Pakistani Taliban name another new chief

A council picked Hakimullah Mehsud to head the alliance, two days after another senior figure said he had taken over. The announcements may signal infighting, which in recent weeks has led to bloody clashes.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Top Pakistani Taliban commander Waliur Rehman, center, seen from rear, talked to reporters in the Pakistani Tribal region along Afghanistan's border on Saturday.
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The Pakistani Taliban named another new leader Saturday, just two days after the group's second-in-command declared that he had assumed the position left vacant by Baitullah Mehsud, whom American and Pakistani forces believe was killed in a drone attack on Aug. 7.

The announcement points to increasing factionalism within the group and adds to uncertainty as to who's actually calling the shots.

Faqir Mohammad had earlier insisted that he himself had taken over as leader of the group, called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and that he had been endorsed by Hakimullah Mehsud.

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But on Saturday he told the Agence France-Presse: "I am the most senior leader of the TTP after Baitullah, and the sacrifices I rendered for it are no less. However, due to some unavoidable reasons, I am stepping down. There is no factionalism within the TTP now."

Rivalries divide Pakistani Taliban alliance

Baitullah Mehsud held together the TTP, a 13-member alliance umbrella, and was blamed for some of the highest-profile attacks within in Pakistan in recent years, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Following his death, the Taliban have seen violent infighting. Clashes between pro-Mehsud and anti-Mehsud factions have killed more than a hundred militants in the tribal areas.

A fierce rivalry also exists within the pro-Mehsud elements, according to Ismail Khan, Peshawar bureau chief of Dawn, a leading English-language Pakistani newspaper. "There are problems within the leadership that are not all resolved. Mr. Mohammad lost out and probably remains an unhappy man," he says.

Awaiting word from Hakimullah Mehsud

The situation is made all the more unclear by reports surrounding the death of Hakimullah Mehsud. Pakistani security officials believe he may have died during a gunfight along with rival Waliur Rehman Mehsud just more than two weeks ago. But both men later seemed to have resurfaced to contact news agencies. Pakistani officials said the phone calls were a ruse by other members of the Taliban.

Hakimullah Mehsud has not made any formal declaration since supposedly being appointed as chief, says Mr. Khan.

"He knew the network like the back of his hand. So he won't need much time to reorganize the group, which is bad news," says Khan. "But this guy hasn't come forward and announced himself – it gives fillip to the rumors that he is in fact dead."

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