Life expectancy among militants is low – and lower if someone is a commander. But there seems to be no dearth of men willing to step forward and replace their fallen comrades even if it means taking up a dangerous job.

Yet another Pakistani Taliban commander, Hakeemullah Mehsud, has met a violent end at the relatively young age of 34 and already the names of quite a few candidates to take his place are in circulation. It is probably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, but there is no shortage of takers. In fact, the list is growing. There is even a tussle between candidates and factions seeking the job to be the ameer, or chief, of an organisation that is being hunted down by world and regional powers and has been outlawed due to its violent agenda.

Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of the TTP, was 35 when he was killed by a US drone strike in South Waziristan on August 5, 2009. By that age, he had fought in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupying forces, commanded an Afghan Taliban base in Rishkhor near Kabul, led the Pakistani Taliban in fighting the Pakistan Army in South Waziristan and cobbled together a coalition of different militant groups to launch the TTP and lead it for almost two years.

Hakeemullah Mehsud was a year younger when he was killed in yet another drone attack on October 31, 2013. He too had taken part in many battles, particularly as the TTP commander for three tribal agencies – Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber. His reputation rose when he along with other commanders in September 2007 secured the surrender of around 270 Pakistani soldiers, including seven officers, and 17 military trucks reportedly without firing a shot after trapping them on a road to Ladha in South Waziristan. His exploits on the battlefield made him a stronger candidate than Waliur Rahman, who before turning to armed militancy was a cleric affiliated with Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, to replace Baitullah Mehsud.

Two other top TTP commanders, Waliur Rahman, who towards the end of his life was the deputy head of the militant organisation, and Hakeemullah Mehsud’s cousin Qari Hussain, known as the ‘Ustad-e-Fidayeen’ (mentor of suicide bombers) also died in their 30s. Both were killed by missiles fired by the CIA-operated drones. They had sought refuge in North Waziristan after being evicted from their native South Waziristan as a result of the military operation in late 2009.

Another prominent TTP commander to die young was Abdullah Mehsud, but he was killed in Balochistan’s Zhob district on July 24, 2007 in an encounter with Pakistan’s security forces rather than by an American drone. The fact that he had spent 25 months in US imprisonment at the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention centre and was then released made him a hero in the eyes of the militants. Having an artificial leg that was fitted to him after losing his own in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan in 1996 and his long, shoulder-length hair added to his mystique.

One remembers General Pervez Musharraf remarking that he would not hesitate to shoot down Abdullah Mehsud with his own pistol if he found him after the latter had organised the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers working on the Gomal Zam Dam near the boundary with South Waziristan in 2004. One Chinese engineer along with the five kidnappers was killed in the rescue operation mounted by the Pakistan Army.

Young men being entrusted major responsibilities isn’t confined to the Pakistani militants. In fact, this practice began in Afghanistan where first the Afghan mujahideen and later the Taliban appointed young men as commanders. As the Pakistani Taliban were inspired by the battlefield successes achieved by the Afghan Taliban, they followed the Afghans by reposing trust in young fighters and making them commanders.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, was 34 when he founded his movement in the autumn of 1994. Mostly young fighters joined his cause and before long these unknown youngsters were occupying high positions in the Taliban hierarchy. It was common to see young Taliban in their 20s and early 30s commanding military bases, heading government departments and becoming ministers.

One such young Afghan Taliban commander was Mullah Dadullah, who endeared himself to the Taliban rank and file by escaping instead of surrendering – like the few thousand of his fellow Taliban fighters – to Uzbek warlord Abdur Rasheed Dostum in late 2001 just before the fall of Taliban regime. Dadullah was one-legged as he had lost a leg in fighting. Being handicapped contributed to his reputation as a fearless man. For the Taliban fighters he was someone inspiring and daring, but those who suffered at Dadullah’s hands considered him a ruthless person who sent suicide bombers and got his rivals target-killed.

Al-Qaeda and similar other organisations too have been appointing young men to high positions. In fact, a generational change keeps taking place in the ranks of all militant organisations as their members get regularly eliminated and captured only to be replaced by younger fighters.

One reason for young men to be made commanders and ameers is the preponderance of younger people in militant ranks. Another reason is the realisation that leading fighters in battles is a risky job and is best left to young men unencumbered by families and other worldly pursuits and ready to die. Besides, impassioned young men turn to militancy and armed struggle easily as they are more prone to emotionalism.

Dying young seems to be the fate of most militants. They are forever ready to die. Killing and being killed is their guiding principle. Unheard of in the past, suicide bombings are now common and it seems finding volunteers isn’t really a problem.

As the TTP commanders and elders continue their deliberations to appoint a new ameer in place of Hakeemullah Mehsud, it appears that yet another relatively young man will get this unenviable job. Almost all the leading contenders are stated to be in their 30s. The frontrunner Khan Said, who prefers his adopted name Khalid Mehsud and has been trying to give up the colourful title of Sajna affixed to his name during a past visit to Punjab to meet fellow militants, is 36 years old.

Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, who is the interim leader after being made head of the TTP supreme shura, is also less than 40. Hafiz Saeed Khan, heading the Orakzai Agency branch of the TTP, too isn’t yet 40. Maulana Fazlullah, now camped across the border in Afghanistan after being evicted from his native Swat in the 2009 military operation, is also less than 40. Omar Khalid Khurasani, whose real name is Abdul Wali and is head of the TTP chapter in Mohmand Agency, is even younger.

Both Fazlullah and Khurasani are at a disadvantage as they escaped to Afghanistan after suffering defeat and the TTP cadres won’t want someone as their ameer who can no longer stay and operate on Pakistan’s soil. It is certain though that the new TTP head would be less than 40 years of age with a life expectancy that has been low until now.