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Pakistani Taliban in violent power struggle
Published on 10 Aug. 2009 12:50 AM IST
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A pro-government tribal leader Sunday claimed that fighting between rival groups for the leadership of Pakistani Taliban had killed 24 rebels, including two possible successors to warlord Baitullah Mehsud. The top Taliban commander was believed killed along with his younger wife in a US missile attack on his father-in-law’s house Wednesday. Turkestan Bittani told news channels that Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman exchanged fire at a meeting of shura, Taliban’s advisory council which was choosing a successor to Mehsud in the lawless tribal district of South Waziristan. “Twenty-one more people also died in the clashes that still continue in various areas,” said Bittani, a Taliban defector and old rival of Baitullah Mehsud. Among the dead was Qari Hussain, a powerful commander and in charge of Mehsud’s suicide bombers squad, he said. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the BBC that the government had received reports of the scuffle and death of Hakimullah. “They had been fighting in the past and we have information that there has been enmity between Wali and Hakimullah since they were together in Kurram valley,” he said. However, a Taliban commander in South Waziristan denied the reports. “There must be some differences between the two but no fighting took place. The government and our rivals are fabricating the stories,” said Noor Saeed. “Neither Hakimullah died nor Wali.” Neither of the claims could be independently confirmed because of the restrictions on media from Taliban and Pakistani government on reporting from the conflict area. The reports came as the reported death of the Taliban chief was still shrouded in mystery. Unofficially, a close aide said Friday that Baitullah died Wednesday with his wife and several guards when two missiles fired from US pilotless aircraft hit the house of his father-in-law. Mehsud’s official spokesman Hakimullah denied the reports Saturday. He told reporters the local Taliban chief was alive and had gone into hiding, like Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Analysts believe Taliban are reluctant to confirm Baitullah Mehsud’s death in order to conceal the internal rifts over choosing a new leader. “They don’t want to show that Baitullah’s death has weakened them,” said Mehmood Shah, a defence analyst and former security chief in the tribal region. A Taliban commander who spoke on condition of anonymity to DPA said the power struggle had halted the nomination of a new Taliban chief, postponing the planned announcement of Baitullah’s death and his successor. Most shura members had agreed to choose Hakimullah, but some wanted to honour Baitullah, who had wished to see Wali-ur-Rehman as his successor, the commander said. Rehman is Baitullah’s first cousin and deputy. The third contender is 50-year-old Azmatullah, a Taliban commander who is considered more moderate and mature than both young leaders, Hakimullah and Rehman. Meanwhile, a British newspaper reported that a desperate wish for a son might have led to the death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. Mehsud was spending the night with his second wife in the village of Zangarha Wednesday when he was killed in an American drone attack, the Sunday Times said.

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