Pak Taliban set for new leadership
Pakistan’s Taliban, one of the world’s most feared militant groups, are preparing for a leadership change that could mean less violence against the state but more attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani military sources said.
Hakimullah Mehsud, a ruthless commander who has led the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the last three years, has lost operational control of the movement and the trust of his fighters, said a senior Pakistan Army official based in the South Waziristan tribal region, the group’s stronghold.
The organisation’s more moderate deputy leader, Wali-ur-Rehman, 40, is poised to succeed Mehsud, whose extreme violence has alienated enough of his fighters to significantly weaken him, the military sources said.
“Rehman is fast emerging as a consensus candidate to formally replace Hakimullah,” said the Army official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. “Now we may see the brutal commander replaced by a more pragmatic one for whom reconciliation with the Pakistani government has become a priority.”
The TTP, known as the Pakistan Taliban, was set up as an umbrella group of militants in 2007.
Its main aim is to topple the US-backed government in Pakistan and impose its austere brand of Islam across the country of 185 million people, although it has also carried out attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The militants intensified their battle against the Pakistani state after an Army raid on Islamabad’s Red Mosque in 2007, which had been seized by allies of the group.
Mehsud, believed to be in his mid-30s, took over the Pakistan Taliban in August 2009. He rose to prominence in 2010 when US prosecutors charged him with involvement in an attack that killed seven CIA employees at a US base in Afghanistan. His profile was raised further when he appeared in a farewell video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed the employees.
Reuters interviewed several senior Pakistan military officials as well as tribal elders and locals during a three-day trip with the Army in South Waziristan last week, getting rare access to an area that has been a virtual no-go zone for journalists since an Army offensive was launched in October 2009.