With rival's death, Pakistani Taliban leader sheds key threat

Qari Zainuddin, who had been challenging militant chief and fellow tribesman Baitullah Mehsud, was shot dead Tuesday.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – Pakistan’s efforts to zero in on Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the Pakistani Taliban, suffered a blow Tuesday after the murder of one of the main rivals within his own clan.

The killing of Qari Zainuddin, who in recent weeks had been mounting serious efforts to Mr. Mehsud’s authority, underscores the urgency of an impending military offensive on Mehsud’s base of South Waziristan, according to analysts. (Click here to read about why eliminating Mehsud would hurt the Taliban and here to see why Zainuddin posed such a big threat to him.)

Ismail Khan, the Peshawar bureau chief of Dawn, an English daily, says the killing is of great “symbolic significance.” But he adds that the government can take heart in the fact that Mr. Zainuddin’s brother has decided to fill the breach.

According to the Associated Press, Zainuddin was shot in a compound where he was staying in the Dera Ismail Khan district shortly after morning prayers, reportedly at the hands of one of his own guards.

Though emphasizing that the Pakistani Army had no formal contact with Zainuddin, Army spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas says: “For any operation to be successful, it is important to divide and isolate the threat.”

The government may have expected too much from Zainuddin in its goal of eliminating Mehsud, says Brig. Gen. (ret.) Mahmood Shah, a security analyst and former governor of Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Elsewhere in the area on Tuesday, according to Pakistani Geo TV news, suspected US drones fired three missiles at a house in the Ladha district – a stronghold of Mehsud. The airstrikes killed at least 45 suspected militants, according to Reuters.

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