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Militant’s Reported Death May Strike Blow to Taliban in Pakistan

The reported death of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud may present a major setback for militants seeking to destabilize Pakistan. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, and journalist Steve Coll assess the development.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Margaret Warner has more.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And for more on all of this, we turn to Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, and Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation and writer for the New Yorker. He's the author of "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden."

    And welcome to you both.

    Mr. Ambassador, let me begin with you. How confident are you, is your government, that Baitullah Mehsud is dead?

    HUSAIN HAQQANI, ambassador to the United States, Pakistan: A hundred percent certainty, Margaret, can only be achieved after DNA testing and a lot of physical evidence has been processed. But other than that, there are a lot of pointers, as a result of which most people believe that Baitullah Mehsud is, indeed, dead, and his own group has announced that.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And if that's the case, how significant would that be, in terms of your government's struggle against this militant movement?

  • HUSAIN HAQQANI:

    If Baitullah Mehsud is, indeed, dead, then that is definitely a major advance in proving Pakistan's determination and the determination of the United States to eliminate extremists and terrorists from our region.

    Of course, the death of one individual is still just the death of one individual. There are others who are part of a broader movement. And we will have to continue to make sure that we eliminate the hard-line irreconcilable elements and that we reach out to those that we can reconcile at some point in the future.

    But the fact remains that the Pakistani authorities have now shown their determination in Swat. We have fought effectively the terrorists there. And if Baitullah Mehsud is, indeed, dead, then his followers will certainly feel this as a major setback.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Steve, turning to you, how big a deal is this, do you think it is? How significant a figure was Baitullah Mehsud? And what made him so?

  • STEVE COLL, New America Foundation:

    He was a significant figure, one of the most important leaders of the resistance to the Pakistani state and to the United States, particularly in South Waziristan, his home territory, and among his people, the Mehsud tribal confederation.

    What made him distinctive was, he was able to organize a pretty broad and vicious coalition, and he was ruthless himself. He ordered murders without remorse. He has a lot of blood on his hands, by all accounts, not just that of Benazir Bhutto, but hundreds of traditional tribal leaders and others who sought to oppose him.

    So, between 2005 and the present, he was able more than other leaders in that region to organize an effective and violent movement. He will be replaced. Whether his successor will be as effective in those ways as he was, we'll have to see.

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