Pakistan's most wanted: Baitullah Mehsud
Baitullah Mehsud is a Pashtun from the Shabikhel sub-tribe of the Mehsud tribe. He was born in the early 1970s in a village called Landi Dhok in the Bannu region of the North West Frontier Province, which is some distance from the Mehsud tribe's strongholds in South Waziristan.
With a reputation based on his record as a fearless fighter willing to die for the cause, Baitullah's lack of a religious title has not held him back. Although he is the most powerful militant commander in Pakistan, he remains a shadowy figure with perhaps a larger-than-life reputation.
Such was Baitullah influence that the government signed a peace deal with him at Srarogha in February 2005. Under the terms of the agreement, the army withdrew from the areas controlled by Baitullah and agreed to deploy only paramilitary Frontier Corps personnel - who are drawn from the Pashtun tribes - at the five forts there. In return, Baitullah agreed not to harbour foreign militants, attack government officials or block development projects.
The Srarogha agreement virtually handed control of the area to Baitullah as all the checkpoints on the roads were removed and he and his fellow tribesmen were compensated for the human and material losses they had sustained as a result of military operations. Baitullah seems to have taken the opportunity to build up his power base and probably has several thousand battle-hardened fighters.
The peace accord collapsed in August 2007, when Baitullah announced that the military had violated the terms of the agreement by deploying regular troops back into the area and renewing attacks on him. His forces took more than 200 regular soldiers captive on 30 August, apparently without much resistance. They were held hostage until November, when they were released in exchange for 25 detained militants.
While the government was still prepared to cut deals with Baitullah, he was increasingly accused of playing a major role in the escalating violence after the storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque in July. On her return from exile in October, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto said she had been warned that Baitullah was one of several enemies who had sent suicide bombing squads to kill her. One such squad succeeded on 27 December 2007.
Baitullah is close to the Afghan Taliban, having fought with them in the 1990s, and remains a major commander of the current Afghan insurgency, according to the US military. Although a Pakistani, he has publicly declared his allegiance to Mullah Omar, the self-styled emir al-muminin (commander of the faithful) of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
There is little reliable information about Baitullah's relations with the Arab jihadists affiliated to Al-Qaeda. However, Al-Qaeda would almost certainly have wanted to befriend him so that they could use his swathe of territory as a sanctuary. Indeed, Abu Laith al-Libi, an Al-Qaeda commander, was reportedly killed on his way to a meeting with Baitullah.
As the most powerful militant commander in Pakistan's tribal areas, Baitullah was an obvious choice to head a new coalition of pro-Taliban groups. The formation of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: TTP) was announced on 14 December 2007 from groups of all seven of the Pakistan's tribal agencies, as well as several districts of the North West Frontier Province.
Baitullah's tenure as TTP leader was short, according to The Asia Times. On 24 January, the newspaper cited contacts in the Taliban as saying that Mullah Omar had sacked Baitullah as the leader because he was overly focused on fighting the Pakistan military, rather than foreign forces in Afghanistan. However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid subsequently told journalists the mullah did not have the authority to sack Baitullah because Mullah Omar had not elected him.
In January, Baitullah's forces launched a simultaneous offensive against several Frontier Corps forts in South Waziristan, quickly capturing the one at Srarogha, where he had signed the peace deal nearly two years earlier. This seems to be first time that one of these fortified positions has been overrun by militants and would have alarmed the security forces, although they only managed to hold it for a few days. 683 of 3,002 words
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