A fellow commander of the Pakistani Taliban leader rejected government claims of the death of Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike.
Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the closest commanders to the leader of Pakistani Taliabn, described reports of Mehsud's death as "nonsense and rubbish". He said it was "the propaganda of the intelligence agencies," the BBC Urdu said.
Recently Pakistan foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi told journalists that his intelligence sources has confirmed Baituallah’s death. “Although we are still waiting for ground confirmation, I am hundred percent sure Baitullah Mehsud is dead,” he said. The news came after a US drone strike the house of Baitullah Mehsud’s father-in-law on Wednesday, August 05. Attack claimed three lives including of one of Mehsud’s two wives.
Hakimullah said Mehsud was not in the house when air strike took place. “He seldom goes to his in-laws house and was not there on that day,” said Hakimullah. “It’s nothing more than media propaganda. Ameer Sab [Baitullah Mehsud] will soon appear in a video tape.”
Hakim called media reports about a Taliban meeting to appoint Baituallah’s successor “ridiculous”. “Ameer Sab is alive and well so there is no question of such meeting,” the BBC Urdu website said.
Some analysts believe that the Pakistani Taliban council members are divided over the replacement of Mehsud, and that Hakimullah's refutation aimed to buy time until the council decides a new leader. Hakimullah Mehsud himself is considered as one of the top three contenders to replace Baitullah Mehsud.
But if Hakimullah’s denial is confirmed to be true, it will be the second time Pakistani intelligence falsely claim the death of the most wanted man. Last year Pakistan government claimed that Baitullah Mehsud had died of a kidney disease. However, Mehsud invited journalists to Waziristan for a press conference only to deny the claim.
On the other hand, if Taliban are hiding the death of Mehsud to avoid the demoralization of their fighters, then the question is who will be his successor.
The Pakistani intelligence and local sources claim that a militant shura (council) of key leaders of Mehsud tribe have met for the third consecutive time at a secret location in South Waziristan to nominate a new leader.
Three names have emerged for the vacant post, however, the Taliban have not agreed on one name, suggesting a power struggle among main nominees.
Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitulah Mehsud’s cousin, is said to be leading the list. Hakeemullah Mehsud, who is famous for his cruelty, has worked as Taliban commander for Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber tribal regions. The young man is said to be responsible for planning and carrying out attacks on NATO’s logistic supplies in Khyber agency. Hakimuallah has also worked as Baitullah’s spokesperson using the name, Zulfiqar. He is also known for crushing Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal rivals such as Turkistan Baitaney and Mulah Nazir.
A local resident, who doesn’t want to be named, says Hakimullah was the second closest person to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader after Qari Hussain, who was killed in a US drone attack last month. The source said that 23-year-old Hakimullah’s real name is Jamshed.
The second on the list is forty three years old Wali-ur-Rahman. Wali is also Baitullah’s cousin and has worked as an advisor spokesperson for Baitullah. Analysts see Wali’s age and religious knowledge as a plus point for the job.
The third of the contenders is Azmatullah Mehsud. 50-year-old Azmatullah has been involved in killing Baitullah’s most out-spoken critic and rival, Qari Ziauddin in Dera Ismael Khan.
Hekmatullah Mehsud may take the new role, however the power struggle among main nominees can create hurdles on his way. And that means, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani will play a vital role in the process. Haqqani has close ties with Al-Qaeda and is known as ‘peace broker’. The 37-year-old Haqqani, also known as Khalifa Siraj, is Mullah Omar’s right hand in Waziristan. According to Afghan intelligence, he is responsible for financial and logistics. He is also wanted for recruiting young men in Waziristan to be sent to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.