Why Pakistanis are angry about Taliban leader's death
November 6th, 2013
08:39 AM ET

Why Pakistanis are angry about Taliban leader's death

By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own.

On August 5, 2009, a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud. In the days that followed, his death was confirmed by the TTP, which immediately made plans to select his successor. One person, however, had a different view on what happened – an energetic young TTP commander named Hakimullah Mehsud. He’s just “a bit sick,” he told a reporter.

What a strange remark. And yet four years later, the unhappy response in Pakistan to the death-by-drone of Hakimullah, Baitullah’s successor, is similarly perplexing.

Hakimullah Mehsud enjoyed, even by the TTP’s savage standards, an outsize reputation for cruelty. He contrasted sharply with Baitullah Mehsud, to whom he served as a close aide. Baitullah was portly and afflicted by diabetes – a condition that caused him chronic leg pain. He was killed while reportedly reclining on the roof of his father-in-law’s home, receiving a leg massage from a female companion. Hakimullah, by contrast, was big and athletic – and is believed to have survived several prior strikes.

Not surprisingly, the TTP, always an uncompromisingly brutal organization, became even more violent with Hakimullah Mehsud at the helm. The group spared no one – from polio vaccination workers and religious minorities to kids playing soccer.

Such were the depths of Mehsud’s brutality that late last year, according to Reuters, TTP officials were clamoring to replace him with his more moderate deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman. However, a drone strike killed ur-Rehman in May – just after Mehsud had overseen a brutally efficient campaign of violence against three major Pakistani political parties in the lead-up to national elections.

More from GPS: Time for U.S. to end drone secrecy

Fast forward to the last several days. Many Pakistanis, particularly conservative opposition politicians and talks show hosts, but also the Foreign Ministry and the general public, have reacted to the death of Mehsud with sadness and anger. Aside from comments made by liberal Pakistanis on social media, few Pakistanis have publicly celebrated Mehsud’s passing.

Why such unhappiness about the death of a notorious mass murderer? One reason is Pakistan’s reflexive anti-Americanism, rooted in a deeply held perception that Washington, through drone strikes and other measures, endlessly meddles in and messes in Pakistani affairs. Many Pakistanis (with some reason) believe that the U.S. pursues policies in Pakistan with blatant disregard for the damaging consequences, which are invariably borne by Pakistanis.

According to this narrative, polio inoculation efforts have suffered in Pakistan ever since Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani doctor cooperating with the CIA, helped track down Osama bin Laden by using a fake polio vaccination campaign. Now, the argument goes, a campaign of reprisal attacks against Pakistani civilians will surely follow Mehsud’s death.

To be sure, most Pakistanis are unhappy not because Mehsud was killed, but because of how and when he was killed. Some are bitter that Pakistan’s vaunted military couldn’t “drone” Mehsud itself, or eliminate him through a ground offensive. The first option has always been a non-starter, given Washington’s unwillingness to share sensitive technology with its mistrusted ally. As for the second option, Pakistan’s army has waged anti-TTP offensives for years. However, it hasn’t entered North Waziristan, where Mehsud was located, because it’s a sanctuary for militant organizations that serve as proxies for Pakistan’s security establishment.

More from GPS: What Pakistan thinks

Islamabad says it’s angry because the United States “sabotaged” prospective peace talks with the TTP (hours before Mehsud’s death, Islamabad said it had launched a dialogue process). The drone strike, according to Pakistan’s interior minister, “murdered the hope and progress” for peace. The Pakistani government – and many voters who brought it to power in May – claims that negotiations provide the only path for ending the Taliban bloodshed convulsing the country, and that Washington has obliterated this only path.

So, with Islamabad vowing to “review all perspectives of the relationship with the U.S,” and with the political leadership of Khyber-Pahktunkhwa Province voting Monday to block NATO supply routes later this month if drone strikes continue, Mehsud’s death has seemingly sparked a fresh crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Or has it? Eliminating Mehsud arguably constituted a rare shared interest for the two reluctant allies. The TTP vows to destroy the Pakistani state, and has staged numerous brazen assaults on Pakistani military facilities – including the general headquarters building (Pakistan’s Pentagon) in October 2009, just weeks after Mehsud took over. It has claimed thousands of Pakistani military lives – including a former intelligence official and, just weeks ago, the top general in the Swat Valley.

But Mehsud was not an exclusively Pakistan-centric jihadist. He helped mastermind an attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan, and his organization reportedly trained the Pakistani-American who attempted to blow up Times Square. Hours after that unsuccessful attempt, the TTP released a video in which Mehsud issued a chilling threat: “The time is very near when our fidaeen will attack the American states in their major cities.” After Mehsud’s death, Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that Mehsud posed an imminent threat to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. “There was some information recently that concerned us about the safety of our troops,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

It’s quite possible Washington informed the Pakistani security establishment about the strike in advance. And it’s equally possible that the Pakistani military, as it has on numerous other occasions, gave its blessing. This would shed further light on Islamabad’s anger: Not only is it indignant that Washington sent its peace plans up in flames, but it’s also furious that the Americans were conspiring with the Pakistani security establishment behind the government’s back.

Or, then again, maybe not. When it comes to U.S.-Pakistan relations, what Pakistani officials say in public often differs from what they say in private. The angry denunciations of recent days may be no more than a sop to a rabidly anti-American Pakistani public. Behind closed doors, government officials may well be cheering the decision to drone Mehsud.

Either way, the coming days could be bloody. A TTP spokesman has vowed that “every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber.”

But this tough talk obscures an important fact: Despite its ferociousness, the TTP has been weakened significantly in recent years by Pakistani military assaults and U.S. drone strikes – and Mehsud’s death is the biggest blow yet.

The TTP declared this weekend that it has ruled out talks with the government. However, its increasing vulnerabilities and fissures (inter-commander dissension has complicated efforts to appoint Mehsud’s successor) may, in time, convince it to change course. It may also favor talks out of fear that the Pakistani Army might eventually capitalize on the TTP’s unsettled state and launch a fresh offensive. That fear isn’t misplaced; Gen. Haroon Aslam, a frontrunner to become Pakistan’s next army chief later this month, led a successful offensive against the TTP in 2009. He’s thought to favor force over talks.

Ultimately, the killing of Mehsud may enhance prospects for the very talks Islamabad says his death have shattered.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Pakistan • Taliban

soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. Imalafatunow

    None of you have even a tiny grasp on this situation, You all talk garbage like you have knowledge, but your foolish stupidity gives you away. The US is the villian, the Pakis are the criminals, and the Talis are the bad guys, And all of you are stupid moronic ignorant fools that should do the world a favor and die. Your religious rants have no value, they are just the jabberings of insane psycopaths and freaks. God has distanced his ideal from you as your not worthy to look upon his goodness and can at your best only draw his contempt. Suffer as you are for deserving is your only part. If it doesn't hurt, its because you don't know the truth. Friggin retards

    November 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • J G

      There is no God other than that conjured by the imaginations of men.

      November 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
      • Quinton

        Who are you to say that there is no God, J G? Unfortunately, more and more people in this country are beginning to agree with you and now more and more of our children are turning to drugs and alcohol, bullying in our schools, crime and violence plus this insane hate for all foreigners, including Muslims which in turn proves that atheism is not necessarily a good thing.

        November 7, 2013 at 12:54 am |
      • Trevor

        Quinton- Are you person of faith (Christian, Muslim, Buddist etc...)? By your posts you're not an atheist and your bitter condescention of folks you've never met certainly makes you a very poor example of a person of faith...

        November 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      • BasmALLAH

        There is no god but ALLAH who manifests in everything. The one that everybody turn to in times if distress such as 9/11

        November 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • Mike

        There is no God other than that conjured by the imaginations of men ///// Except of course for The GOD who created all men and gave them the ability to imagine.

        November 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Unworthy

      Will you please enlighten us on what we should know. I for one would like to. You sound like you know all the answers so let me understand as I have not been there. Or if you don't, stand down like the troll you are.

      November 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Joe Shome

      Pakistan just loves to protect terrorists. Its in their nature to be evil and vile for islam. Just keep Droning them in to oblivion.

      November 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
      • Quinton

        Posted just like another hateful, ignorant, war loving Tea Partier. Thank you, Joe.

        November 7, 2013 at 12:56 am |
    • camperz

      Up yours.

      November 6, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • ralph

      All religion is a farce by greedy crones to relieve the weak and infirm of their valuables, while infecting society with perversions.

      November 6, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Joe M.

      BOO HOO!! The big bad USA is messing in Pakistan's succession of barbaric warlords, while the Al Qaeda attacks of 911 are no "inconvenience" to the USA at all. The author's "thinking" is unexplainable in any way. Never mind that Al Qaeda got Islamic religious permission to KILL 5 MILLION INNOCENT AMERICANS. That's not meddling in American affairs, is it???
      My reply to the author of this piece of defective "thinking" is as follows: "MY HEART PUMPS PURPLE P|$$ FOR YOU AND YOUR SENSITIVE CONCERNS FOR PAKISTAN !!!

      November 7, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
      • Joe M.


        November 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
      • Joe M.

        The Predators (Angels of God's Judgment) will chase every Al Qaeda, Taliban and any other barbarian terrorist by any other name to their grave where they will become a host to thousands of flies.

        November 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
      • UZR

        u r talking about killing 2 billion muslims in the world just to get revenge of 5 million people died in 9-11 attacks and some of them were muslims as well.

        who is the extremist now joe

        November 11, 2013 at 3:54 am |
    • Mike

      Wow ! Is this the guy that went to the Mall with his assault rifle ???

      November 10, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • bobhamiltonchicago

      That seems basically accurate. I just wanted to add that sometimes people dislike you because you know their "secret" or some intimate detail about them. With the Pakistani's, they know that we know that they're really stupid and uncultured, so they hate us.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • tarikan

      So who is the good guy here other than God? All of them Americans, Pakis, Talis are bad guys. No good guys? Kharzai maybe?

      November 12, 2013 at 3:24 am |
  2. ccsroscoe@gmail.com

    Pakistani Taliban (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud was an Pakistani ISI agent.

    November 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • ralph

      cool.....2 fer.

      November 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • UZR

      oh come on.Why Pakistan is going to aid a guy who is responsible for most terrorist activities in the country.

      Think before u speak

      November 11, 2013 at 3:56 am |
  3. dajowi

    Funny how people say that America targets civilians, i.e. women and children when targeting muslim terrorists. Perhaps if the "brave" terrorists didn't use women, children, innocent civilians as human shields they could complain about it. They hide out in mosques which they use for sniper's nests and hide caches of arms and explosives to use against the infidel and those who don't agree with their interpretation of a phony religious doctrine. I can't think of anyone personally who gives a hoot about what Pakistan thinks.

    November 6, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Quinton

      Are you trying to defend the use of those monstrous drones of ours or what, dajowi? Those filthy creeps who operate them need to be indicted and brought to justice along with Barack Obama and his henchmen. By defending these ignoble people dajowi, you're starting to sound like another dimwitted Tea Partier from the South.

      November 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
      • Rastafanman

        Just go back and bury your head in the sand, you just want to give these terrorists a free pass without any consequences to their actions. And then you invoke God, what hypocrisy, these same terrorists kill in the name of God. Is that what your God wants. if so, you can keep him/her.

        November 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
      • Joe M.

        Now all Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda carry the Polio virus to their friends and family as they did in Syria. This is God's judgment on them for their evil lives.

        November 7, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
      • Quinton

        Come on Joe M., are the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda any more evil than those filthy creeps who operate those ungodly drones, hurling 500 lb. bombs on defenseless people? Somehow, I don't think so! Please, don't be so narrow minded!

        November 8, 2013 at 9:07 am |
      • Joe M.

        The Taliban and Al Qaeda barbarians are a throwback from the Stone Age. If I were a drone pilot, I would not be able to wait to get to my job every day. I would want to work extra hours every day to kill terrorists.

        In the middle east and eastern countries you are accustomed to having your life religion and beliefs dictated by some fat old barbaric warlord. But in the west we hold our religious beliefs as our most cherished personal right in our life. We live in harmony with people of other religions, but the unbreakable rule is that no other person decides what my personal religious beliefs will be and so nobody can hold me a captive to the religious beliefs of another person. This is something the terrorists will never understand. So, if they try to dictate my religion, they will die in that effort.

        November 8, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
      • Joe M.

        The concept of some ignorant deprived barbarian trying to dictate to the USA what will be the belief of the entire nation is not only hilarious but displays a complete lack of understanding of what the United States of America is. The military and technological effort required to dominate the USA is so far beyond your understanding that you will never understand unless you had been raised a Christian in the United States. The Islamic fanatics will spend their lives in trying to do the impossible and nobody should pity them for their extreme ignorance, because they deserve to die ignorant and unfulfilled throughout their lives.

        November 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
  4. Rick

    Man of Man,,, the camel jockeys are coming out of the sand on this one. Make NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT ,,, any country that DOES NOT take down the diaper head terrorists ,,, the US will come into that country and wipe them out,,, period. No permission will be required. The Pakis are guilty of protecting Bin Laden and the US Congress must get off their worthless back sides and stop all monetary support to them.

    November 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Quinton

      Gee Rick, you sound like another Muslim hating Tea Partier by what you posted above. Did you ever take world history lessons in High School or did you ever get to the 10th grade? People who post in here without any knowledge of Islam should learn about Mohammad and the history of that religion and it's beliefs. Furthermore, ignorance breeds fear and fear in turn breeds hatred. It's as simple as that!

      November 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
      • DJ

        Gee quinton you sound like a typical Muslim filth

        November 6, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
      • Free patriot

        Gee... DJ sounds like he must be a Nazi!!! There are quite a few in this great country of ours unfortunately!

        November 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  5. Grafted Olive Branch

    The problem with "Taliban" type people, or those who try to impose "righteous" living standards upon the rest of their society, is that they don't understand that righteousness is a matter of the heart of man. It comes from a mans own conscience. The only one that I have found that has profoundly guided my conscience is Jesus Christ.

    November 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Quinton

      Thank you, Grafted Olive Branch. I totally agree with that but yet, it's wrong to hate Muslims as they too believe in our God. On the other hand, killing them with our monstrous drones is totally wrong as that only breeds even more international hatred towards us!

      November 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
      • Grafted Olive Branch

        I don't hate Muslims in general. But...I would prefer that we battle those who chant "death to America" on their own soil.

        November 6, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
      • allenwoll

        Q - Islam is NOT a religion, but rather a subversive political movement wearing religious cloaks,

        November 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
      • James

        The invasion of Iraq created more hatred towards US than drones.The invasion was illegal and was just an attempt to grab the oil

        November 7, 2013 at 8:28 am |
      • Joe M.

        Americans don't hate muslims. They hate terrorists that use religion as an excuse to create a dictatorship. The peace-loving population of Pakistan is gradually emerging and they don't want the Taliban and Al Qaeda dictators any more than anyone else of any other religion. The Pakistani people will eventually throw out the Taliban and Al Qaeda and all violent religious fanatics and finally live in peace with the rest of the people of the world. Until that day, violent jihadists will die every day.

        November 8, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  6. rkfrom ny

    ..pak!s are a frustrated lot..they are always upset ..constant humiliation and poverty makes them so....pak!s wanted to make 'peace' with this talibani and US droned him..now the talibanis go after the pak!s...that was the US plan...no wonder the pak!s are upset..no one care though

    November 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  7. Flicker man

    Pakistan is our mortal enemy and no one must be spared

    November 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  8. bbrad628@gmail.com

    Which leg was she massaging?

    November 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  9. FN PakRats

    If some of us had our way Pakistan would be a nuclear waste land.

    November 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Phelix Unger

    Pakistan is upset that the American government killed an enemy of the United Sates, a man who made it his business to kill others, well to bad and so sad for Pakistan. If they would have arrested him and turned him over to Geneva, he wouldn't have died. That would never happen though as Pakistan supports the Taliban movement. Maybe not every citizen in Pakistan supports the Taliban, especially the ones they kill. I don't suppose the bereaved families support them, nor do educated women. The Taliban has no place in a civilized world, and as such until they see the light, darkness will continue to fall upon them, in the shadow of a drone.

    November 6, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  11. NSA

    Because everything good upsets Pakistan

    November 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • UZR


      November 11, 2013 at 4:13 am |
  12. walshie

    Not the first time I've read about Pakistan government welcoming drone strikes, then publicly admonishing USA afterward. I believe there is so much more to this story. How about telling Pakistan we will take our drones away and leave them to their own fate? Also anyone that has ever been to Pakistan would not be permitted a visa to USA? Or take our drones and our aid and let them handle their own affairs?

    November 6, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • rkfrom ny

      Don't forget walshie, that the U.S. government is paying the Pakistani leaders to privately approve of these obscene drone strikes and then publicly protest them in order to make themselves look good before their own people!

      November 7, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  13. khan academy

    Pakistan is a cesspool of vermin.

    November 6, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  14. Daniel Daronda

    What is really sad about the entire Islamic Taliban movement is that it came about as their desire to "rise from the ashes" by reaching back into their past and grabbing on tightly to their Islamic Sharia Law from the 11th century..... but what they didn't realize is that we are now in the 21st century...... unfortunately, Sharia Law was written 5 centuries after Mohammed the Prophet died...... and ONLY a bunch of men wrote these laws, leaving their women out of the picture and therefore treated unfairly by these laws......... also, chopping off a man's hand because he stole something is rather extreme in the 21st century........ and the whole "jihadi" concept of calling all non-muslims "infidels" is so arcane it's almost a joke, and yet these misguided fools think they are somehow going to make a comeback............. no wonder the entire world laughs at them............. very sad indeed........... 🙁

    November 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  15. Barkaat khan

    As pakistanis are facing suicide attacks at his armed forces and civilians by pakistani Talibans in response of American drones and for being an ally of US led nato forces.so pakistan national assembly decided to negotiate with those taliban in order to save its civilians from day today bomb blast inside pakistan.This effort has been disrupted one day before the start of talks between pak Govt and Taliban.That is why pakistanis are angry and think that Americans do not want peace in this region.

    November 7, 2013 at 2:27 am |
    • Maricopa

      Pakistani Muslims are the suicide bombers.

      November 7, 2013 at 6:36 am |
      • UZR


        November 11, 2013 at 4:16 am |
      • bala

        Every paki is terrorist. They never live in peace because of its religious madness. Their economy totally blocked because of its hostalities with india. Bombing them to stone age is the only option for world peace.

        December 2, 2013 at 5:09 am |
    • rkfrom ny

      In fact Barkaat khan, the right-wing thugs in Washington don't want any kind of peace between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. The reason for this murder was to sabotage these peace talks and continue this obscene war so that the big wigs here can make more money! In fact, these people own the White House along with 85% of Congress!

      November 7, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  16. Mike

    While I do believe that negotiations with the Taliban are going to happen. I am in agreement with the ideas well stated on Fareeds panel today. As long as the Taliban keep choosing leaders whom have bombed American citizens. We will continue to rush these leaders off to their paradise of perpetual virgins.

    November 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  17. Rick McDaniel

    The government of Pakistan has clearly shown, it is aligned with terrorism, not only in the region, but firmly aligned with terrorism within its own borders.

    November 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  18. lynnhead

    rorchids, hincor,
    lynnhead http://www.lynnhead.com/

    May 21, 2018 at 9:53 pm |
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