- Baitullah Mehsud - Pakistan - Taliban - USA
Reuters - A fellow commander in the Pakistani Taliban insisted that Baitullah Mehsud, the movement’s leader, was alive, the BBC reported on Saturday, rejecting government claims he had been eliminated in a U.S. drone strike.
Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the most powerful commanders in the tribal region, described reports of Mehsud’s death as “ridiculous” and said it was “the handiwork of the intelligence agencies”, the BBC Urdu service website said.
Some analysts suspected that the Pakistani Taliban’s leadership was divided over who should become the next chief and that Hakimullah’s denial aimed to buy time until a new leader emerged.
Hakimullah, who controls fighters in the Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber tribal regions, is regarded as one of the leading contenders to replace Baitullah Mehsud.
There was no independent confirmation of his claim, the BBC said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Friday the government was sure Mehsud was killed in the attack on Wednesday that also killed his second wife, a brother, seven bodyguards and destroyed his car.
“It is pretty certain now that he is dead. Various government agencies have reported so, his own followers have said so, there are people who have been to the funeral and are witness to the burial,” Qureshi told BBC Radio.
A senior official who requested anonymity went further.
“It’s 100 percent certain now,” a senior member of the Pakistan government told Reuters, explaining that the intelligence services had obtained confirmation of Mehsud’s death from family members.
Qureshi anticipated the death of Mehsud would leave a void in the Taliban movement that could lead to divisions.
“With him gone, I think there is going to be an internal struggle and disarray in their ranks, I think it will set in demobilisation. It is a great success for the forces that are fighting extremism and terrorism in Pakistan,” Qureshi said.