ISLAMABAD— The leader of the Pakistani Taliban has been killed in a drone strike. Hakimullah Mehsud was one of the most wanted men in Pakistan and a top target for the CIA-led drone campaign aimed at crushing the militant group. His death Friday deals a serious blow to the militant organization, and analysts say it is a huge success for the United States, and it likely will further fragment what is already a divided group.
Pakistan intelligence agencies officials confirmed to VOA that Mehsud had been killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold in the mountainous northwest tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Mehsud was believed to have been behind a number of attacks on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.
Author and analyst Ahmed Rashid said Mehsud’s death also will deal a lethal blow to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to broker a lasting peace with the militants.
“Because after this killing the Taliban are going to take revenge, there are going to be a series of bomb blasts across the country, I'm sure, and they will reject any idea of talks, so he will then have to sit down and adopt a new strategy," said Rashid.
The news of Mehsud’s death came just one day after Sharif announced during a visit to London that talks had started with the Taliban. Sharif had made negotiating an end to the decade-long violent insurgency a cornerstone of his political platform.
Taliban officials, calling Mehsud a martyr, said his funeral will be Saturday in North Waziristan. Analyst Rashid did not think the Americans would try to target the ceremony in another drone strike, despite the likely presence of many top militant commanders.
"No, I do not think so, I do not think anything like that will happen, and I am sure the Pakistani military will be also trying to tell the Americans to hold back, let the funeral rites be done, in a proper way, even though a lot of senior Taliban leaders will be gathering. I think it would be a huge mistake if there were an attack on the funeral," said Rashid.
Mehsud was reported to have been killed once before, in 2010, but later resurfaced. The Taliban leader’s death, and that of at least four others Friday, follows the killing of Mehsud’s second-in-command in a drone strike in May.
He had been on the U.S. most wanted list for conspiring to murder Americans in Afghanistan, and carried a $5-million bounty on his head.
Rashid warned the Taliban would not let his death pass quietly. "There will be a wave of violence, and a lot of casualties as the Taliban take revenge and they may decide now to carry out assassinations of prominent figures, and the real fear is that also it could spread, the violence and the bombings could spread to cities where they have not taken place so far."
Thousands of Pakistani civilians and security forces have died, and thousands more have been displaced, as a result of militant violence.