Dadullah's death hits Taliban hardKARACHI - Now that Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah is dead, everybody, including Pakistani militants, al-Qaeda, Washington, Kabul and Islamabad, is weighing how this will affect the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
The one-legged Dadullah, 41, was killed on Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, US and Afghan officials said on Sunday. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security Assistance Force confirmed the death, saying that after Dadullah had left his "sanctuary" in the south, he was killed in a US-led coalition operation supported by NATO and Afghan troops.
One thing is clear. Dadullah's death will have no impact on the Taliban's formal political command structure. Mullah Omar remains firmly as head of the Taliban, with Jalaluddin Haqqani as his deputy chief.
However, Dadullah's death is certainly a serious blow to the Taliban's "soul" and their field strategy, as Dadullah had emerged as a ruthlessly efficient leader in the battlefield.
He was to be the driving force behind this year's spring offensive - Ghazwatul Badr - and he had enhanced his influence in the North and South Waziristan Pakistani tribal areas, and even made contact with the Pakistani establishment.
While Dadullah lacked much formal education, his unschooled intelligence gave him an astute understanding of the human mind. In 2005-06 he brokered a peace deal between the Pakistani armed forces and the Pakistani Taliban in North and South Waziristan and then worked to recruit Pakistani nationals into the Taliban. He advised Pakistani militants to be focused against NATO troops in Afghanistan rather than taking the war to Islamabad against President General Pervez Musharraf.
Dadullah was a natural leader in the battlefield as well as in strategic back yards. He rose to prominence in the Taliban movement in the mid-1990s, but did not have the wealth of war veterans of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s, like Ahmad Shah Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Ismail Khan, who received millions of dollars in international aid to fight the Soviets.
Dadullah's popularity was not because he distributed cash and goods among the mujahideen and then enjoyed his tea on a ridge while his men fought. He derived loyalty because he fought alongside his men and suffered the same harsh conditions as them. This is how he died, in a fight with his men at his side.
Under Dadullah's command, the Taliban had taken over almost 80% of southwestern Afghanistan, and both Kabul and NATO-led forces have trumpeted his death as a major breakthrough.
And beyond the propaganda boost, they are correct, as the impetus of the insurgency will suffer, at least in the short term. And significantly, Dadullah's demise marks a shift of the Taliban's military command into the hands of "non-Taliban" and non-Kandahari commanders of southeastern Afghanistan, such as Haqqani.
The Taliban's spiritual home is Kandahar in the province of the same name, from where most of the Taliban leaders come, including Mullah Omar. With Dadullah gone, and before him leading commander Mullah Akhtar Osmani (killed in December), there could be a weakening of Mullah Omar's iron grip on Taliban military affairs.
The movement could become more reliant on southeastern Afghanistan, away from the Kandahar heartland, where Haqqani and Saifullah Mansoor hold sway, as well as Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan's commanders under Hekmatyar.
Haqqani had recently been sidelined by Dadullah (see Pakistan gains from Taliban split, Asia Times Online, May 9), and now he could reassert himself.
Dadullah's cooperation with the Pakistani Taliban in the two Waziristans was unacceptable to Haqqani, who had been settled in North Waziristan for decades and had dreamed of the emergence of a conflict waged under his command from his bases in North and South Waziristan through 30,000 suicide bombers.
Instead, many of these recruits were diverted to fight with Dadullah. The face of the battlefield in Afghanistan could change yet again if Haqqani gets his way.
And Pakistan will be looking on with concern: its recently struck cooperation deal with Dadullah could be in jeopardy, as people like Haqqani were against it.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.