February 12, 2008


Pakistani militant's reputation grows
: Baitullah Mahsud is blamed for Bhutto's assassination, but his power may be greatly exaggerated. (Laura King, 2/12/08, Los Angeles)

Not so long ago, Baitullah Mahsud was an obscure tribal sub-chieftain, little known outside his ancestral district set amid the forbidding, snow-shrouded mountains and valleys of South Waziristan.

Now, in a matter of months, he has emerged as the most notorious insurgent commander in Pakistan, blamed by authorities not only for masterminding Benazir Bhutto's assassination, but for waging a virtual one-man jihad against the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

Mahsud, who late in 2007 became the leader of Pakistan's Taliban movement, is accused of sending dozens of suicide bombers into Pakistani cities over the last year. He is also said to have unleashed a guerrilla campaign that has rattled Pakistan's powerful military and brought pitched battles to the doorstep of Peshawar, capital of the volatile North-West Frontier Province and gateway to Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal belt.

Some observers regard Mahsud as the most potent threat to emerge in years from the tribal milieu, a leader who has shown himself capable of unifying an array of disparate homegrown groups, even while exchanging crucial logistical aid, know-how and resources with Al Qaeda. If his coalition holds firm, these observers say, he could be in a position to threaten not only Musharraf but the Pakistani state.

Mahsud aloso won the "Most Likely to Be Vaporized by a Hellfire" portion of this year's Mr. Taliban Contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2008 6:23 AM
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