Hakeemullah Mehsud appointed the new leader of Pakistani Taliban

Hakeemullah-Mehsud-3.jpg

Hakeemullah Mehsud, left. AFP photo.

Hakeemullah Mehsud has been appointed as the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Hakeemullah was unanimously chosen to lead the Pakistani Taliban after the group’s shura, or executive council, met over the past several days. The shura reportedly met in the Arakzai tribal agency, which is under control of the Taliban.

Hakeemullah is an able Taliban leader who has led attacks on NATO convoys in Khyber and Peshawar. He leads Taliban forces in Arakzai, Khyber, Kurram, and in areas of Peshawar [see backgrounder on Hakeemullah below].

The appointment of Hakeemullah to replace feared South Waziristan leader Baitullah Mehsud was announced by Faqir Mohammed. Faqir, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and Baitullah’s deputy, was appointed the interim leader of the Pakistani Taliban on Aug. 19.

Faqir claimed that Baitullah, who is believed to have been killed in a Predator airstrike on Aug. 5, is still alive but is too ill to lead the Pakistani Taliban. Faqir also announced that Azam Tariq is the new chief spokesman for the Taliban. Tariq replaces Muslim Khan, who was named spokesman just days ago after Maulvi Omar, the longtime spokesman of the group, was captured by Pakistani security forces.

“The new appointments of Taliban chief and spokesman were made unanimously by a Taliban Shura which met in Arakzai Agency recently”, Faqir said, according to the Times of India.

“According to his will, his [Baitullah’s] successor should be appointed during his life time and he has nominated Hakeemullah Mehsud to succeed him”, Faqir said.

The shura was attended by all 22 members of the Pakistani Taliban, and the meeting lasted two days. Although not stated, representatives from al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network were likely in attendance.

Faqir also said that South Waziristan Taliban leader Mullah Nazir and North Waziristan leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who are not members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, approved the appointment. This indicates that Siraj Haqqani, the guiding hand behind the Pakistani Taliban and the military commander of the Haqqani Network, approves of Hakeemullah’s assumption of command.

Faqir also announced Hakeemullah’s appointment on his illegal FM radio station in Bajaur.

“The shura has appointed Hakeemullah as successor to Baitullah Mehsud,” Faqir said according to AFP. “The shura earlier had nominated me as the acting chief but now I will be again deputy chief. I shall continue to be amir [leader] of TTP [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] in Bajaur.”

“Baitullah is alive but he is seriously sick,” Faqir continued on the radio. “God forbid if Baitullah is dead, Hakeemullah will be his successor.”

Hakeemullah has been considered one of the frontrunners to take control of the Pakistani Taliban in the event Baitullah was killed or could no longer perform his duties. Taliban leaders Waliur Rehman Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud were also said to be potential candidates.

Baitullah’s status is still unclear

Pakistani and US officials have insisted that Baitullah was killed in the Aug. 5 airstrike and that the Taliban has been feuding over his succession. Pakistani officials claimed additionally that Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman shot and killed each other during a firefight at a meeting to pick the new Taliban leader. Haji Turkistan Bhittani, a rival of Baitullah’s, has floated numerous rumors of internal turmoil within the Pakistani Taliban.

But the Taliban have denied that Baitullah was killed in the strike and have maintained that no clash between Waliur and Hakeemullah Mehsud took place. Both Taliban commanders later spoke to the media and confirmed they were alive. Nonetheless, just days ago Pakistani intelligence officials claimed Hakeemullah had been killed.

The Pakistani government has been unable to produce evidence that Baitullah was killed; while the Taliban have yet to release a promised videotape that would confirm Baitullah is alive. Taliban commanders have previously said Baitullah would release a tape once he recovers from his illness.

Baitullah is known to have diabetes and occasionally falls ill from the disease. Some intelligence officials believe Baitullah was at his father-in-law’s compound to receive treatment for his diabetes. Last year Pakistani officials thought Baitullah died from complications in September 2008, but he later surfaced at a feast celebrating his marriage to his second wife.

US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal refuse to confirm or deny Baitullah’s death, contradicting more definitive pronouncements made by National Security Advisor General Jim Jones and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.

The officials contacted by The Long War Journal also said the reports of Taliban infighting are largely false. One official described the reports of an intra-Taliban feud as “highly exaggerated and in some cases manufactured.”

The report of Hakeemullah replacing Baitullah as the new Taliban leader does bolster the US and Pakistani government’s claims that Baitullah was killed in the airstrike.

“No matter whether Baitullah is dead or alive, one thing that is clear is that he is out of the game for now,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “The more time the Taliban spend on reorganizing the command structure, the less time there is for conducting attacks.”

Background on Hakeemullah Mehsud:

Hakeemullah, who is also known as Zulfiqar Mehsud, is Baitullah’s senior deputy. He is a cousin of Baitullah and of Qari Hussain Mehsud, the notorious Taliban commander who trains child suicide bombers in South Waziristan.

Hakeemullah is one of the Taliban’s most able commanders and a rising star in the Pakistani Taliban. He commands the Taliban forces in Arakzai, Khyber, and Kurram tribal agencies, as well as in some regions in Peshawar. In December 2008, Hakeemullah imposed sharia, or Islamic law, throughout Arakzai.

Hakeemullah has been leading operations against NATO’s supply lines in Khyber and Peshawar. His forces have been behind raids that have led to the destruction of more than 600 NATO vehicles and shipping containers. The raids have also destroyed two vital bridges. Pakistan has closed the Khyber Pass to NATO traffic six times since September 2008 because of the attacks. The raids on the supply columns moving through Khyber have forced NATO to search for alternative supply routes into Pakistan.

He has also taken credit for a series of suicide attacks and complex assaults in Lahore and Peshawar. He claimed the attacks under the guise of the Fedayeen-e-Islam.

Pakistani security forces and the US have tried to kill Hakeemullah. He was the target of a series of Pakistani strikes in the Arakzai tribal agency in mid-April. On April 1, the US targeted a meeting in Arakzai with a Predator attack aircraft after receiving intelligence that Hakeemullah might be in attendance.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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20 Comments

  • Minnor says:

    Swat refugees 1.6m out of 2.3 returned home //timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4921578.cms
    This Orakzai or Waziristan is not as much populous as Swat, so it should be far easier to launch military operation there.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    So, what are the thoughts of the smart folks here: Is Baitullah dead or alive or does this move not conclusively reveal either?

  • Ayamo says:

    The given explanation for Hakeemullah’s appointing as the new leader is very cheap.
    Just wait a few days and they will announce that Baitullah has died because of his “illness”.
    So Hakeemullah Mehsud is the new leader of the TTP.
    Time will tell if this will result in a backlash for the NATO.

  • Bangash says:

    Hakeemullah is a young and aggressive commander. The level of violence in Pakistan is now likely to go up, however on the plus side Hakeemullah is not the strategist, calculator and negotiator that Baitullah Mehsud was.

  • Neo says:

    The question that is more important than Baitullah’s death is what change in direction will the Pakistani Taliban take if any with new leadership. Will it be more of the same or will there be any significant changes in tactics.

  • Cordell says:

    “The shura was attended by all 22 [leaders] of the Pakistani Taliban and the meeting lasted two days. Although not stated, representatives from al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network were likely in attendance.”
    Too bad a Reaper could not have “crashed” the party.
    As for Baitullah, one might wonder if someone inside the Taliban or AQ ratted him out and divulged his whereabouts to a CIA informant. As Bill reported a few months ago, Baitullah was given a stern lecture by others in the Taliban and AQ for turning Pakistani public sentiment dramatically against them. His attacks in major cities killed dozens of innocent Muslims.
    Sadly, while Hakeemullah may not initially command the authority of Baitullah, his strategic thinking — evidenced by his successful attacks on NATO convoys and supply routes — appears far shrewder than his predecessor’s. Unless the CIA can quickly “neutralize” Hakeemullah, they may eventually wish for Baitullah’s resurrection.

  • zotz says:

    I am not familiar with Pashtun culture but is it normal to read someone’s will when they are still alive? If he was alive shouldn’t they have said that Baitullah’s instructions were to choose a new leader?
    BTW these guys really look like hippies from Hell!

  • Gene says:

    Baitullah is dead and has been dead. Hakimullah Mahsud is dead. Wali ur Rahman is dead too. Faqir Mohammad is spreading Taliban disinformation.

  • Cordell says:

    This report from Bill and the one below from Reuters effectively confirm Baitullah’s death. “Quizzing” Baitullah’s in-laws and assassinating his driver is not something the Taliban would do if he were still alive.
    //news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090822/wl_nm/us_pakistan_taliban_2

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I agree that the appointment of Hakeemullah is a good indicator Baitullah is dead.
    I don’t put much stock in the father-in-law story for several reasons: 1) the sources have that Bhittani feel 2) the same people that told us the father-in-law chaired the shura to replace Baitullah just days after the Pred strike are now tellign us he’s the suspect.
    Also, the driver was apparently killed after being suspected of a different incident;and Baitullah apparently did not have a permanent drive, as explained here:
    //www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=192544
    Again, that said, the odds of Baitullah being dead are extremely good.

  • Neo says:

    I’m guessing the whole debate over discontinuing the drone attacks just died too.

  • Tyler says:

    Hakeemullah clearly doesn’t play nice with Mullah Nazir. There are fissures to exploit here.

  • Hi Bill,
    Long war journal is respected. So it should publish with care. The earlier report of killing of hakeemullah and another guy due to succession is planted by whom? For what reason?Who gains by that rumour?If shura was being held for last two days why faqir chand has to be appointed as temporary head for only twodays?Is the present report in FM channel credible? If all 22 memebers are alive whom the Pakistani army killed in SWAT?
    The dispersal of Pakistani Tablighee jammat leader to Syria? Is there any connection to this and also killing of some Pakistani preachers in Somalia?
    The whole thing looks very Murky

  • JG says:

    Being made leader is like giving someone their deather sentence. What’s the over/under for number of days to live for the new targets?

  • T Ruth says:

    Why doesn’t the Pak army get deep into their own “sovereign” territory” in Wazoo and find out whats going on?
    Or are they still on summer vacation?
    In the meantime, does the US really have a strategy for the PAK bit of AFPAK? A recent report from the UK is provocative. An excerpt…
    “MPs conclude that there is now a “strong argument to be made” that the Afghan insurgency is no longer an immediate threat to Britain, adding: “That threat in the form of al-Qaida and international terrorism can be said more properly to emanate from Pakistan.”
    Professor Shaun Gregory, an expert on Pakistan at Bradford University, told the committee that a direct attack on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons infrastructure could not be ruled out.”
    //www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/aug/02/defence-policy-afghanistan-helmand
    AQ and the risk of loose nukes, are they not the 2 key elements that make this a “war of necessity” not a “war of choice”?
    This war is going nowhere, or its going the Vietnam way. Read more at //www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/07/03/jihadistan
    I’m afraid that the US may be riding the wrong tiger. Or is the tiger being fenced in by the mirage of a fence that even the Pakistani army cannot reach?
    In the final analysis, the drones are bare weekly pin-pricks. Please tell me that i’m missing something…..

  • Jim says:

    I wouldn’t want to be his healthcare insurance provider.

  • Neo says:

    T Ruth,
    At the risk of sounding very rude, did you come here to comment on this sites articles, or just to hurl a little potty humor and leave links to more authoritative sites.
    “Why doesn’t the Pak army get deep into their own “sovereign” territory” in Wazoo and find out whats going on?”

  • rapa says:

    Whether Baitullah alive or dead is still in question and it could just be a smokescreen for something else?

  • Neo says:

    T Ruth,
    On second thought I probably was too rude. It just irks me when someone comes in without even checking what has been discussed, than rolls out the talking points and basically asks everyone to get a clue.

  • gulshanara says:

    the matter that is more essential than Baitullah’s death is what change in direction will the Pakistani Taliban take if any with new guidance. Will it be more of the same or will there be any important changes in tactics.

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