The Pakistan government has not confirmed it. The news first came through US media sources on August 7. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed it, quoting intelligence sources. But Interior Minister Rehman Malik was guarded. For a senator from South Waziristan told him Baitullah was not dead. Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud also claimed that Baitullah was alive.
But many Pakistanis think that if Baitullah is indeed dead, it is a gift from a US drone days before Pakistan's 62nd Independence Day. But they also raise some questions.
The Pakistani security establishment claimed last year that Baitullah was working for the Americans and the Indians, and that was why the drones never targeted him. This conspiracy theory stemmed from the rising number of suicide attacks against the Pakistani security forces.
The Inter Services Intelligence directorate requested the Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly in 2007 to target Baitullah, but the CIA did not help. The CIA thought the ISI was not helping it hunt down militant leaders like Maulvi Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Sirajuddin Haqqani who were attacking US troops in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan government made peace agreements with these militants who were fighting in Afghanistan, while Baitullah was fighting the Pakistani security forces. The situation started changing after Pervez Musharraf was removed from the command of the army.
Coordinated efforts to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda started a few months ago. The US announced $5 million and Pakistan announced Rs 50 million for Baitullah's head.
A few weeks ago, a rebel militant from South Waziristan, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, claimed in interviews to Pakistani media that Baitullah was working for America and India. This claim by the militant backed by the security establishment created much misunderstanding. Within days, Baitullah killed Qari Zainuddin, and sent out a message that he could target his enemies anytime, anywhere.
After Qari Zainuddin's death, Pakistani intelligence sources now claim Baitullah's death. The question is: Will the government pay the CIA Rs 50 million for eliminating the wanted man? Or was Baitullah killed by a US drone accidentally?
US drones cannot target anyone on Pakistani territory until someone from Pakistan shares intelligence with the CIA. Will President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani say 'Thank You America?' Or will they condemn the drone attack inside Pakistan?
It is now proved that despite the trust deficit that existed in the past, currently US and Pakistani intelligence agencies are working closely. The Pakistani security forces encircled Baitullah from three sides in South Waziristan and someone provided the CIA information on his movements: That was how the head of the Pakistani Taliban was targeted by the drone.
US drones have been attacking targets in Pakistan with the tacit cooperation of some Pakistanis even as Islamabad condemned the attacks. Pakistan needs a transparent and bold policy to fight terrorism. If it is coordinating US drone attacks on its own soil, the government cannot condemn drone attacks. It is only creating misunderstanding. The ordinary Pakistani cannot be fooled.
It is the Pakistani government that is losing credibility. A government without credibility cannot defeat terrorism. If Baitullah is really dead and Islamabad is happy, then the US drone attacks on Pakistan territory will be legitimised and it will not be in a position to condemn the attacks in the future. Maybe that is why Rehman Malik, security advisor to President Zardari, told me that 'even if Baitullah Mehsud is killed, I condemn US drone attacks in Pakistan.'
Pakistan must learn lessons from its mistakes. It must admit that Baitullah was actually created by the country's own establishment. It used Brigadier Qayyum Sher in January 2005 to win Baitullah's support against Abdullah Mehsud. Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain approved the first peace agreement with Baitullah in February 2005 and the Pakistan army agreed to withdraw its troops from areas under his control.
After the army's withdrawal from those areas, Baitullah broke the peace agreement in July 2005. He kidnapped 243 Pakistani soldiers from his area in August 2007 and General Musharraf was forced to release the soldiers again through another secret deal with Baitullah on November 4, 2007. The Pakistani establishment again struck a deal with him in January 2008, but it was broken within a few weeks.
All these deals were secret. Pakistan does not need secret deals with militants anymore. If the country needs peace deals, then the deals should be first discussed in parliament.
And the most important lesson is this: Pakistan should not form any private militias against other private militias to fight on its own soil. Article 256 of the constitution of Pakistan says: 'No private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organisation shall be illegal.' Unfortunately, Pakistan is again forming private militias in Swat, Buner and Dir. These militias may produce more Baitullah Mehsuds.
I believe that Pakistan must not celebrate the reported death of Baitullah Mehsud. His network is still intact. If he is dead, then his network will organise brutal attacks on Pakistani cities soon. His physical elimination is no victory. The real victory will involve establishing the writ of the Pakistani state in the whole of South Waziristan.
Nobody is sure if Baitullah is dead or alive. For me, he is still alive. He can be considered dead when the national flag of Pakistan is hoisted on the buildings of all the schools in South Waziristan and students celebrate August 14 without any fear.
Hamid Mir is the executive editor, Geo TV