Hakeemillah Mahsood – Pakistani Taliban Leader
The young leader Hakeemillah Mahsood is considered to be a mysterious figure with regards to the populace of Kotkai; a small village which lies south of Waziristan where he grew up in. No one from the villagers remembers that he had met him nor seen him in previous years. Avaz Khan, one the Kotkai residents who finally arrived at «Dera Ismail Khan» which is situated on the border with South Waziristan, tells «Al-Sharq Al-Awsat»: «I have never seen him before that, perhaps he was living in the mountains, but I do not know who he is».
Most of the emigrants from the village Kotkai have expressed in dialogues conducted by “Al-Sharq Al-Awsat” the ground attack launched by the Pakistani military against the Taliban on October 16 (Thashreen Al-Thani) for their utter ignorance of Hakeemillah Mahsood and his activities.
Perhaps the only logical explanation for the lack of knowledge with regards to Hakeemillah Mahsood is that he has left his village at a very young age and remained hidden from the public eye due to the nature of the activities that were being exercised. Or it may be the fear that people of his hometown will talk about the bloody Taliban leader who is best known for his swift resort to killing. Indeed he used to slaughter his opponents with his bare hands, as is repeatedly claimed, as he was also known for operations in brutal killing in the Orakzai tribal region. Moreover, he has launched raids against the security forces and has caused destruction to hundreds of truck supplies from the NATO North Atlantic that pass through Pakistan’s tribal areas.
This is what has made him procure the reputation and desired position in order to declare himself as a successor the former Taliban Head Baitullah Mahsood who was killed during an American attack by Drones in August 2009.
Furthermore, the killing of Baitullah Mahsood has pushed the Taliban in Pakistan to attacking the drones on 5 August which caused organisational chaos. There have been rumors about the existence of battles for succession, and internal discord whereby two men have emerged as candidates to lead the Taliban Pakistan; they are Hakeemillah Mahsood brutal fighter, and Wali Rahman who is the organisational, political, financial brain and behind the organisation. After the broadcast of the Pakistani media report on the incidents of exchange of fire between the warring factions of the Taliban in the repercussions Baitullah Mahsood’s death, Pakistan’s Interior Minister appeared and confirmed the killing of Mahsood during a clash with the arbitrator Wali Rahman in the organisation of the Taliban.
However, as soon as Hakeemillah was restricted he appeared in a video clip that was distributed to the Pakistani media with his rival Wali Rahman, and he confirmed the absence of any sort of fragmentations within Taliban ranks.
Hakeemillah and Wali Rahman have announced together that Hakeemillah has become the leader of the Pakistani Taliban and that the task of supervising South Waziristan’s affairs has become the prerogative of Wali Rahman. However, many observers were sceptical about whether or not a single organisation can carry two people with such strength and ambition. After much deliberation amongst the ranks of the Taliban, the terrorist organisation has settled on a new leader who will succeed the killed leader Baitullah Mahsood. The announcement was made that Hakeemillah Mahsood, the armed and bloodthirsty leader, who is 29 years old, was usurped of power after reaching a settling agreement with his opponent’s force Wali Rahman Mahsood.
The government has announced in the beginning of the death of Hakeemillah and Wali Rahman in an exchange of fire between the feuding factions two days after the attack, which was launched by Drone missiles on 5 August killing thereby Baitullah. However, a telephone call claimed that the two men carried out the killing, showing that they are in good health and that they both have a mutual understanding just as the call confirmed that Hakeemillah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, is still alive and that he has become the head of the armed organization.
With his spontaneous smile, and strong build, the new leader brings a picture quite different from his short ailing predecessor. Unlike his predecessor, who hasn’t perfected his self-image, Hakeemillah has perfected the interactions with the media where he worked as an official speaker of Baitullah in 2007 under the name of Zulfiqar Mahsood, a role that has made him famous.
There isn’t a great deal of information on his life before this phase; only that he was born in the village of Kotkai in South Waziristan, and was known as Jamshed Mahsood as if he belongs to the Hangai tribe from the village Mahsood. Although his name resembles Baitullah, the truth is that there was no real relationship between the two. However, Hakeemillah is the cousin of Qari Hussain, the military commander who has trained many of the suicide bombers who attacked Pakistan in recent years.
Moreover, Hakeemillah did not receive any formal education, but he was going to a school in the area «Hengo», which was attended by Baitullah as well. He is said to have left his studies in order to join the Taliban in the events of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. There is no further information available about his life before he became the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban movement except that he was working as a driver for Baitullah for a period of time.
In November (November 2008), Hakeemillah Mahsood has seized the region Orakzai tribe with 2000 fighters and slaughtered his opponents. He then extended this act to areas of Kurram and Khyber. He is also able to create fruitful alliances with gangs who kidnap activists, in which case this was a major source of finance for the Pakistani Taliban movement.
In light of the view that he desires to harm the United States, Hakeemillah has succeeded in cutting off the road of supplies from NATO in Afghanistan, which passes through the Khyber tribal region. He also claimed responsibility for the destruction of hundreds of Humvee vehicles and has frustrated and the determination of the coalition forces.
It is no wonder then that he describes one of his closest aides as: «our nuclear missile, which can reach any place at any time». Rather Baitullah is not like any of his comrades in arms as he is fluent in dealing with any type of weapons ranging from pistols up to the «RPG-7»: «We have intention to seize even Islamabad if Pakistan and its army continue to protect the interests of the U.S. ». This was stated by him in a press meeting organised by himself in November 2008 at his base at Orakzai.
However, the effectiveness of Baitullah as the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban movement has not been tested yet; many questions have been raised about his prematurity and inexperience. Yet the days alone will show whether or not he really is capable in managing multiple factions that fall under the umbrella of Pakistan’s Taliban movement and in maintaining peace with Wali Rahman.
According to analysts and security experts, the arrival of Hakeemillah Mahsood for the position of being the new leader of Pakistan’s Taliban movement was not surprising, even though he was a personal bodyguard five years back and then afterwards a driver for the Taliban’s chief Baitullah Mahsood. He told the Pakistani government official on condition of anonymity «Al-Sharq Al-Awsat»: “Before becoming head of the terrorist organisation, he had shown brutality in the killing of innocent people and causing serious damage to Pakistan’s security forces, as well as NATO forces in Afghanistan.”
Many Pakistani journalists remember Hakeemillah Mahsood as an official spokesman, young at age, in the name of the Pakistani Taliban, and they also remember that he used to contact them himself from his phone in order to declare the responsibility of the group in every terrorist attack that was occurring in the urban centres of Pakistan. A conspicuous journalist in Peshawar states that: “At that time, he used to present himself as Zulfiqar Mehsood, and he also used to inform us about the Taliban behind every suicide bombing or a terrorist attack in the north west of the country”.
However the Pakistani media and government security agencies both did not commence in dealing with him seriously until after August 2007 when his men had kidnapped 300 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan. This is a turning point in the history of Hakeemillah Mahsood; where it provided him the opportunity to draw closer to his chief Baitullah Mahsood; since those strikes are which helped in an upgrade for the organisational hierarchy of the Taliban movement of Pakistan.
The kidnapping operation of 300 Pakistani soldiers has provided the Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsood the opportunity to negotiate with the former army chief General Pervez Musharraf. As a result of secret negotiations between the Taliban and the Pakistani government, the former President Musharraf was compelled to order for the release of 25 of the terrorists who were detained by the Pakistani security forces in order to secure the release of 300 Pakistani soldiers.
This was a major embarrassment for the Pakistani government and it was expressed as a major victory at the hands of Hakeemillah Mehsood – who at the time was just an ordinary leader of the Taliban.
Immediately afterwards, Baitullah Mehsood had raised the young leader Hakeemillah to the rank of head operations commander in three of the main tribal districts; Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai. In spite of the sectarian tension that was already raging in these three areas Hakeemillah Mahsood went as a deputy for Baitullah Mehsud, although however, Hakeemillah showed brutality in those tribal areas. This is what prompted a number of the tribal areas’ inhabitants from Orakzai and Kurram to flee after the arrival of Hakeem Mahsood in the beginning of 2007. The specialist journalist Suhail Nasser states with regards to the tribal affairs and sectarian conflict: “I have witnessed Orakzai and Kurram in its worst sectarian clashes since the arrival of Hakeemillah Mahsood there.”
Hakeemillah Mahsood resumed his agenda for the imposing of the Taliban’s interpretation and implementation of Sharia law in the Orakzai tribal region in December (December 2008). This is the year in which the jizya tax was imposed on non-Muslims in the region. On top of that, there were a large number of Hindus and Sikhs living in Orakzai and Khyber before the arrival of Hakeemillah Mahsood. After the Taliban had imposed this tax on non-Muslims all of them had fled the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Hakeemillah Mehsood had become famous during those events on a large scale, especially in light of the Pakistani media coverage of those very events.
The Pakistani journalists used to rush to conduct meetings with the military commanders and never did Hakeemillah reject the request of a meeting with him just as he did not mind to have photos taken of him. During that period, Hakeemillah had a direct link to the Pakistani media men and he had volunteered to make phone calls to tell the reporters of the Taliban’s responsibility for terrorist attacks. Even some Pakistani journalists have composed his voice on the phone and so when he contacts them in order to deny reports that were speaking of his death in August 2009, they consequently were able to identify his voice.
In spite of his religious authority, Hakeemillah Mehsood does not hesitate to present himself as a modern man able to deal with modern weapons and vehicles.
In November 2008, Hakimillah Mehsood organised a visit to the Pakistani journalists in a camp following the movement in Orakzai. Indeed he wanted to benefit from the presence of the media in his camp, according to one of the journalists who met with them.
Zahir Shah Shirazi, who was a member of the group of journalists who had visited Hakeemillah Mahsood’s camp says, “he was desiring to show off in front of the photographers during the driving of a Humvee armoured vehicle in which his men had abducted it very swiftly during a raid on a convoy of American vehicles in the Khyber and then called the journalists after an hour to participate in a competition to fire.”
The Pakistani journalists recall that Hakeemillah Mahsood has expressed his views on the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda in detail. One of the journalists who was part of the team that had visited his camp says, “he has expressed deep respect for the Supreme Commander of the Taliban Mullah Omar just as he had also praised heavily Al-Qaeda despite the fact that he denied the existence of al-Qaida in the tribal areas of Pakistan.”
It appears that Hakeemillah Mehsood a much easier community than his predecessor; Hakeemillah had invited in the first week of October in the recorded video message broadcasted by the Pakistan media both from the Pakistani elite and journalists to partake in dialogue in order to prove that he is not a foreign agent.
No information about Hakeemillah Mehsood was heard of since the beginning of the military operations in South Waziristan in the evening of 16 October. Military experts say that if the Pakistani army take over in South Waziristan; whether it be by greater numbers or by force, it is absolutely crucial, so much to the extent that no leader of the Taliban would dare to show resistance to the advanced Pakistan forces. The only option in front of them will be to resort to guerrilla warfare. Although this option has not been tested on the ground, Hakeemillah Mehsood claims that he has experience in that kind of war, but the result surely is uncertain.