Amid reports that Khan Said will replace Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistan Taliban, Taliban sources tell Channel 4 News discussions are still underway, signalling disagreement at the top.
However there appear to have been two separate meetings on Saturday, between two different Taliban factions, and the appointment was not confirmed by all.
Azam Tariq, spokesman for the TTP in south Waziristan region, insisted that senior Taliban leaders were still involved in consultations to appoint a new chief.
“We will formally make announcement of the new chief in a couple of days,” he told Channel 4 News by phone, from an undisclosed location.
The new leader will replace Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed along with several others by a US drone attack in the north Waziristan region, near the Afghan border, on Friday. Senior TTP members confirmed his death for the first time on Saturday.
Tensions are high in Pakistan after the attack, especially in areas close to Waziristan like Dera Ismail Khan, and drones were reportedly flying overhead during the TTP meetings to elect a new leader. Channel 4 News understands that troops were deployed on several check posts in Dera Ismail Khan and that people in the area have been asked to keep identity cards.
The government will face serious consequences of the double standard – Azam Tariq, TTP
Said was among a number of top Taliban officials tipped to replace Mehsud. Others include Maulana Fazlullah, Maulvi Omar Khalid and Hafiz Saeed Khan, say Channel 4 News sources.
Said is thought to have masterminded an attack on a jail in north west Pakistan that freed nearly 400 prisoners in 2012 and an attack on a Pakistani air force base in the same year. He was Mehsud’s second in command until August.
The killing has not been confirmed or denied by the US or Pakistani governments. But the Pakistan government said it condemned the drone attack.
The death of Mehsud came a day before talks were due to be held between senior Taliban militants and the Pakistani government.
Shah Farman, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s information minister and PTI leader, said a meeting of the local assembly would be convened on Monday to pass a resolution to stop Nato supplies via the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“We condemn this attack as it took place at a time when we were ready to start peace talks with the Taliban,” Mr Farman said. “It’s an attempt by the US to sabotage peace talks as they don’t peace in Pakistan.”
However the TTP’s Azam Tariq condemned the government for what he called its “double standard”, for talking about peace talks with the Taliban while “helping in the US drone attacks to harm us.”
“The government will face serious consequences of the double standard,” Tariq told Channel 4 News, and said talks could not be held with the government when the Taliban leaders are targeted in American drone strikes.
Mehsud was killed in a village outside Miran Shah when multiple missiles slammed into a compound just after a vehicle carrying the militant commander arrived. The other militants killed were identified as Mehsud’s cousin, uncle and one of his guards. The identity of the fourth militant is not yet known.
He is believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan and a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square, as well as assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and members of security forces. He was on the U.S. most-wanted terrorist lists with a $5m bounty.
A senior Taliban commander told Channel 4 News: “His (Mehsud’s) body was damaged but was recognisable. He had left the place where we held a shura meeting and went to another place when his car was hit.”
Photo: Former TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud (centre) with other millitants in south Waziristan, 2009