THE PLANK JANUARY 21, 2008
This weekend, the CIA fingered Baitullah Mahsud, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, as the man chiefly responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. It seems as if Peter Bergen, in a gripping piece from the newest issue of TNR, was on the case early:
Which brings us back to the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mahsud, a picture-book villain if there ever was one. In the few photographs that exist of him, he sports a Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-meets-Mullah-Omar look, his head wrapped in a shawl out of which his black curly tresses flow. According to a Western official, Mahsud is responsible for hundreds of deaths, many of them Pakistani soldiers and government officials killed in suicide operations.
Another Western official says the thirtysomething Mahsud is also hosting and protecting Al Qaeda members living with his tribe in southern Waziristan. In a recent interview, Mahsud gave the BBC my favorite line of the year: "Only jihad can bring peace to the world."
Shortly after the Bhutto assassination, the Pakistani government released a transcript of a phone call in which Mahsud yuks it up with a mullah crony, crowing: "Congratulations to you. Were they our men?" To which the mullah replies, "Yes, they were ours." Through a spokesman, Mahsud later disavowed any role in the attack, but, ever since Pakistani authorities posted the audio of the call on a government website, Mahsud has said nothing to deny it's his voice.
Yet Mahsud remains a free man. For more about the botched investigation into Bhutto’s murder, it’s well worth reading Bergen’s entire piece.