UPDATE: Let’s get the record and chronology straight — first a lot of press people are getting things wrong. Baitullah Mehsud is self-declared Taliban, of the Pakistani, not Afghan flavor. He is loosely aligned with Al Qaeda, and agrees with them on things, and there seems to be mutual support on occasions.
They are not however welded at the hip, and it’s wrong to call him Al Qaeda. At one point last summer, Baitullah led the tribal alliance of the Mehsuds to expel AQ “foreign fighters” from his region in South Waziristan. At other points there seems to have been mutual support and jobs for each other. This was notable in multiple indicators of both Mehsud and Al Qaeda involvement at the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid.
Baitullah now leads the combined groups of Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek e Taliban. This was announced earlier this month. He’s denying culpability, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is claiming credit for the assasination. I find it hard to believe that he had zero involvement as he does have contacts and traffic with Lashkar e Jhangvi, a group under the Harkut ul Jamiyaat Islami (HuJI) umbrella that’s high on the suspect list for this. JI and HuJI have declared allegiance directly to AQ in October, Baitullah has not directly declared allegiance that I have seen. (Someone please correct me here if I missed that.)
Bill Roggio has come up with the best acronmyn for these knit together but disparate groups: Al Qaeda and Aligned Movements, or AQAM.
As I was suspecting he would, Baitullah Mehsud has denied involvement in the assasination of Benazir Bhutto. There are four probable reasons:
- He’s in a delicate position – open alliance with AQ would sap from his regional support.
- It keeps the conspiracy theorists humming, feeding political intrigue and dissension.
- To protect himself – the backlash from this against the culprit once found will be terrific.
- Or maybe he just didn’t do it.
It’s unlikely that he had zero involvement, the message intercept posted yesterday had names in it, and places. While the government could fake this, it’s doubtful that they would use real names and places if they contrived it because those can be checked.
As the new leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Baitullah’s in charge of a fractious alliance of Pakistani Taliban groups, some who aren’t going to like the way this has unfolded, and who aren’t fond of being directly allied with Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda made clear claim of ordering this action — Baitullah having performed the assasination under their orders would show a definite alliance, which is something that Baitullah can’t afford in South Waziristan where antipathy towards the foreigners, including Al Qaeda, is still high.
Fueling political intrigue seems to be behind the denial judging from the statement of the spokesperson for Baitullah:
In a telephone conversation with Kyodo News, Baitullah Mehsud’s spokesman Maulvi Umar said that Bhutto was killed for political considerations.
“Benazir Bhutto was assassinated clearly by people who wanted to gain politically from her death. This is the work of (intelligence) agencies and the Pakistani government,” he said.
Maulvi Umar said the Pakistani government is blaming Mehsud to bring the Pakistani Taliban into disrepute in Pakistan and crush their growing power.
He said the Pakistani Taliban shared the grief of the people of Pakistan and the world at large at the assassination of Bhutto.
I find the “Taliban sharing the grief of the people” bit to be well… bullshit. Baitullah has directly threatened to assasinate Benazir in the past, and he’s still on my suspect list.
More at Pat Dollard’s