The Taliban story is not getting any clearer. The Tehreek-e-Taliban has announced the appointment of Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was reported dead in a shoot-out with a rival some days ago, as their new “amir” but continue to insist that their previous leader, Beithullah Mehsud, is very much alive.
In a phone call to BBC’s Urdu service, Maulvi Faqir, a militant leader who declared himself the head of the TTP earlier this week, said Hakeemullah had now been nominated by a 42-member shura or council in the Orakzai tribal agency.
Hakeemullah is a militant commander with a following in Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram agencies.
The TTP is a loose alliance of 13 militant groups in the tribal agencies and the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Its leader Beithullah Mehsud was reported killed in a U.S. missile strike in South Waziristan on August 5, but the TTP maintains he is alive.
The Pakistan government claims that the Taliban is in disarray and is denying Beithullah’s death in order to buy time to resolve a succession battle within.
Maulvi Faqir said it was Beithullah’s wish that a successor be appointed in his lifetime. Faqir, who heads his own militant fiefdom in the Bajaur agency, had on Tuesday announced that he would henceforth head the TTP as Beithullah was too ill to lead it.
But on Saturday, he told the BBC that the shura had named Hakeemullah as the leader and also appointed Azam Tariq as the new spokesman of the group to replace Maulvi Omar, who was captured last week.
Maulvi Omar’s capture was claimed by the government as a further sign of disarray within the Taliban, and according to media reports quoting intelligence officials, he had confirmed to them that Beithullah was dead.
Beithullah is said to have been killed in the early hours of August 5, when a U.S. drone aircraft picked him out on the roof of his father-in-law’s house. His wife was said to be with him and was also reportedly killed.
In another interesting development that points to Beithullah’s likely death, Reuters reported that the Taliban had taken into custody his father-in-law Ikramullah Mehsud, his son, a brother and a nephew on the suspicion that they gave away his location to U.S. spies.
Hakeemullah, the man now said to be the newly appointed TTP “amir”, was himself reported killed in a shoot-out with Wali-ur-Rehman, a rival in the succession stakes, a couple of days after Beithullah’s reported death.
But international news agencies reported getting phone calls from Hakeemullah claiming he was alive and so was Beithullah. Then, to complicate matters further, some reports said it had emerged that it was not Hakeemullah who had called but one of his cousins pretending to be him.