THE PLANK AUGUST 11, 2009
One interesting wrinkle in the story of Baitullah Mehsud's assassination-by-drone is that Mehsud has long been a higher-priority target for Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, than he has been for the United States. This may have been for personal reasons. Pakistan and the CIA both believe that Baitullah Mehsud was responsible for the assassination of Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto. And ever since, Zardari has feared that he will be the next target.
The Bush administration, however, was reportedly unwilling to send drones against Mehsud. According to the Times, "the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but ... stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops." That reluctance prompted frequent complaints from Zardari and the Pakistani security services--and President Obama reversed course not long after he took office by sending drones to kill Mehsud. "By striking at the Mehsud network," the paper speculated, "the United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader."
Now Mehsud is dead, and Zardari's wish has been fulfilled. But the question is, will Pakistan's president be as eager to pursue al Qaeda and the Taliban, now that he has what he wanted from the United States?