There’s an old saw about journalism by G.K. Chesterton: “Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones Dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”
Well, guess what? Hakimullah Mehsud is apparently alive! And I’ll bet you didn’t even know he might have been dead.
The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released two audiotapes this weekend, each purportedly by Hakimullah, the leader of that not-so-merry band of outlaws. A series of drone attacks targeted him after his group claimed credit for the attack on the CIA base in Khost in Afghanist, which killed seven agency employees. Hakimullah even had the stones to sit in a martyrdom video the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, made.
Well, you can imagine this upset the CIA a bit. So they dropped some Hellfire missiles on him. Or where they thought he was, anyway. The first strike on Thursday killed about 12 militants, according to various intelligence and military sources, and there was a lot of speculation that Hakimullah was enjoying himself some virgins in paradise. Indeed, among the press corps here in Islamabad, the overwhelming opinion was that the successor to Baitullah Mehsud — killed in a drone strike in August last year — had been smoked. I was a lonely voice saying I had a hunch he was alive, but there was no way to confirm without observing him. In short, he became sort of a Schrödinger’s Terrorist, neither alive nor dead, but existing in both states simultaneously. Or something like that.
Anyway, the TTP countered with all the sophistication of a three-year-old, taunting the world with essentially a “Missed me!” claim. Hakimullah had exited the madrassa a few minutes before the attack, TTP spokesman Azam Tariq said. But he allowed that perhaps he had been injured. Adding to the confusion, the group released a tape on Friday containing what other reporters identified as Hakimullah’s voice, but it made no mention of a date. A second tape, released today, does mention a date.
“Let me say this briefly, that I, Hakimullah Mehsud, today, on the 16th of January, with central spokesman Azam Tariq and Umar Khittab, want to give this message to all mujahedeen: that by the grace of Allah, I, Hakimullah Mehsud, am alive and in good health. Neither have I been martyred in a drone attack nor injured,” the voice says on Saturday’s tape.
All joking aside, it seems pretty clear he had a close call, which will probably drive him further underground. At least that might make it a little more difficult for the group to plan more spectacular attacks for a while, after they realize how close the CIA got. One can only hope.