September Issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

Hakimullah Mehsud had positioned himself well to take over the leadership of the TTP by prevailing upon Baitullah Mehsud to keep him posted as the commander of three important tribal agencies — Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber. When he was reportedly removed from the job last year following complaints against him, he managed to convince Baitullah to reappoint him to the position.

From his base in Orakzai Agency, Hakimullah controlled hundreds of fighters and created fear among the tribal people inhabiting not only Orakzai but also Kurram and Khyber. His men were responsible for all the attacks on the Afghanistan-bound trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces via Peshawar and the Khyber Pass. Among his prized possessions was an American Humvee vehicle that the Taliban militants had snatched during a raid on a NATO supply convoy in Khyber Agency. He showed the armour-plated vehicle to journalists whom he met at his base in Orakzai Agency.

Hakimullah has often been accused of ordering the kidnapping of security personnel, government officials, moneyed people and notables, and using them as a bargaining chip to secure the release of his men held by the government as well  as demanding ransom. The 29-year-old commander has the reputation of a ruthless and fearless militant. He is also known to be an emotional man who relishes media coverage. He is also known to have a fancy for weapons and vehicles.

Hakimullah went to a madrassa but wasn’t able to complete his education and become a mullah. He prefers to speak Pashto but can communicate in Urdu.

His exploits in past battles with the security forces made him popular among the militants. Another factor that could have clinched the issue in his favour and catapulted him to the position of the TTP head, is the power of his cousin Qari Hussain, known as “Ustad-i-Fidayeen” or the trainer of suicide bombers. The two cousins belong to Kotki village in South Waziristan and have been at the forefront of the militants’ attempts to spread their influence and bring more territory under their control. Qari Hussain was, in the past, associated with anti-Shia organisations and this streak could also pass on to Hakimullah.

The TTP, under Hakimullah, is likely to remain on the warpath. It has made its aggressive intentions clear by sending a suicide bomber to the border town of Torkham in Khyber Agency to kill 21 tribal policemen or Khassadars, on August 28. This was followed by a suicide bombing, apparently carried out by the Swat Taliban, at the Mingora police station. The TTP claimed responsibility for the Torkham bombing and described it as its first response to avenge the death of Baitullah. If this is indeed the case, Pakistan will have to gear up for a wave of suicide bombings ordered by Hakimullah in the coming weeks and months.

This post is part of a larger article: see Staging a Comeback.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.