Pakistan welcomes Mehsud's death but warns 'war not won'

ISLAMABAD, Aug 8, 2009 (AFP) - Pakistan's media and civil society on Saturday welcomed the suspected death of Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, saying it will dent extremists' efforts despite warnings it does not equal victory.

Pakistan said Friday it believed Mehsud, the charismatic commander of the Pakistani Taliban, had been killed in a US drone attack in a major blow for the Islamist militants.

Senior officials in Pakistan's powerful security establishment who supervise operations in Mehsud's Waziristan stronghold said the warlord was dead, but the government said it was seeking verification.

"Mehsud's elimination will leave a positive impact on terror-stricken people," leading Pakistani rights activist Farzana Bari told AFP.

Bari, head of the Gender Studies department at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam university, said the government and the military needed to completely eliminate the country's terrorist infrastructure.

"Mehsud's death will quadruple people's confidence in the government and the armed forces, which are already engaged in an offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest," Bari said.

The US Central Intelligence Agency, with the tacit cooperation of Islamabad, has carried out dozens of attacks in Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones over the past year, but declines to discuss the strikes publicly.

Islamabad and Washington had said liquidating Mehsud was a strategic aim in the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists whom the United States has accused of posing an existential threat to nuclear-armed Pakistan.

"I believe that Mehsud's death will greatly help improve (the) law and order situation but the overall impact will not be lasting," said Rakhshanda Naz, another rights activist, who runs non-governmental organization the Aurat Foundation.

"Mehsud's death will pose a setback for the TTP but it will be temporary and the group is to step back with a new leader."

She said that the problem could not simply be solved by eliminating one individual, saying: "We have to strike at their roots to rid our society of terrorism and extremism."

Mehsud, who had a five-million-dollar US bounty on his head after Washington branded him "a key Al-Qaeda facilitator," had reportedly narrowly escaped previous attacks.

"His death is a success but does not represent a war won, which is yet far off and perhaps years away," Pakistani newspaper The News said in its editorial.

"The greatest battle will to be to win back the predominantly youthful hearts and minds that his perverted view of the world and of Islam had turned to dark thoughts and dark ways."

"Win that battle and we will truly have won the war," the paper added.

Another local English-language newspaper, Dawn, said: "If he is indeed dead -- and many credible sources have independently suggested that he is in fact dead -- then a devastating blow has been struck right at the heart of the TTP." "The state must assess whether an immediate full-fledged operation in the Waziristan will degrade a demoralised TTP to the point that revival will be all but impossible," it added.

Taliban commanders have neither confirmed nor denied Mehsud's demise. But top militants in his umbrella group Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) gathered in his South Waziristan stronghold on Friday ahead of an expected announcement.

"According to our information, Taliban commanders held two rounds of meetings on Friday to elect their new chief," one local official said on condition of anonymity.

Confirming the meetings, another official said there still didn't seem to be an agreement amongst commanders on who should succeed Mehsud.

Source: AFP

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