*Source: DTN News / Int'l Media (NSI News Source Info) MIRAMSHAH, Pakistan - August 9, 2009: A key Taliban commander was killed in a struggle over succession to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud at a shura meeting in South Waziristan, government and security officials said on Saturday.
Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud (L) is seen with his arm around Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud during a news conference in South Waziristan in this May 24, 2008 file photo. The Pakistani government has received reports that shooting broke out between two rivals for the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, and one of them may have been killed, the interior minister said on Saturday. Pakistani news channels were carrying unconfirmed reports that Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the movement's most powerful commanders, had been killed at a shura, or council meeting, held to decide who would succeed slain leader Baitullah Mehsud.
However, on Sunday Reuters quoted one of the suspected participants as saying not only was there no battle, but that no meeting took place either. Baitullah was killed, along with his wife, in a US Predator strike on Wednesday. Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed reports of a shootout at the shura meeting and said that one of the commanders had been killed. According to sources, commanders Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, the two leading contenders for the chief slot, exchanged hot words at the shura meeting in Sara Rogha over the choosing of a successor to Baitullah. A shootout followed, leading to the death of Hakeemullah while causing life-threatening injuries to Waliur Rehman. A government official in Peshawar said that both Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman had been killed in the clash. However, Reuters reported on Sunday afternoon that Waliur Rehman, speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, denied not only rumors of his death, but also that any council meeting, or shura, had taken place to decide on a successor to Baitullah Mehsud. ‘There are no differences. There was no fighting. We both are alive, and there was no special shura meeting,’ Reuters quoted Waliur Rehman as saying. Sources told Dawn that the names of Hakeemullah, Waliur Rehman and 50-year-old Azmatullah Mehsud were shortlisted at a meeting of senior Taliban leaders from the Mehsud tribe, but a decision was put off following differences over who would succeed the slain leader. There was no independent confirmation of the reported shooting. A Taliban commander denied that any clash had taken place.’There is a serious power struggle going on,’ the government official said. Hakeemullah had replaced Waliur Rehman as commander in Kurram. He belonged to a rival group led by Qari Hussain, widely known as the Ustad-i-Fidayeen (teacher of suicide bombers). ‘I think the Haqqanis will now intervene to resolve the leadership dispute,’ the official said, referring to Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar’s point man for North and South Waziristan. U.S. soldiers from the 5th. Striker Brigades walk next to armored vehicles as they arrive at their base on the outskirts of Spin Boldak, about 100 kilometers (63 miles) southeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009. Thousands of U.S. troops are deploying in southern Afghanistan as part of an effort to prevent the Taliban from disrupting the country's Aug. 20 presidential ballot. Former interior minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao agreed with the assessment. He told a private TV channel that the Haqqanis had been mediating in the past to resolve leadership issues in tribal areas and it was likely that they would intervene again to help throw up a consensus candidate.