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The reported death by US drone strike of Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan is straight out of the British colonial handbook.
One of the last punitive expeditions mounted by the British came in 1946, the year before Pakistan’s independence. A friend of mine, a former British diplomat now retired in Kent, was a young subaltern on the expedition.
Recently he found his old "Handbook on Frontier Warfare" — a restricted document issued to him when he joined his regiment.
“I skimmed it again and realized how little had changed,” he told me in a recent email. “And so I sent it off to a young British officer serving in Helmand [Afghanistan].”
On Pakistan’s northwest frontier, my friend observed, “Little seems to change, despite the increase in fire power.”
The Mehsuds’ ambitions now seem to range much further than in earlier years. In an interview aired on Al Jazeera television in January of last year, Baitullah declared that his sights were now on Europe and North America. “We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York and London,” he told the interviewer.
Impossible? Perhaps. But according to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, there is evidence that Mehsud’s writ has already extended far beyond Waziristan.
In January 2008, Spain revealed that it had foiled a terrorist plot to blow up Barcelona’s public transport system. Gates told a security conference in Munich the following month that the suspects, nine Pakistanis and an Indian Muslim, had been trained in one of Mehsud’s Waziristan camps.
In the wake of Pakistan’s elections in February last year, the country’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, announced that it would be his top priority to hold talks with militants.
The following day, a Taliban spokesman agreed to negotiate on condition Pakistan “give up its pro-U.S. stance first.” That same day, as an editorial in the Lahore-based Daily Times dryly noted, the Taliban blew up another girls’ school in Darra, a town bordering Waziristan, “as a kind of foreplay.”