ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Jan. 28, 2008 -- He is more dangerous to Pakistan than Osama bin Laden, analysts say. He may be the single most important person in Pakistan's fight for its future. And for the first time, he has described the goals and the details of the network of militants responsible for the most violent time in Pakistan in 60 years.
During a 25-minute sit-down with al Jazeera, Baitullah Mehsud, the man Pakistan blames for killing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, claims he is fighting a "defensive" jihad with the goal to destroy the White House, New York and London.
"Our main aim is to finish Britain, the United States and to crush the pride of the non-Muslims," he told Admad Zaidan, al Jazeera's bureau chief in Islamabad from an undisclosed location in northwest Pakistan. "We pray to God to give us the ability to destroy the White House, New York and London. And we have trust in God. Very soon, we will be witnessing jihad's miracles."
In his first ever television interview, Mehsud also called Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a tool of President George Bush and says he isn't interested in Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Mehsud was recently chosen as the leader of a militant coalition known as the "Taliban Movement of Pakistan," a collection of 26 groups that have come together to battle the Pakistani army and, he claimed in the interview, fight the United States and Britain on their home soil.
The interview takes place in the mountains. Mehsud's face is obscured, but you can see his long jet-black hair and you get the sense that he is quite tall. He has been described by Pakistani authorities as a brutal and able leader.
The government here accused him of orchestrating Bhutto's assassination and, not long after she died, released an audiotape in which a voice praises "brave boys" for accomplishing a "mission." Through a spokesman, Mehsud has denied to local media that he was involved in Bhutto's death.
But Musharraf has publicly pointed to Mehsud as one of the leading militants behind the spate of violence that has hit Pakistan in the last year. Almost 60 suicide attacks killed more than 3,000 people in 2007, the most violent span since 9/11 and, depending on how it's measured, the most violent time since Pakistan was created in 1947.
Mehsud saves his most pointed critiques for Pakistan's president.
"Musharraf is no more than a slave to Bush and the non-believers. Musharraf is no more than a follower to his masters," says Mehsud, who is known as the emir of South Waziristan. "He started attacking mosques, killing women, children, the elderly inside the mosques. What was pushing him to do this was his will to satisfy Bush. But now we are saying that Musharraf has committed crimes against Muslims and he has destroyed mosques -- and our response will be much harder than his acts. We will be teaching him a lesson which history will write with gold… God willing, Musharraf will be in severe pain. And all those who assisted him will also be in pain."
Militants in northwest Pakistan have increased their attacks against the Pakistani military in recent months. They have won battles for isolated forts throughout the region, killing frontier corps soldiers, sometimes by beheading them. Earlier in January, a group of frontier troops fled their fort before the militants could even attack.
"The main objective of this coalition is 'defensive' jihad," Mehsud says. "The Pakistan army is deploying its soldiers here in response to orders from Bush. The army is bombarding our houses and fighting with us. Therefore we have formed this coalition to guarantee the safety of civilians…This war which the army launched in the tribal areas is an American war."
He continues, "We never feel sad about [Pakistani soldiers'] deaths. They are implementing the orders of the West and the United States, and they are destroying our houses. And I do pray that Allah will guide them back to the right path because they are Muslims and this is an Islamic country. But when the army soldiers come to this area to kill us, we will definitely be killing them."