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Almost a week after Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was allegedly killed in a United States drone attack on his father-in-law's house last week, conflicting reports about his condition continue to circulate. On Tuesday, the Pakistani government challenged the Taliban to prove their chief was alive. A Taliban commander hit back, daring Islamabad to prove he was dead. The uncertainty is raising questions about the Pakistani government's ability to handle the militant threat in the country's tribal belt.
Spokesman Maulvi Umar said Mehsud is ill, but safe at an undisclosed location. Once Mehsud is better, he will speak to reporters, Umar said….
Mr. Umar accused the government of spreading propaganda. "The government is playing a game and trying to trick Baitullah into coming out of hiding by using this propaganda so they can kill him," he said.
On Sunday, another Mehsud aide admitted that the Taliban chief was "gravely ill" but said his condition was not linked to the missile strike, reported the BBC. The BBC also said, though, that by publicizing his poor condition, the Taliban may be "preparing the ground for an announcement that Pakistan's most wanted man is in fact dead."
Mehsud's deputy and possible successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, also challenged the government to prove that Mehsud had been killed, reports Agence France-Presse. By telephoning AFP, the commander debunked government reports that he too had been killed during a shootout at a council meeting to appoint Mehsud's successor.
Islamabad has often announced the deaths of senior militants only to have the militants surface and prove they were alive, reports the Long War Journal, a blog that follows Pakistan and lists several Al Qaeda and Taliban figures who were reported dead but later appeared alive "in the media or on propaganda tapes."
The Pakistani government's track record in accurately reporting on the deaths of senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders is poor.... The Taliban, on the other hand, have been honest about the deaths of their senior leaders. Each time they have refuted a claim of a leader being killed, they have been able to prove the commander is alive.
'When Hakimullah can talk to Baitullah, he can also bring his video tape [of Baitullah] to contradict my claims that the Taliban chieftain is dead,' Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters outside parliament.
The government hopes to get DNA evidence to prove its claim, Mr. Malik told the BBC on Monday. But retrieving such evidence from the mountainous, hostile tribal areas where Mehsud was based may prove tricky, points out Changing Up Pakistan, a Pakistani blog.
Given the rough terrain in South Waziristan and that it's now swarming with angry Taliban/[kinsmen], any kind of access there seems unlikely. Therefore, a conclusive DNA test may be nearly impossible to achieve unless Mehsud's corpse magically appears on the ministry's doorstep.
The United States, which launched the airstrike on Mehsud, is 90 percent sure the militant chief is dead, National Security Advisor James Jones said Sunday, Politico reported. The drone attacks have become increasingly common in South Waziristan. Another strike there Tuesday killed at least 10 militants, reports Voice of America, citing Pakistani officials.