An update on this story. During this crisis of leadership, opportunity knocks for Pakistan to press the advantage in dislodging the Taliban from its western provinces. Will they follow through, or hope for more “moderate” leadership this time? “Pakistani Taliban appears in turmoil after shootout,” by Nasir Jaffry for Agence France-Presse, August 9:
Pakistan’s Taliban appeared in turmoil Sunday after reports of a deadly shootout between contenders to replace the shadowy movement’s leader, who is believed to have been killed in a US drone attack.
Intelligence officials said Friday that Baitullah Mehsud, who had a five-million-dollar bounty on his head, was killed in the US missile attack. Pakistan’s government said it was still seeking confirmation.
There were then unconfirmed reports of a deadly shooting at a meeting of top Taliban commanders who convened to discuss the choice of a successor to Mehsud.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the reports from the meeting in the lawless region of South Waziristan were being investigated.
The commanders were reportedly Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Baitullah Mehsud and the warlord’s main spokesman, and Wali-ur Rehman, a senior commander in Mehsud’s umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement.
“We have reports that there was fighting between Wali-ur Rehman and Hakimullah…. I said earlier that one of them is dead. I will not disclose the name. I am seeking verification,” Malik told private Pakistani TV channel Geo.
“The (shooting) incident took place on Friday and I said in the National Assembly the same day that there was internal fighting between Wali-ur Rehman and Hakimullah,” he said.
However, someone claiming to be Hakimullah Mehsud called up media outlets on Saturday to claim that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive. The two men are part of the same tribe.
Despite the apparent internal turmoil among the Taliban, security analyst Hasan Askari warned the threat was not over and said Pakistani authorities would have to re-establish control in the tribal areas.
“The current situation practically shows that the government also does not really have access to the area, which makes it difficult to verify the information that is coming through diverse sources,” Askari said.
However, he said he believed that the TTP had “entered an uncertain phase due to a leadership crisis which may heighten internal conflict”.