How the Death of Its Leader Could Be Bad for the United States – Published on The National Security Archive (first on ForeignAffairs.com), Features Article by Archive Analyst Barbara Elias-Sanborn (Phone 202/994-7000), February 3, 2012.
As the U.S. searches for opportunities to negotiate with the Taliban while simultaneously targeting key Taliban leaders with drone strikes, a new article published today on the Web site of Foreign Affairs magazine by National Security Archive analyst Barbara Elias-Sanborn, discusses the prudence of this approach in light of recent rumors of a fatal strike against Pakistani Taliban (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
Using recent media reports and declassified documents, Elias-Sanborn, director of the National Security Archive’s Afghanistan/Pakistan/Taliban Documentation Project argues that Mehsud, a key figure behind the brutal 2009 Camp Chapman attack which left seven CIA employees dead, is dangerous, but his death may not help American efforts to find an acceptable negotiated settlement to the war in Afghanistan.
Mehsud’s eventual demise, the article argues, could potentially help Islamabad, but may not help Washington. Pakistani officials could use the TTP leader’s death as an opportunity to reconcile Taliban elements who have taken to targeting the Pakistani government, instead directing those forces against U.S. and Afghan targets. Or, Mehsud’s demise may open the door for greater unity among Taliban factions, augmenting the power of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and making negotiations more difficult.
The article concludes by arguing that “Mehsud’s elimination would potentially create opportunities for Pakistan to reconcile with TTP militants. But before the teams at Langley pop the champagne, policy makers should consider the possible downsides, as they could be many. If Washington is serious about negotiating an end to the war, it should suspend the drone assassination campaign and take its chances talking to existing Taliban leaders, instead of trying to kill its way towards more pliable negotiating partners that may not exist” … (full text).