The killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is coming as another major blow to the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has lost many of its senior leaders in recent years in US drone strikes. The TTP is killed when the government of Pakistan was beginning talks with the militant groups, preparing for sending a three-member delegation to North Waziristan to directly talk with senior leaders of the umbrella group. In the meantime, Hakimullah Mehsud, the long-time hostile militant commander had also announced his readiness for entering peace talks with the Pakistani government. Both the Pakistani government and the TTP leadership were preparing for resuming negotiations after a series of deadly attacks by the militant groups that had left hundreds dead this year.
Due to the timing of the attack, the killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader will have serious impacts on both the TTP and government efforts for starting negotiations with the militants. In the aftermath of the drone killing of Mehsud, Pakistan is put in high security alerts, fearing that the militant groups may seek revenge for death of their leader by carrying out attacks across the country. Pakistani officials have said that the attack has ruined the government-led initiative to start peace talks with the Taliban. The fate of Nawaz Sharif’s plan for talks with the TTP now seems to be closely related to who will come up to the leadership of the militants and who will be chosen as the next leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.
There are a number of militant commanders competing for leading the TTP umbrella group which loosely controls about dozens of extremist militant groups across Pakistan, but mainly in the tribal northwestern areas of the country. The Taliban ruling council has reportedly convened in a meeting for choosing a successor to Hakimullah Mehsud. According to unconfirmed reports, a regional commander, Khan Said Sajna, who is leading one of the many rival groups, is promoted as the next leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. Hakimullah was considered an anti-government leader who actively led bloody campaign of violence against Pakistani government and the country’s security forces during his leadership in the group and earlier when he was a commander under Baitullah Mehsud. However, now there are new figures coming up in the structure of TTP leadership who favors talks with the government of Pakistan.
Khan Said Sajna, who was already tipped as a potential successor to Mehsud, is one of the figures who favor talks with the Pakistani government. If Sajna takes the leadership of the TTP, it will be highly likely that the government and the militant groups will resume a serious series of talks that could finally eventuate to deal for ending militants’ violence campaign across Pakistan. Even, it is believed that the drone attack and the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud may itself pave the way for future talks between the government of Pakistan and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. The argument for this is that the killing of the TTP leader, who was fiercely antagonistic to the government of Pakistan, will put the Mehsud tribe and the commanders who are opposing talks with Islamabad in a weaker position, which opens the field for pro-talks factions and their commander to take the leadership and influence in favor of talks with Pakistani government.
On the other hand, still it is hard to imagine that the government of Pakistan would be able to smoothly lead the talks with the new leadership of the Pakistani Taliban. Though the Taliban may be left weakened after their leader’s death, they will come up under new leader and will keep fighting for this cause even if they resume peace talks with the Pakistani government. Due to the killings of Taliban senior leaders, the TTP will be further in disarray as the new leader of the group will find it difficult to mobilize the many rival groups for a shared cause.
With the Mehsud tribe in the TTP weakened, many rival groups including the Punjab-based groups will compete for more influence and control in the TTP. The government of Pakistani is highly willing to see more pro-establishment groups come up in the leadership of the TTP. After Sahrif’s moves to enter talks with Pakistani Taliban, some Punjab-rooted sub-groups welcomed the move, while the TTP as the main umbrella group put forward tougher preconditions for talks with Nawaz Sahrif’s government. The fact that the Pakistani government is not facing a monolithic insurgent umbrella group will remain a problem for the government imitative of talks with the militants.But in the short-term, the efforts led by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resume talks with the Taliban may have been scuttled as the Taliban will seek revenge and organize further violence in the country. This is because the Pakistani Taliban has always remained suspicious of Pakistan’s tacit approval for the US drone attacks on the northeastern tribal areas. The militant groups, who in part are fighting for imposing Shariah law in the country, also consider Pakistan’s secular establishment a friend, a regional ally of the United States, which justifies attacks on government interests. Therefore, the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud may stir the Taliban fighters to take revenge and assault attacks on government interests. A surge in violence and TTP’s attempt to take revenge could derail the talks between the two sides that were expected to begin soon for an unknown period of time.