U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials are pretty certain that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban in Pakistan, is dead. Last night my sources were skeptical, and the reports have not yet been definitively confirmed, but Pakistani Taliban leaders, including one of Baitullah's senior deputies, are now confirming he is dead.
Baitullah Mehsud was one of the nastiest Taliban commanders in South Asia, and his death should be celebrated. But, ironically, one negative outcome of his death may be that Pakistan will now have the excuse it needs to cancel the Waziristan operation. Over at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, I've posted a more detailed analysis of the likely impact of Mehsud's death in both Pakistan and Afghanistan:
In Pakistan, the government and military may seize upon Baitullah's death to decide to declare victory in South Waziristan and end the military blockade and air strikes designed to defeat his Taliban forces. The military has previously stated it does not want to move into South Waziristan by force, and has no intentions of taking on other influential Taliban leaders in the region, such as North Waziristan's Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Family, and South Waziristan's Mullah Nazir .
An end to operations by the Pakistani government in South Waziristan would negatively impact NATO operations in Afghanistan, as pressure on the Pakistani Taliban would be lifted and would allow them to redouble efforts in Afghanistan as opposed to defending their territory in Pakistan's northwest.
The death of Baitullah will cause a crisis in the Pakistani Taliban's leadership, and may disrupt operations in the short term. Although the Pakistani Taliban has often been described as disparate, Baitullah effectively united the factions and directed operations that led to the Taliban's takeover of significant territory in Pakistan's northwest. The Taliban will expend time and effort determining Baitullah's successor, the restructuring of the group's leadership, and outlining its new direction. Already, attacks in Pakistan have decreased over the past month after the Pakistani Army took on the Taliban in Swat. Since going underground, the Pakistani Taliban have been regrouping and are planning the next phase of their insurgency. It is unclear if the Taliban will refocus effort onto Afghanistan or continue attacks against the Pakistani state.
More over at FDD.