After Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief strategist Wali Ur Rehman was reported to have been killed by a drone-launched missile in North Waziristan early Wednesday morning, the Pakistani government issued a statement saying it “has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.”
Less than four years ago, however, Islamabad wanted to capture or eliminate Rehman, amid an escalation in bombing attacks after one of several peace deals struck between the authorities and terrorists in the country’s north-west turned sour.
Pakistan had harsh words for the “brutal” Rehman in late 2009, accusing him and other top TTP terrorists of deadly activities that were “earning a bad name for the Muslims in Pakistan and around the world.”
“Such people are killers of humanity, and they deserve an exemplary punishment,” the government said in newspaper and television ads. “Help the government of Pakistan to annihilate them.”
The biggest rewards – 50 million rupees ($507,000) each – were offered for Rehman, TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and suicide bomber trainer Qari Hussain.
“Anyone who captures these people dead or alive, or provides concrete information, the government will award them a cash reward,” the ads said. Smaller rewards were offered for several more junior TTP terrorists.
Since its establishment in late 2007, the TTP under Rehman’s operational guidance was held responsible for hundreds of suicide attacks in Pakistan costing thousands of lives, including the September 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed at least 54 people.
Rehman was also linked to attacks directed at the United States, including a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in Khost, Afghanistan in December 2009 – the deadliest single attack targeting the agency in a quarter century – and an April 2010 suicide bombing at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, in which six Pakistanis were killed. He had a $5 million dollar U.S. reward on his head.
Four months after the TTP in May 2010 claimed responsibility for a foiled attempt to detonate a bomb in New York City’s Times Square, the U.S. government designated it a foreign terrorist organization. It subsequently listed Rehman, Mehsud and Hussain as “specially designated global terrorists” under an executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists.
(Hakimullah Mehsud remains at the helm of the TTP. Qari Hussain was killed in an Oct. 2010 U.S. drone strike, also in North Waziristan.)
In a rare video appearance early this year, Rehman said the TTP considers its activities in Pakistan to be part of its war against America, accusing the U.S. of installing a puppet government in Afghanistan and paying the Pakistani army to fight against the Taliban.
“Therefore, this is a single battlefront, whether it be against Pakistan or against Afghanistan, we consider both as the war against America and are fighting against the Crusader-Zionist alliance which they have formed,” he said. “Our fight is against them, Allah willing,”
The message was released on a jihadist Internet forum and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
White House press secretary Jay Carney Wednesday declined to comment on reports that Rehman had been killed in a drone attack, the first of its kind since President Obama in a speech last week said the strikes would continue, but with tighter targeting rules.
While campaigning ahead of the election his party won early this month, Pakistan’s prime minister-designate, Nawaz Sharif, complained about U.S. drone strikes.
Sharif has also indicated a willingness to hold peace talks with the TTP. A number of previous such initiatives have failed over the past seven years.