Qari Zainuddin, a militant commander and rival of Baitullah Mehsud, has been assassinated by his bodyguard in Medina Colony in D.I. Khan. According to Qari Misbahuddin, the younger brother of Qari Zainuddin, the guard, Gulbuddin Mehsud, had been working with the family for six years and was one of the most trusted employees in the family’s pay.
However, on Tuesday morning after Qari Zainuddin and Baaz Muhammad, a close aide of Zainuddin’s, retired to their living quarters after morning prayers Gulbuddin Mehsud opened fire on the two men, killing Zainuddin and injuring Baaz Muhammad. The FIR registered by Baaz Muhammad alleges that the killer acted on behalf of Baitullah Mehsud. That is possible. In recent days, Qari Zainuddin had come out publicly against Baitullah and accused him, among other things, of having links with India and Israel and ‘working against Islam’. This against the backdrop of an impending military operation in South Waziristan Agency, Operation Rah-i-Nijaat, targeted against Baitullah.
The immediate result of the assassination is likely to be demoralisation in the Qari Zainuddin camp. The group has quickly appointed Qari Misbahuddin as its new amir in a bid to keep themselves organised, but there is little doubt that losing their leader on the eve of serious fighting is a big blow. The truth is though little is known about what exactly is going on in South Waziristan Agency, who is fighting whom and why, and what is likely to happen in the days and weeks ahead. What is clear so far is that the security forces are squeezing Baitullah Mehsud’s strongholds by cutting off the three main routes that lead to them and pounding targets from the air.
Reports suggest several militants from the Baitullah camp have been killed so far, but this has not been verified independently. Meanwhile, drones continue to strike targets in South Waziristan Agency, but once again it has not been possible to independently verify who has been killed.
Then in the last few weeks, Qari Zainuddin and Haji Turkistan, former allies of Baitullah, had suddenly emerged in the national media to denounce the strongest warlord in Waziristan. It is suspected that the two were encouraged by the state to turn up the heat on Baitullah. Questions are now being asked about who put up Zainuddin in the house in Medina Colony and what he was doing in D.I. Khan.
Questions are also being raised about wheels within wheels: Zainuddin appeared to have taken on the mantle of Abdullah Mehsud, another militant commander from South Waziristan who was killed in 2006, and was quoted in a recent interview as saying that the ‘infidels and foreign troops in the neighbouring country [Afghanistan]’ needed to be attacked. Smoke and mirrors everywhere it seems.