Hakeemullah Mehsud: A Profile in Terror


LAHORE: The selection of Commander Hakeemullah Mehsud as the new ameer of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has set alarm bells ringing in the Pakistani security establishment given the fact that he is the same person who had taken hostage over 300 security forces personnel in South Waziristan in August 2007, compelling the Musharraf regime to release 25 hardened militants who were being tried on terrorism charges.

Baitullah Mehsud’s successor is famous in the TTP circles for his cruelty and is well known as a rash strutting fighter who has led dozens of major terrorist operations not only against the Pakistani security forces but also against the NATO supply trucks which were destined for the NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan, hence catapulting him to fame among the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban. Well-informed TTP circles say, despite his comparatively young age, the battle-hardened Hakeemullah has been unanimously elected the new TTP chief due to a unique combination of characteristics – his proximity with Baitullah Mehsud, extraordinary military skills, personal charisma and proven leadership abilities. Hakeemullah Mehsud actually shot to fame in 2007 under the name Zulfiqar Mehsud following several ruthless commando raids carried out by the TTP fighters under his command against the Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan. But his biggest success came on 30 August 2007 when his men captured 300 soldiers of the Pakistan Army in South Waziristan.

While demanding the withdrawal of the security forces from the area and the release of his comrades in exchange for freeing the soldiers, Baitullah Mehsud had threatened to put the arrested soldiers on trial for violating the peace deal the army had signed with him in February 2005, by launching a military operation in his area. “Just as the government side has put my people on trial and sentenced them to imprisonment, I will put the army soldiers on trial. I have my own courts which will try the soldiers for violating the peace pact,” Hakeemullah, the hostage-taker, had quoted Baitullah Mehsud as having said on September 4, 2007. As three abducted soldiers were beheaded in the next three days, General Pervez Musharraf had to order the release of 25 hardcore TTP militants [who were being tried by courts on terrorism charges]to secure freedom for the khaki hostages.

The bizarre abduction added to Hakeemullah’s stature and helped him get closer to Baitullah Mehsud. Soon afterwards, Baitullah’s military might multiplied on 12 December 2007 when a council of 40 senior Pakistani Taliban leaders commanding a pooled force of almost 50,000 gathered in Peshawar and decided to come together under a single banner of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Baitullah was appointed the TTP ameer, Maulana Hafiz Gul Bahadur from North Waziristan the senior naib ameer (senior vice chief) and Maulana Faqeer Mohammad from the Bajaur Agency was appointed the third in command. Baitullah soon rewarded Hakeemullah Mehsud by elevating him from an ordinary commander to the chief operational commander for three important tribal regions – Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai Agencies. Yet one key factor that led to his elevation was the fact that Hakeemullah commanded almost 8,000 fighters in the three tribal agencies located in the West of Peshawar. Since then, Hakeemullah Mehsud’s star is constantly on the rise.

Born in the Kotkai village of Sarwaki subdivision in South Waziristan Agency in 1980 as Jamshed Mehsud, Hakeemullah belongs to the Eshangai branch of Mehsud tribe and also known in the TTP circles with the name of Zulfiqar Mehsud. Incidentally Hakeemullah and his jehadi mentor both had been studying at a Deobandi religious seminary or madrassa in Hangu district of the NWFP, though Baitullah had been quite senior to him. However, Hakeemullah dropped out a few years later without graduating as a Mullah. Later on, Hakeemullah joined hands with his fellow tribesmen to become a jehadi fighter, initially serving Baitullah as a bodyguard and then becoming his trusted driver. He soon gained fame in the Taliban circles for his expertise in combat – someone who knew a lot about weapons and machines and can drive even an armoured-plated Humvee that his men had captured during a raid on a convoy of American vehicles in the Khyber Agency.

Interestingly, Hakeemullah also nicknamed as Guddu, is often compared in the TTP circles with another Taliban commander, Nek Mohammad, who is often referred to in the FATA areas as the founder of the Pakistani Taliban movement. He too was killed in a US drone attack in June 2004 when a precision-guided missile hit his hideout in the Dhok village of Wana, the capital of South Waziristan while he was being interviewed on his satellite telephone. The TTP circles say the comparison of Nek with Hakeemullah sits well because of their striking resemblance in many ways, especially their shoulder-length hair, youthful appearance, jehadi passion, love for weapons, their shooting and driving skills as well as their extremely adventurous streaks.

Hakeemullah is also known for having imposed Shariah in Orakzai Agency in December 2008 as well as levying Jazia (a tax non-Muslims population used to pay to their Muslims rulers in the past) on members of Sikh and Hindu communities living in Orakzai and Khyber agencies of the FATA. However, above all, the new TTP chief is believed to be extremely sectarian and has a violently anti-Shia agenda which he has been pursuing in the Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies, together with his first cousin Commander Qari Hussain Mehsud, also known in the TTP circles as the Ustad-e-Fidayeen or the father of the suicide bombers.

The security agencies are desperately trying to hunt down Hussain Mehsud given his status as the master trainer of child-suicide-bombers who may have recruited and indoctrinated the largest number of youngsters and converted them into lethal human bombs to carry out suicide bombings across Pakistan. Hakeemullah and Hussain are known in the TTP ranks for their strong anti-Shia views and close ties with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) or the Army of Jhangvi. An off shoot of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the LeJ is an extremely anti-Shia Sunni-Deobandi sectarian-cum-jehadi organization which is currently the group of choice for the anti-US hard-core Pakistani militants and which has been found involved in several major acts of terrorism across Pakistan, including the September 2008 suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

Compared with Baitullah, who was described as an introvert and media-shy person, Hakeemullah is known as an outgoing person and is media-savvy. Unlike Baitullah, his successor likes his smiling face being captured on television cameras. At the same time, Hakeemullah is said to be more ambitious than his predecessor and has expansionist designs unlike his mentor who largely kept his jehadi fighters to the South Waziristan region. Having lived under the shadow of Baitullah for almost five years, Hakeemullah had started spreading his wings in 2008 by carrying out some deadly ambushes on the Pakistani security forces and the NATO supply trucks in Khyber Agency and looting of goods and food destined for NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan. Hakeemullah is the person who had claimed responsibility for destroying over 600 NATO vehicles destined for Afghanistan in terrorist attacks targeting freight terminals on the outskirts of Peshawar last year and early this year.

Like his predecessor, Hakeemullah Mehsud’s anti-American views, his soft corner for al-Qaeda and his admiration for the fugitive Taliban ameer Mullah Mohammad Omar are well known, keeping in view his media conversation in the past. While talking to a select group of Pakistani journalists in November 2008 in the Orakzai tribal agency, Hakeemullah had openly praised the Osama-led terrorist organization, by saying: “We are al-Qaeda’s friends since we, the Taliban and the Arab fighters both have shown our allegiance to Ameerul Momineen Mullah Mohammad Omar of Afghanistan. However, there is no al-Qaeda in South Waziristan and it is only the American and the Pakistani government’s propaganda, for which they don’t have any proof”. Baitullah had further expressed his ambition to take the Taliban movement beyond FATA to mainland Pakistan, in line with his then ameer Baitullah Mehsud’s agenda of carving out a Taliban emirate in Pakistan and taking on the army to defend it.

Therefore, the appointment of Hakeemullah, who had earlier been declared dead by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, is giving sleepless nights to the Pakistani authorities, especially after his recent threat to avenge the killing of Baitullah Mehsud in a drone attack to prove to the government that the TTP network was still intact and fully functional.


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