Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The rebel who opted for death ( From Khyber Watch)

Saturday, 04 August 2007

Amir Mir
Mohammad Noor Alam alias Abdullah Mehsud, an ex-Guantanamo Bay inmate who became one of the most wanted jihadi commanders resisting the Pakistani security forces in the South Waziristan region, blew himself up with a hand grenade in the wee hours of July 24 after the Pakistani security forces closed in on his Zhob hideout in Balochistan and asked him to surrender.

The Islamic rebel’s death comes amid intensifying American pressure on General Musharraf to take military action against al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Abdullah Mehsud, 32, was one of seven Guantanamo detainees publicly identified by the US Defence Department as having returned to the fight against the US-led Allied Forces following their release. With the death of the one-legged militant commander, tagged as one of the most wanted militants by the Pakistan government for masterminding the October 2004 abduction of two Chinese engineers, a powerful chapter in the ongoing pro-Taliban resistance movement in the tribal areas is effectively over.

Before being killed, Abdullah Mehsud had gradually filled the shoes of his late comrade, Commander Nek Mohammad Zalikhel, to become the new hero of the tribal youth, who view with contempt the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and oppose the Pakistan government’s siding with the US in the war against terror.

Nek Mohammad, the jihadi mentor of Mehsud was killed in June 2005 in South Waziristan following a laser-guided missile attack carried out by the Afghanistan-based Allied Forces on a tip off by the Pakistani security and intelligence agencies. Shortly before being killed, Nek had claimed responsibility for the June 10, 2004 bloody ambush on a convoy of Corps Commander Karachi Lt. General Ahsan Saleem Hayat near the Clifton Bridge in Karachi that killed 12 people including several army men.

As far as the 32-year-old Abdullah Mehsud is concerned, he is believed to have earned General Musharraf’s ire for masterminding the abduction of two Chinese engineers, Wang Peng and Wang Ende, in October 2004. One of the engineers was killed in a commando operation carried out by the Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army on October 14 while the other one was rescued. As soon as the operation was over, General Musharraf had publicly declared that he would personally shoot Abdullah Mehsud dead if he ever came across him. However, the militant commander used to defend his action by arguing that the kidnapping was only meant to embarrass General Musharraf internationally and to force him to stop the military operations in South Waziristan.“I am not against the Chinese people and I do realize that China is Pakistan’s best friend. But desperate people do desperate things and that is why I ordered the kidnapping of the Chinese engineers. I felt this act would hurt the Musharraf regime the most,” Mehsud had argued in an interview in July 2004.

The abduction episode apart, Mehsud had generated as much controversy among the tribal people of South Waziristan as his predecessor, late Commander Nek Mohammad. Massive military operations forced him to leave his sanctuaries in South Waziristan and move to North Waziristan to take refuge in the isolated and rugged terrain of Shawal. Shortly before his death, Mehsud had proceeded to the Helmand province of Afghanistan and was on his way back to his native South Waziristan, before stopping over in Zhob prior to entering neighbouring South Waziristan, where he was spotted.

Abdullah Mehsud was born in the mid-1970s to a humble Slimikhel tribesman Saidullah in the Nano village of the Sarwakai Tehsil in South Waziristan Agency. Coming from a comparatively educated family, his real name was Noor Alam but he preferred being known as Abdullah. He belonged to the Mehsud tribe and some of his family members, including his brother Major Asghar Mehsud and brother-in-law Colonel Yaqoob Mehsud, had served in the Pakistan Army.

Abdullah completed his primary education from a government school in Nano and went on to Karachi while his father was posted there as a security officer with PIA. After completing high school from Karachi, Abdullah was admitted to the famous Jamia Binori religious seminary for some time – the same madrassa where some leading jihadi leaders like the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar used to study.

A few years later, his father was transferred to Peshawar, where he completed his intermediate from Pakistan Air Force College. His family is known to have had links with the Jamaat-e-Islami from an early period and Mehsud himself was a member of its student wing, Islami Jamiat-i-Tuleba during his college years in Karachi. Since the Jamaat was an ally of Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, it never had a cozy relationship with the Taliban militia. Still Mehsud crossed over from Quetta to Kandahar in 1995 as part of a volunteer contingent deployed to beef up Taliban ranks before the student militia’s famous assault on Herat.

In Afghanistan, Mehsud was recruited for jihad by a Kandahari commander of the Taliban, Mullah Agha Jan. Although he fought against the forces of Ahmed Shah Masood on several fronts including Kabul, Bagram and Kunduz, Mehsud remained in touch with Kandahar, which used to be the headquarters of the Taliban.

In September 1996, when the Taliban militia marched on Kabul with the backing of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments, a landmine planted by the retreating forces of Afghan Defence Minister Ahmad Shah Masood blew up, costing Mehsud his right leg. He was brought to Pakistan and taken to a Karachi hospital for treatment, where he got an artificial leg. But his never-ending urge to fight once again took him to Afghanistan. So motivated was he that he never let his physical handicap come in the way of what he thought was the right course — to fight in the way of Allah.

Five years later, in December 2001, when Mehsud surrendered along with several thousand Taliban fighters to the forces of Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in Kunduz, he was still fighting for the Taliban. He was first lodged in the notorious Shiberghan prison in Jauzjan province of Afghanistan and later handed over to the US military authorities, to be shifted to Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay.

Once in prison, Mehsud identified himself as an Afghan national despite being a Pakistani, belonging to the Slimikhel branch of the Manzai sub-tribe of the Mehsuds. He was eventually released in March 2004 after spending 25 months at Guantanamo Bay.

In an October 2004 telephonic interview with Gulf News, Mehsud was quoted as saying that he carried the identity card of an Afghan citizen while fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. “This was the reason that I was flown to Kabul after my release from the Guantanamo Bay prison along with other Afghan prisoners in March 2004. I managed to keep my Pakistani identity hidden all these years,” he had stated.

Till his release in March 2004, Abdullah Mehsud wasn’t well known even in his native South Waziristan. But the stint in an American jail and his artificial leg soon made him a household name in the area. His long hair and daredevil nature made him a colourful and interesting character. Stories were told as to how he rides a camel or horse to visit his fighters in his mountainous abode.

A time came when Mehsud started making speeches in mosques and madrassas of South Waziristan, preaching jihad and exhorting the young people to fight against the US and its allies. In his Taliban-style turban and with his flowing locks of hair, he recruited hundreds of young tribesmen and motivated them for a do-or-die struggle against the Army’s incursion into the semi-autonomous and lawless region bordering Afghanistan. He soon became a hero to anti-US fighters active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, the 2004 imposition of economic sanctions against the Mehsud tribe by the military authorities infuriated the religiously motivated tribal youth, who reacted strongly by extending their all out support to the Mehsud against the Pakistani security forces in the area. The economic sanctions were actually meant to force the Mehsud tribe to hand over the wanted foreign nationals being sheltered by them. As a punishment, the Mehsud tribesmen were coerced into closing their shops in Tank and a fine of Rs 10,000 was imposed on those who defied the ban.

The tribesmen’s refusal to give up the fugitives led to a bloody military operation in South Waziristan, which culminated in the June 2004 killing of Commander Nek Mohammad.It was not until October 2004 that Abdullah Mehsud’s name shot to prominence and hit the international media headlines following the abduction of two Chinese engineers working at a multi-million dollar multi-purpose water project in the Gomal Zam area. A stubborn Mehsud owned up to the abduction, demanded the government spoke to him and refused to listen to his military officer brother, family and tribal elders. The kidnapping ended on a tragic note as one of the Chinese workers was killed and Mehsud was declared the most wanted militant.

The abduction fiasco apparently had not gone down well with the Pakistani Taliban. Much to his disappointment, Mehsud was demoted to the No 2 position to become deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, the chieftain of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.Abdullah became largely isolated, both politically and physically, after most of the renegade Wazir tribes including the Mehsuds struck a deal with the Pakistan Army. While signing a peace accord with the Army, Baitullah Mehsud gave his word that his tribe would not protect Abdullah Mehsud. As a reaction, Mehsud severed all contacts with leaders of his own Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan, while preferring to keep ties with Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan.

Pakistani intelligence, which kept a tab on his whereabouts, had traced Mehsud to Musa Qilla in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in May 2007, fighting the NATO and Afghan forces. Before leaving for Afghanistan, Mehsud was accused of operating a suicide bombing training camp in Dela near the South Waziristan Agency, besides being held responsible for the April 28, 2007 failed suicide bomb attack on Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao. After the futile attack, Mehsud left for Helmand where he developed a problem with his second leg and was on his way back home when security forces caught up with him in Zhob, making him explode himself.

The baby-faced commander gave frequent telephonic interviews to journalists in Waziristan area, repeatedly saying that he is leading his fighters by example, taking risks and surviving in tough conditions. He said he never wanted to take up arms against the Pakistan Army but had to wage jihad against the government of Musharraf, who he accused of siding with infidels by carrying out US policies in the region to protect its vested interests. “There is no going back for me and my colleagues. We would fight the US and its allies, including the Musharraf regime, until the very end.”

Asked about the military authorities’ demand for his surrender, Abdullah said: Surrender is out of the question. I will never surrender and prefer to embrace martyrdom while fighting till the last drop of my blood.”Mehsud kept his word and remained defiant till his death on July 24, and was laid to rest on July 25 at his home town in the militant-infested tribal district of South Waziristan.

“Commander Abdullah Mehsud died a hero’s death,” the prayer leader told the gathering of mourners who had assembled to offer his namaz-e-janaza. “He did not surrender to the forces working for the infidels and preferred to die in an honourable way, setting an example for all mujahedin to follow.” An emotionally charged crowd of jihadi mourners carrying assault rifles and rocket launchers raised slogans of “Allahu Akbar”, “Allahu Akbar” and “Al-jihad, “Al-jihad!” as their rebel militant commander’s coffin was lowered into the ground.

The writer is the former editor of Weekly Independent, currently affiliated with Gulf News and the Spanish News Agency EFE as its Pakistan in charge.

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