Confusion surrounds leadership of Pakistani Taliban
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The Pakistani Taliban named a successor to militant chief Baitullah Mehsud, suspected of having died in an August 5 strike, but intelligence sources say the announcement could be a lie designed to keep the movement unified despite its lack of leader.
The Pakistani Taliban announced a successor to Baitullah Mehsud, who was suspected killed in an August 5 missile strike, but intelligence officials said on Sunday the announcement was probably disinformation designed to hold together a movement left leaderless for almost three weeks.
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.
Tribal elders told Reuters that Hakimullah was named after Faqir Mohammad was dissuaded from taking the leadership, although earlier he had said he was assuming 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 insist Hakimullah was also killed, or gravely wounded, in a shootout with a rival just days after Baitullah Mehsud may have been killed by the August 5 US missile strike.
"The announcement is real, but the man isn't," the officer said. "The real Hakimullah is dead."
Another senior officer, who requested anonymity, speculated 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 its statements are meant to preserve some sense of unity until a new leader emerges.
The Taliban have denied Baitullah Mehsud was killed in the missile strike on the house of his father-in-law, 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 Mehsud had united 13 militant factions in northwest Pakistan to form the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in late 2007, and Pakistan authorities hope his death hastens disintegration of the loose-knit alliance.
A virtual silence over the succession issue in South Waziristan, the stronghold of Mehsud and the region where the largest number of fighters are 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.
Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the BBC Urdu Service on Sunday he had information that militants had killed Baitullah Mehsud's father-in-law and nephew on suspicion of leaking information to authorities about the whereabouts of their chief commander.
Four relatives of Mehsud were detained by the Taliban over the suspicion but Rehman did not give details about the other two.
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