First Baitullah Mehsud, then his close aide Qari Saifullah, now his spokesman Maulvi Umar. Judging by some accounts, the Tehreek-e-Taliban are dropping like flies. According to news agencies today, Pakistan’s Frontier Corps arrested Maulvi Umar in Mohmand Agency late Monday, along with two of his associates. The Associated Press quoted local administrator Javed Khan who said, “Maulvi Umar is in our custody, and he is being questioned.” The news agency added in its coverage, “…three intelligence officials said local tribal elders assisted troops in locating Omar in the village of Khawazeo. The officials… said Umar’s arrest would likely be publicly announced later Tuesday.”
Much like the Baitullah Mehsud “is he dead or not” controversy, though, news agencies are reporting rumors ahead of an official announcement, or prior to authorities presenting Maulvi Umar “before journalists.” The details are once again vague. Although the aforementioned local administrator affirmed the TTP spokesman was in their custody, Major Fazul Ul Rehman merely told the AFP, “A very, very important militant has been arrested.”
If Maulvi Umar is revealed to reporters later today, it will be the second arrest of a major Taliban militant in 24 hours. Yesterday, police officials said they had arrested a militant commander and close Mehsud aide who was being treated in a private hospital in Islamabad after a drone strike in South Waziristan. Dawn reported that Qari Saifullah, a mediator between Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP and Al Qaeda, “was staying in a house with Zaid Akram [an aide] and some ‘high-value’ targets for treatment of injuries he had received in a drone attack in Afghanistan or Waziristan last month.”
Again, the details are confusing. Why would a top militant commander, one who was on Pakistan’s most wanted list, come to the nation’s capital to be treated for his injuries? Like a lamb coming into the lion’s den, it reads as more than a little counterintuitive.
Meanwhile, the Baitullah Mehsud controversy continues. The death of the TTP commander has not been fully confirmed, though U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke told reporters yesterday, “The reason it’s clear he’s dead is that if he weren’t dead, he’d be giving TV and radio interviews to prove he’s not dead.” Last week, Maulvi Umar, the spokesman believed to have been arrested today, contested U.S. and Pakistani claims that Mehsud was dead, saying “he will speak to reporters when he feels better.” According to CNN, “DNA tests were reportedly being conducted to back up these claims [that he's dead], but U.S. officials have expressed doubt that enough genetic material would be left behind, considering the enormity of the strike.”
At least in Maulvi Umar’s case, authorities won’t have to deal with those pesky DNA issues to prove his arrest. According to BBC News, “Correspondents say that his arrest may provide key information about the Taliban’s recent operations and especially the mystery surrounding the status of Baitullah Mehsud.” Do you think his arrest will mark a major blow to the Taliban, or a more symbolic victory for the Pakistani military? Finally, should news agencies report stories until they’ve been fully confirmed?
UPDATE 1744 PST: A Pakistani intelligence official interrogating Maulvi Umar Tuesday said the spokesman acknowledged Baitullah Mehsud’s death. CHUP will provide more details as reports come in.