Maulvi Nazir plus five of his sub-commanders and bodyguards were reported killed in a drone-strike on Wednesday night – and the issue of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ Taliban was thrown into sharp relief. Equally highlighted is the fact that ‘the Taliban’ are a multi-stranded entity, far from homogenous and not infrequently driven by internal conflict, either ideological or tribal. There have been several well-documented attempts to kill Maulvi Nazir and it was probably only a matter of time before one of his intending killers got the man. He had been targeted by drones before, and by a suicide bomber last November in an attack widely said to be the result of rivalries within the various Taliban groups. Immediately after this the Wazir tribe ordered all Mehsuds who owed fealty to Hakimullah Mehsud, another powerful commander, to leave Wazir territory. Why he may be viewed by some as ‘good’ Taliban is that in early 2012 he is understood to have made a verbal non-aggression commitment (far from a formal deal) that he would not attack Pakistani forces or assets but would instead concentrate on fighting US and the coalition forces in Afghanistan. This did not sit well with others, most notably the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which continues to target the government at every opportunity. There can now be little doubt that although his successor is already appointed there is going to be something of a power vacuum in South Waziristan as the post-Nazir power environment finds a level. The killing of Nazir by the Americans may also be a signal that they do not differentiate any more – if they ever did – between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.
Maulvi Nazir was far from angelic having been adamantly opposed to polio vaccination for instance. On the plus side he may be seen by some as having encouraged development in an area that is notably backwards, as well as making the business environment more profitable – as a direct result of his decision not to attack our military or infrastructure. But some may think that, ultimately, both Pakistan and the US establishments will be quietly pleased that such a key figure and his close associates have been taken down. He gave succour to those who were fighting them even though he was not himself engaged in fighting. Some of those would have been – allegedly – Al-Qaeda affiliates. This was the first drone strike of 2013, and there will be more. Whilst publicly condemning them, our government and military establishment appear to do nothing to stop them. Cognitive dissonance appears to be a state of mind our military and civilian leaders at least tolerate, even if forced to say otherwise in the court of public opinion.