Militant commander Maulvi Faqir Muhammad declared himself the head of the Pakistani Taliban, saying he was temporarily replacing Baitullah Mehsud, whom Washington and Islamabad have said was almost certainly killed in a drone attack.
Maulvi Faqir, the commander of Taliban fighters in Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, contacted journalists on phone and declared himself as the new chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan yesterday. He denied reports of Mehsud's death, saying he is "alive but seriously ill" and that is why he had gone into hiding. He claimed that there would be no impact on the Taliban movement even if Mehsud was martyred.
Faqir said no meeting of the 42-member Taliban council known as a shura has yet been convened to elect a new head and reports about the meeting were baseless. He also said commanders Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud had no right to elect a new Taliban chief without consulting all militant factions.
US and Pakistani officials have said they are certain that Mehsud was killed with his second wife and several bodyguards during a Predator drone attack in South Waziristan o August 5. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said authorities are gathering evidence to confirm his death.
Several Taliban commanders and spokesmen have denied reports of Mehsud's death but have not provided any evidence that he is still alive. Maulvi Faqir, who was appointed deputy chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan when it was formed in December 2007, also named Swat-based Muslim Khan as the new spokesman for the group.
He said Khan would replace Maulvi Omar, who was arrested by security forces in Mohmand tribal region on Monday. Pakistani officials who have questioned Maulvi Omar have said he too has confirmed Mehsud's death in a drone attack. Though Maulvi Omar was not a military commander, he is believed to have considerable information on the Taliban's organisation and strategy as he was a close aide of Mehsud.
Maulvi Faqir claimed authorities had "forcibly extracted" a statement from Maulvi Omar regarding Mehsud's death.