The debate over the morality or evil of American reliance on drones to target terrorists has been raging, unresolved, for some time now, and there is even dispute about the number of innocent civilians killed by these pilotless aircraft.
Recently the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan was killed by an American drone strike. That would be a win for our side, right? Well, as legendary humorist James Thurber once so famously wrote, don’t count your boobies before they’re hatched. The Taliban are not exactly going into hiding on account of the loss of their leader.
The Taliban, a group of about 30 extremist factions operating from bases near the lawless border with Afghanistan, just elected Mullah Fazlullah to replace the slain leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, and there are good reasons not to expect any moderating of Taliban tactics.
Here’s why: The most interesting — and most distressing — fact about Fazlullah is that he’s the militant who ordered the killing of a 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was outspoken in advocating equal education rights for her country’s males and females.
Malala Yousafzai survived the attempted assassination and, after recovering in an British hospital, has become an international symbol for her cause. Last month she not only published her memoir and met President Obama in the White House, she also was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But none of that impressed the Taliban. A spokesman for Fazlullah declared that if she returned to Pakistan, or at least to her home in the Swat Valley, she’d be shot again. These militants’ religious and political beliefs are fanatically held and unlikely to change.
Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed that Fazlullah was chosen by the Taliban shura, its governing organization, in the relatively lawless North Waziristan region. The two previous leaders were members of the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan, another part of Pakistan’s extremist stronghold, so Fazlullah’s election came as something of a surprise.
While it is related to the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban operates on its own but has been known to send its fighters into Afghanistan. It also claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Times Square in 2010.
And that’s why its leadership has been targeted by CIA-operated drones. Both Hakimullah Mehsud and his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, were killed by the U.S. drones.
The New York Times described Fazlullah as “a militant leader of considerable notoriety with long experience in both battling the Pakistani government and negotiating with it.” Politics there are complex, indeed.
Fazlullah became famous for his connection to an illegal radio station that broadcast jihadist propaganda across the Swat Valley in the northwest corner of the nation.
Before long, his followers had deposed the local government and introduced authoritarian rules that included public floggings, executions and the closure of girls schools in the valley. Fazlullah was also known for riding through the valley on a white horse.
But the Pakistani military, responding to widespread public dismay at Fazlullah’s behavior, swept through the valley four years ago and drove Fazlullah and his troops from their bases. Since then, the Times reported, the Swat-based Taliban has been reduced to hit-and-run attacks
“Their most infamous operation of recent years was the attempted assassination of Ms. Yousafzai … who was shot in the head by a Taliban fighter as she returned from school in October 2012,” the report continued.
Now, with Hakimulla Mehsud’s death and Fazlullah’s elevation to the top Taliban position in Pakistan, it’s not easy to see how the United States has gained anything in its quest to neutralize the militant movement in either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
In fact, the Taliban is using the death of their previous leader as a reason for stepping up their already bitter hatred of Western values in general and the United States in particular. There’s no end in sight to this ugly conflict.
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