Q : Can this be considered a victory for the American and Pakistani forces ?
A : Yes, since Baitullah Mehsud symbolized the rise of the Talibans and the unification of different radical forces in the region. It shows in particular the efficiency of the American tactic consisting in using drones that are costless in terms of human lives. For the Americans and the Pakistani Army, it is positive. But it is very unlikely that this will reverse the situation, because it is not just about an individual. There is in this zone a conjunction between the tribal, clan, and ethnic solidarities and the Taliban ideology, and this is why the movement is strong. It also shows that there is cooperation in the field of intelligence : Americans could probably not have localized Mehsud without Pakistani help.Q : This illustrates, then, that the cooperation between Pakistan and the US is working well ?
A : What it illustrates is the fact that, when Pakistanis want to cooperate, things work out. But I do not think that this signals a fundamental change in the very ambiguous policy of the Pakistani army. Pakistanis play a very complex and ambiguous game, and we have no indication that they are in a phase of full and complete cooperation with the Americans in the struggle against the Talibans. In the present case, Baitullah Mehsud was becoming dangerous for the Pakistanis.
The Pakistani use the Talibans to undermine the authority of the Karzaï regime, but the Pakistani army has no desire to see the Pakistani Talibans look in the direction of Islamabad, as the Talibans from the Swat Valley did a few months ago. The Pakistani army does not want to break the momentum of the Talibans, but it wants them to be not strong enough to threaten the central government. It is in the framework of this subtle and very risky game that the Pakistanis have helped the Americans. No matter how strong they are, the Americans will not get anywhere without the help of the Pakistanis.
One more important conclusion : To find out whether we have a reasonable chance of success in Afghanistan, the first question to ask is : can we succeed in Afghanistan if we fail in Pakistan ? And if the answer is no, then it all boils down to the following : what leverage exactly do we have on the Pakistani army? Pakistan would not be the first country whose elite (political or military) finds a low-level insurgency to be more beneficial for its vested interests than peace. The U.S. will need to convince the Pakistani army that they share the same interests ; if these interests include preventing the Talibans from laying hands on Islamabad and taking control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, that’s something. But reducing the Taliban presence in Pakistan to the point that they do not threaten Afghanistan (or Pakistan) anymore ? This will be a harder sell.