holbrooke is promising to help. Use that as a card and get all the top leadership of all the militants organizations–no exceptions, all the area commanders no exception, kill whosoever raises the gun and use the remaining softened guys to get rid of the residual militants.
Pakistan should be made to fight until Omar et al also see Pakistan as an enemy, not friend. Exiting with negotiation means Omar is Pakistan’s friend and have free hand in Afghanistan—pretty much like the Afghanistan before US landed for Tora Bora. No way, US is trapped to fight but it is not easy.

Posted by Hmmm.... | Report as abusive