Washington: The death of Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is a major victory of Pakistan and the US-led international community`s fight against terrorism, an noted American expert on South Asia said on Saturday.
"The elimination of Mehsud would constitute a significant victory for Pakistan`s fight against terrorism, especially coming so closely on the heels of the Pakistani military`s ousting of pro-Taliban forces from the Swat Valley in the settled areas of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)," said Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Centre at the Heritage Foundation.
Reports of the death of Mehsud shows that cooperation between the US and Pakistan against militants located in the tribal border areas is beginning to bear fruit, she said.
Although US officials have not yet confirmed the death of Mehsud, several senior Taliban leaders and Pakistan`s Foreign Minister have declared he was killed by a US drone missile strike in South Waziristan on Wednesday.
"If it was indeed successful, this strike represents the culmination of a campaign targeting Mehsud and his forces, an effort that has reportedly been facilitated by Pakistani intelligence," said Curtis, who frequently testifies before the Congressional committees on issues related to South Asia.
Curtis noted that in addition to continuing military cooperation, US and Pakistan must work together to implement economic development programmes and political reforms, particularly in tribal areas, that were critical to long-term success in the struggle against terrorism.
Though the death of Mehsud would likely provide a morale boost for the Pakistani security forces and public, overcoming the broader threat from militancy will be a long-term task, she said.
Although Pakistan government has declared most of the Swat Valley region cleared of Taliban fighters, Curtis said Pakistan military will have to remain in the region until the civilian government is able to re-establish its writ, build up democratic institutions, and prove it is capable of delivering basic services to the people or face the prospect of the Taliban`s re-emergence in the region.
The rise of Mehsud itself provides a cautionary tale for those who support negotiating peace deals with militants from a position of weakness, she observed.
The Pakistani government`s peace deal with Mehsud in 2005 gave him the space to strengthen his position in South Waziristan and boosted his legitimacy, allowing him to attract more recruits. Curtis said Mehsud`s death would also be a fillip for international counterterrorism efforts.
"Mehsud is suspected of being behind a 10-man cell arrested in Barcelona in January 2008 for plotting suicide attacks in Spain," she said.
"There is no public record of his direct involvement in plots against the US homeland, but he threatened to launch an attack in Washington last April. Mehsud`s forces also cooperate closely with the al Qaeda leadership and provide protection for al Qaeda bases and training camps in South Waziristan. He also pledged his allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar last February," Curtis said.