This article was published by The Nation on 24th May 2016
After prolonged bids to convince Mullah Mansour to come to the negotiating table, a ‘precision airstrike’ by the US has mostly likely killed him over the weekend.
Wanting to talk to Mansour yet tracking him for the kill was duplicity, but a good idea. Publicly admission of not only hosting Taliban but also providing medical facilities to them after decade long denials of doing it, was also duplicity, but a bad idea. That’s how the world works.
This admission was probably a feeble attempt of claiming some value at the table as a ‘useful ally’ by influencing Taliban for talks. But Mullah Mansour, the ungrateful brat who did not value our ‘largesse’ and ‘hard work’ for making him the Emir, ruined our prospects. Result: a furious US Congress nudging Pakistan to produce Haqqanis (they hadn’t asked for Mansour’s head) or forget about carrots and toys.
Necropsy of the Mansour’s killing exposes quite a few holes. First ever strike in Balochistan, which was conducted by US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) instead of the CIA as per past practice, went without a noticeable reaction from guardians of country’s borders. A neither-here-nor-there statement from the Foreign Office couldn’t make up for it either. Besides, while people sitting thousands of miles away, including John Kerry and President Obama kept confirming the drone strike and that Mullah Mansour was killed, no one addressed the main question of whether the man killed in the droned car (identified as Wali Mohammad resident of Qila Abdullah) was actually Mullah Mansour?
No evidence has so far been produced for linking Mansour with Wali Mohammad. An Afghan source that spoke on Sunday with Mullah Yakoub, Mullah Omar’s son, quoted Yakoub as neither confirming nor denying it. Mulla Rauf, the Taliban commander who confirmed the news from somewhere in Afghanistan is not authentic source as he belongs to anti-Mansour camp of Mullah Rasool. Omar Samad, the second commander who confirmed Mansour’s killing sits in London and is affiliated more with the Northern Alliance remnants than Taliban.
Quoting a report that appeared in the Global Post on Sunday, Wali Mohammad’s badly burnt and unrecognisable body was handed over to a young man who called himself Rafiq and Wali’s nephew. Reportedly, on Sunday afternoon Rafiq claimed the body from the hospital at Quetta where Wali Mohammad’s body was kept. Without asking for his ID or any other details, the body was handed over to him, Global Post says. Rafiq had reached the hospital with ‘plain clothed men from intelligence agency’ the report goes on to say. The body of the other man who was driving the car at the time of the strike and who was identified as Mohammad Azam was already taken by another man, Yaqoob, who claimed to be his relative. The phone number that Yaqoob left in hospital papers is switched off ever since.
Interestingly, the valid Pakistani passport of Wali Mohammad bearing FIA stamps and Iran’s multiple visas remained unscathed while the body of the bearer was burnt beyond recognition. Also, many bullet holes could be seen on the debris of the droned and burnt car. Although the missile bearing drones usually have the facility of gunfire, but it doesn’t sound logical for JSOC to have used remote control for firing bullets before finally using missiles on the car. Someone on the ground was probably helping with the operation in addition to providing sound human intelligence.
Another striking difference between the past drone strikes and this one was the post-strike ‘transparency’. After none of the previous strikes, we were fortunate to see the wreckage. Journalists were never allowed to report from the site. But this one was unique. Even a video camera was readily available to record the footage of the burning car immediately after the strike. Although, the news could not come out for many hours after the strike until Americans announced it in the wee hours of the night on Saturday.According to an Afghan source, ‘some Pakistani help was there’. ‘The initial tip came from ISI”, he said on the condition of anonymity. It may or may not be true though. But doesn’t sound too illogical for Pakistan having decided to dispose off their hard earned asset after he made himself into a liability.
Quite predictably, Foreign Office and some usual suspects among the intelligentsia sounded more worried about the ‘violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty’ by the American precision air strike, rather than answering key questions about when, why and who decided to provide safe haven to the killing machines that Taliban had become especially over last one year. That Mansour was present on Pakistani soil, however, should not come as a surprise to anyone after Pakistan’s open admission, back in March this year, of keeping Taliban leaders in its protection. Plus, this was precisely the reason why Pakistan was being prodded by the US and Afghanistan to convince Taliban to come to negotiating table and bring the level of violence down. None of this could happen because Mansour decided to act independently.
But what has actually been achieved by eliminating Mansour? The US who wanted its designated terrorist (Haqqani) got nothing out of it except, may be, it will have to be a bit grateful to Pakistan in case the latter really helped. If it didn’t, the US has hardly achieved any objective for peace. It has rather made the horizon even murkier and might have paved the way for Haqqani, its main irritant, to escalate the ladder of Taliban leadership.
However, it won’t be a smooth ride for Haqqani for he is not Kandahari blood and would be considered outsider by most Taliban commanders. Just like Fazlullah’s leadership disintegrated TTP groups. The best bet for Taliban (and for Pakistan too in case it wants to carry on with past policy of keeping assets) would be to get Mullah Yakoub as Emir, while keeping Sirajuddin Haqqani and Haibatullah Akhundzada as Deputies. Yakoub being the only Taliban figure that could muster consensus can be engaged by Pakistan although there’s no guarantee that even he would act as our puppet. There would be immense internal pressure on the new Emir to take revenge rather than sit on the table with the killers of their former Emir.
The future in this backdrop looks bleak for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The backlash is going to be there soon despite the embarrassing reports about the Afghan government dolling out money to some Taliban commanders in lieu of laying down arms. The money is going to dry up soon and the arms would be up again. Taliban have been weakened after Mansour but not finished.All of this might give America some reason to stay, but at the cost of more blood in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Peace would remain a far cry even if Pakistan decides to fend off its ties completely from the remaining Taliban commanders. Which seems very unlikely.
For Pakistan most important is to ensure control over its own territory. More than American drone strikes, the men who live under our protection but keep executing dreadful terrorist attacks in the neighbour, are violating our sovereignty. This is high time to dispose off former assets tactfully in a way that their violent backlash in Pakistan could be minimised. America needs to understand this predicament instead of acting like a bull in China shop. Iran, whose ties with Taliban have remained under the radar so far, has to be contained by more engagement rather than hostility.