Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Art of War: Divide and Conquer
The illusion in each and every organization is total solidarity. A constant message of political unity sometimes means that there is always some degree of division within the union and that the leaders are striving to fix it.
When the division is on top of the tier, one can only expect negative consequences.
The organization that lacks the common vision is a house that will crumble from within.
August 9, 2009
Feuding Kills a Top Militant, Pakistan Says
By ISMAIL KHAN and SABRINA TAVERNISE
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistani officials said they had received information on Saturday that a ranking militant commander had been killed in a power struggle over who would take control of the Pakistani Taliban.
A Pakistani government official and an intelligence official said Hakimullah Mehsud, a young and aggressive aide to the former Taliban leader, had been shot dead in a fight with Waliur Rehman, another commander who was seeking to become the leader, during a meeting in a remote mountain region near the Afghan border.
Reports of Hakimullah Mehsud’s death could not be independently verified Saturday. If they are true, it would be the second major loss for the Pakistani Taliban in just a week, after reports that its supreme leader, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in an American airstrike on Wednesday. The killing would also solidify the belief among American and Pakistani intelligence officials that a power struggle has been brewing within the Pakistani Taliban, which is made up of many different tribes and factions that had been brought together under Baitullah Mehsud’s leadership.
Earlier on Saturday, Hakimullah Mehsud talked to the BBC by telephone to claim that Baitullah was still alive. But in the evening, reports surfaced about the gunfight and Hakimullah’s possible death.
Terrorism experts said a power struggle within the Pakistani Taliban could give Al Qaeda, which is also based in northwestern Pakistan, a greater role in shaping the group’s direction.
American and Pakistani officials say that the two groups have become deeply enmeshed in recent years, with the Taliban helped by Al Qaeda’s international reach and stream of financing from the Persian Gulf region.
Officials in Washington could not confirm on Saturday the reports of Hakimullah Mehsud’s death, which were also carried by the Pakistani news network Dawn TV. But an American counterterrorism official said the infighting could provide an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to exploit the rivalries that were likely to emerge.
One of those opportunities, from the American point of view, would be the ability to focus its fleet of drone aircraft on attacking militant leaders who were involved in the Afghan war, or on Qaeda leaders planning attacks against the West. That has been a source of tension between the Americans and Pakistani officials, who had viewed the Mehsuds as the most urgent threat.
Still, the United States considered Hakimullah Mehsud an important enough figure that at least one earlier airstrike had been aimed at killing him, American and Pakistani officials say.
One Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the fighting could create an opening for the Haqqanis, another group that has close ties to Al Qaeda, to intervene in resolving the leadership issue. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the point man in Pakistan for the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar.
Details of the fighting were spotty on Saturday. The Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, confirmed reports of a shootout at a meeting in South Waziristan and said one of the commanders had been killed but did not say who it was.
“The infighting was between Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud,” Mr. Malik told Reuters. “We have information that one of them has been killed. Who was killed we will be able to say later after confirming.”
Reports received by government officials on Saturday indicated that Mr. Rehman and Mr. Mehsud — a member of Baitullah’s tribe but not a close relative — argued over succession at a tribal meeting at Sara Rogha in South Waziristan. A shootout ensued, killing Mr. Mehsud and wounding Mr. Rehman, officials said.
A senior government official in Peshawar said Baitullah Mehsud’s father-in-law, who had been at the meeting, was now in the custody of an opposing faction.
Beyond being a succession struggle, the infighting may also represent a deeper conflict over the goals and direction of the Pakistani Taliban. A resident of the area who spoke by telephone on Saturday said foreign militants favored Mr. Rehman while local Mehsuds wanted Hakimullah to be their new leader.
The alliance between Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leaders goes back years in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, where local Pakistani militants helped ferry Arab operatives back and forth across the border from Afghanistan. More recently it has surfaced in the attacks on Pakistan’s major cities, far from the war-torn western tribal areas.
“They are interconnected,” a Karachi counterterrorism official said, referring to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “They depend on each other.”
Clear evidence of that alliance, counterterrorism officials say, was the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. The bomber was an Afghan, trained by Taliban fighters in Mohmand Agency, part of the tribal area where the Mehsuds operate. But it was a Qaeda operative of Kenyan origin, Usama al-Kinni, who planned and financed the attack.
In an added complication with serious implications for security in Pakistan, the handlers and facilitators in that attack were from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and strategic province, which itself has been the target of a series of suicide bombings and commando-style attacks since March.
Police officials investigating those attacks said that a poisonous mix of Al Qaeda and local Punjabi groups were responsible, and that the groups were operating out of a sanctuary provided to them by Baitullah Mehsud.
Specifically, investigators said they had unearthed a series of small cells, whose leaders report to a Qaeda operative of Egyptian origin, Sheik Issa.
One of the suspects arrested by Lahore investigators, a would-be suicide bomber in his 20s who claimed to have worked as a cook in Baitullah Mehsud’s mountain base in South Waziristan, said the Arabs were clearly above the local Taliban fighters in hierarchy, and commanded gestures of respect from senior Taliban leaders wherever they went.
Unlike Baitullah Mehsud, who lived openly in his area, Arabs live in hiding in Pakistan, rarely moving around, and depending on local residents for cover. The foreign militants are respected because they are seen as men who gave up lives of luxury to fight in austerity.
Most Qaeda operatives live in North Waziristan, home of the Wazir tribes, whose two leaders, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mulvi Nazeer, give them cover.
Still, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is believed to have visited Mr. Mehsud’s area in South Waziristan last year, said Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier who used to be the ranking Pakistani commander in the region.
A Taliban fighter interviewed Saturday by telephone from Waziristan said that Qaeda Arabs remained separate, with their own facilities, meetings and leaders, but that they shared resources — human and financial — when the need arose.
“When we need something, they take care of us, and when they need something, we help them,” explained the fighter, who said he had recently ferried 14 Arabs from one area of Waziristan to another.
The Taliban fighter said the Arabs preferred to be assisted by militants from Punjab, who, unlike Pashtuns, the ethnic group that makes up the Taliban, can move unnoticed in central Pakistan.
Pakistani security forces captured several militants of Saudi origin in May in Mohmand Agency, and the diary of one contained a warning: “Don’t speak in Arabic unless absolutely necessary. Speak Pashto whenever possible.”
Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, and Sabrina Tavernise from Karachi, Pakistan. Pir Zubair Shah contributed reporting from Islamabad, and Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company