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Rediff.com  » News » Hakimullah Mehsud named new chief of Pak Taliban

Hakimullah Mehsud named new chief of Pak Taliban

August 22, 2009 17:03 IST
As authorities in Islamabad asserted that the militants on the country's soil were in disarray, Pakistani Taliban on Saturday announced Hakimullah Mehsud as their new chief, days after reports claimed that he was killed in a duel with a rival claimant.

The announcement of new Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief, who led a campaign to impose the 'jiziya' tax on the minority Sikh community, was made by militant commander Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, who just days back had appointed himself as the successor to Baitullah Mehsud.

Though the Taliban declared appointment of a new chief, they stuck to their claim that Baitullah was still alive, but was "seriously ill and hiding."

Maulvi Faqir said a 42-member 'shura' or supreme council selected Hakimullah as the new leader during a meeting held in South Waziristan tribal region.

Along with Hakimullah, Taliban also announced that they had appointed Azam Tariq as the new spokesman for the group, after their mouthpiece Maulvi Omar was nabbed by police in a raid in Bajaur area in Tribal areas in NWFP.

Faqir also claimed Baitullah wanted a new Taliban chief to be appointed in his lifetime.

Pakistani and American officials have said they are certain that Baitullah was killed with his second wife and several guards when a drone fired missiles at his father-in-laws house on August 5.

Recently, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik had quoted reports to say infighting had broken out among various Taliban factions in which Hakimullah had been killed.

The new TTP chief Hakimullah hails from powerful Mehsud Pushtun tribe and is a cousin of Baitullah. He is in his late twenties and was a strong contender for the Taliban leadership.

Hakimullah has also served as spokesman for Baitullah and led Taliban militants in the Khyber and Orakzai tribal agencies, where he imposed jiziya on Sikhs, forcing them to flee the area.

He is also the cousin of Qari Hussain, known as trainer of suicide bombers, who is said to be responsible for dozens of attacks across Pakistan. Hakimullah has good contacts with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group that often targets the minority Shia community. He also has good contacts in Punjab and Sindh and has trained a large number of Punjabi Taliban militants in South Waziristan.

He has used the Punjabi militants to carry out suicide attacks outside the tribal belt. Maulvi Faqir, who spoke to mediapersons in Peshawar on phone from an undisclosed location, said the Taliban are ready for a dialogue but the Pakistan government has no power to talk to the militants or to maintain peace as "foreign forces" are controlling it.

Taliban leaders from the tribal and settled regions of Pakistan attended the shura meeting, which selected a new chief in view of Baitullah's illness, he said.

A few days ago, Maulvi Faqir had said that Swat-based Muslim Khan would be the new spokesman but he claimed on Saturday this decision was overturned due to lack of communication facilities in Swat.

Maulvi Faqir said other senior Taliban leaders like Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar were happy over Hakimullah's appointment as the new chief.

Hakimullah hails from Kotkey village in Ladha area of South Waziristan. The Pakistan army destroyed his house in an operation codenamed 'Zalzala' in January last year.

He belongs to the Ishangai clan of Ballizai sub-tribe of the Mehsuds, which is the largest Pashtun grouping within Pakistan.

Hakimullah has very strong anti-Shia feelings which he has made known to his associates during Taliban meetings. Those who have met Hakimullah are familiar with this aspect of his personality.

His anger against Shias led him to request Baitullah to make him the commander for Kurram Agency, an area with a large population of Shias.

Hundreds of Shias from Kurram Agency have died in clashes with Sunnis backed by the Taliban. Observers said the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan could foment more sectarian unrest under Hakimullah's leadership.

Image: File picture of Hakimullah Mehsud

Photograph: Reuters

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad