Taliban Deny Pakistani Report They Are Fighting Over Leadership

Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by Jeypore, Aug 11, 2009.

  1. Jeypore

    Jeypore Regular Member

    Jul 25, 2009
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    Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- A deputy leader of Pakistan’s Taliban dismissed a government statement that he was killed in guerrilla infighting over who should replace the movement’s leader, Baitullah Mehsud.

    Hakimullah Mehsud telephoned an ethnic Pashtun analyst today to rebut the government’s report of a gunbattle among top aides to Baitullah Mehsud, who U.S. and Pakistani officials say was killed by a U.S. missile on Aug. 5.

    “Hakimullah called me to deny the claim of the government,” the analyst, Sailab Mahsud, said in a telephone interview from Dera Ismail Khan, a Pakistani city just east of South Waziristan.

    Hakimullah said Baitullah also is alive and couldn’t come to the phone to prove it because they were “in the battlefield,” said Mahsud, a co-tribesman of the Taliban leaders who publishes a newsletter on Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun community.

    The Taliban leader’s telephone call was the latest of several claims surrounding the reported death of Baitullah Mehsud. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said yesterday that Hakimullah Mehsud had died in a gunfight with a rival candidate to lead the Taliban.

    “There is a full-scale psy-war going on,” said Bahukutumbi Raman, a terrorism analyst who directs the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai, India. Pakistan and the U.S. have described Baitullah’s killing as a major victory in their fight against the Taliban, whose main stronghold is in the rocky mountains of Waziristan, home to the Mehsuds and several other Pashtun tribes.

    Secondary Leaders

    Retired and current Pakistani officials voiced hope that Mehsud’s death might change the war in the government’s favor. “The infighting among the Taliban commanders will weaken the group to the extent that it will eventually disintegrate,” said Mahmood Shah, an analyst and former security chief of Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

    Other analysts say the Taliban may not be critically weakened by a possible loss of their leader.

    “The secondary leaders are having discussions,” rather than battles, about a new commander, said Karim Mehsud, a Pakistani lawyer who cited his contacts from his past mediation with Taliban and tribal leaders.

    Taliban accounts of Baitullah Mehsud’s fate have varied so widely that he may indeed be dead, analyst Mahsud said. Many Mehsud tribesmen and Taliban sources have confirmed his death to Pakistani and Western news organizations.

    While Hakimullah told Mahsud that Baitullah was too busy to be brought to the phone, Maulana Nur Syed, a guerrilla spokesman, said he is gravely ill, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. The leader needed treatment for diabetes, according to Taliban officials cited by the New York Times.

    Challenged Government

    In his phone call, Hakimullah “challenged the government to bring out any proof that Baitullah is dead,” said Mahsud.

    The evidence of Mehsud’s death “is pretty conclusive,” Jim Jones, the U.S. National Security Adviser, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. “We put it in the 90 percent category.”

    Some degree of Taliban rivalry is indeed likely, Shah, Mahsud and other analysts said. Mutual suspicion among Taliban leaders has been deepened by the increasing accuracy of U.S. missile strikes such as the one that targeted Mehsud, said Raman. “Taliban are asking who is the mole in their midst” who might be sending information to Pakistani or U.S. forces to help target the missiles, he said in an e-mail.

    The U.S. offered a $5 million bounty for the capture of Mehsud, who said he ordered suicide bombings from his base in the tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

    Taliban Funds

    The government’s account of a battle between Hakimullah Mehsud and another top Taliban lieutenant, Waliur Rehman, was reported today by an English-language Pakistani daily, The News. The two men claimed the leadership amid a fight for control of Taliban funds and weapons worth millions of dollars, The News said, citing a security official it didn’t identify.

    Pakistan’s government blames Mehsud for the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the wife of current President Asif Ali Zardari.

    The army said last month it regained control of the Swat Valley in neighboring North-West Frontier Province from Taliban fighters backed by Meshud after a 10-week offensive killed more than 1,700 militants.

    Baitullah Mehsud, reportedly in his 30s, was killed when a U.S. missile fired from a drone hit a house in the village of Zangara in South Waziristan, according to Malik and local media reports.

    ‘A Big Deal’

    Mehsud commanded as many as 5,000 fighters, U.S. military analysts said. He formed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan from an alliance of about five pro-Taliban groups in December 2007, according to the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The U.S. says he has carried out attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.

    His death is “a big deal,” a demonstration of progress in U.S.-Pakistani security efforts, Jones told NBC yesterday. “Mehsud was public enemy No. 1 in Pakistan.”

    Mehsud was “a murderous thug and his elimination is a step forward for the safety of folks in that region and in our country,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama to Mexico yesterday. “It also shows that Pakistan has made progress in moving to root out and eliminate extremist elements.”

    Taliban Deny Pakistani Report They Are Fighting Over Leadership - Bloomberg.com

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