Hakimullah Mehsud declared as the New Taliban Chief in Pakistan, Faqir Muhammad is not the Chief :: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan

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Pakistan Taliban name Hakimullah Mehsud as new leader

REUTERS 23 August 2009, 01:23pm IST

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban ( Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan,TTP)  announced a successor to slain commander Baitullah Mehsud, but intelligence officials said on Sunday it was probably a smokescreen meant to hold together a movement left leaderless for almost three weeks. ( Watch Video )

Taliban officials rang journalists in northwest Pakistan on Saturday to say Hakimullah Mehsud, a young militant who commands fighters in the Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram tribal regions, had been chosen as the new chief by a leadership council, or shura.

Western governments with troops in Afghanistan are watching to see if any new Pakistani Taliban leader would shift focus from fighting the Pakistani government and put the movement’s weight behind the Afghan insurgency led by Mullah Mohammad Omar.

A BBC report quoted Faqir Mohammad, head of the Taliban in the Bajaur tribal region, as saying Hakimullah was selected. fkr

Tribal elders told Reuters that Hakimullah was named after Faqir Mohammad was dissuaded from taking the leadership, although earlier he had said he was taking temporary command.

“There’s confusion. Two days ago, Fariq Mohammad claimed he’s acting chief and now he says Hakimullah is,” one senior intelligence officer in northwest Pakistan said. “It’s a trick.”

Intelligence officials insisted Hakimullah was killed or gravely wounded in a shootout with a rival days after Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. missile strike on Aug. 5.

“The announcement is real, but the man isn’t,” the officer said. “The real Hakimullah is dead.”

Another senior officer, who requested anonymity, speculated that the Taliban leadership was trying to buy time until one of Hakimullah’s brothers returned from fighting in the Afghan insurgency to take command of his men.

Verifying anything in the Taliban-held tribal regions is difficult and the past few weeks have seen a spate of claims and counter-claims by the Pakistani authorities and the militants.

Taliban officials say Pakistani intelligence agents were spreading misinformation to create divisions in the movement.

The Pakistani authorities say the Pakistani Taliban is in disarray and the statements made are meant to preserve some sense of unity until a new leader embaierges.

The Taliban have denied that Baitullah Mehsud was killed in the missile strike, but say he is seriously ill.

After the reports of a shootout between Hakimullah and a rival, a Reuters journalist subsequently received calls from both of them denying that there had been any fight.

Intelligence officials doubt whether the callers were who they said they were, even though the journalist knew both men’s voices and believed they were genuine.

Baitullah had united 13 militant factions in northwest Pakistan to form the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in late 2007, and the Pakistani authorities are hoping that death would hasten the disintegration of the loose-knit alliance.

A virtual silence over the succession issue in South Waziristan, the stronghold of Baitullah and region where the largest number of fighters is concentrated, made intelligence officials doubt if consensus on a new leader had been reached.

South Waziristan lies at the southwest end of the tribal lands bordering Afghanistan, and Bajaur is at the northeast end.

Tribal elders said Faqir Mohammad was told to drop ideas of leading the Taliban as it would only bring more trouble to Bajaur, a region where the army declared victory in March after a six-month campaign against the militants.

Security forces have surrounded Baitullah’s redoubt in the mountains and carried out bombing raids, though a ground offensive does not appear imminent.

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